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What NATO members must do to empower the alliance

Canadian Air Task Force jets CF-188 at the Siauliai air base in Lithuania in August.

INTS KALNINS/REUTERS

"Keep the Russians out, the Americans in and the Germans down" was how Lord Ismay, NATO's first Secretary General (1952 to 1957), described the Alliance that has since become both the sword and shield of our liberal international order.

Recent events revalidate Lord Ismay's trope except that Germany now needs to take on responsibilities within NATO commensurate with its leadership within Europe. The rest of the Alliance, including Canada, also need to step up their commitments.

NATO leaders and their foreign and defence ministers meet this week in Wales to focus on a readiness action plan.

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Leaders face immediate challenges on NATO's eastern and southern flanks.

Their priority is addressing the Russian invasion of Ukraine and its illegal annexation of Crimea.

Sanctions are biting but they have not deterred continuing, blatant Russian incursions. Tit-for-tat sanctions mean that industry – including Canadian pork producers – are taking a hit. Yet Russian actions oblige more sanctions requiring more discipline and sacrifice.

Then there is jihadism. For British Prime Minister David Cameron, it is a "clear and present danger" and U.S. President Barack Obama has called for a coalition "to extract this cancer so that it does not spread."

NATO's longer-term challenges are twofold.

Firstly, a war-weary United States is tired of picking up the tab and having its call for burden-sharing ignored. American taxpayers cover three-quarters of NATO spending. At NATO headquarters in June, Mr. Obama said the U.S. "can't do it alone." Pointing to the "steady decline" in European defence spending, he expects every member "to do its fair share."

Secondly, there is the challenge of persuading the rest of the Alliance to develop a credible rapid expeditionary capacity.

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Only a handful of NATO's 28 members meet the defence budget spending target of 2 per cent of GDP (Canada currently spends 1 per cent).

All members voted for the 2011 operation to stop genocide in Libya. Less than half participated. Fewer than a third (including Canada) engaged in combat. Quality of contribution – rapid deployment without strings attached – matters more than the GDP target. But, argues defence analyst Julian Lindley-French, 2 per cent well-spent on defence is better than 1 per cent.

The annual reports of successive NATO Secretary Generals' chronicle the increasing asymmetries in members' capability. NATO renewal requires boosting combat capability through joint procurement, training and logistics. It means modernizing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets, and adapting to hybrid warfare.

NATO renewal starts with Germany, Europe's dominant power.

Germany still has stabilization forces in the former Yugoslavia and Afghanistan; it contributed in Mali, but not in Libya. Even before the Ukraine crisis, Chancellor Angela Merkel's grand coalition began reassessing German foreign policy. At the Munich Security conference this spring, German President Joachim Gauck argued it is invalid to use "Germany's guilt for its past as a shield for laziness or a desire to disengage from the world."

German leadership will have to persuade a public wary of activism. But recent events, says German-born Henry Kissinger, mean that "Germany is doomed in some way, to play an increasingly important role."

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Against this backdrop, Prime Minister Stephen Harper should make three points in Wales:

First, that Canada supports NATO readiness.

Our reinvigorated Canada First defence strategy must include a robust expeditionary capacity. We need a fresh perspective on military procurement, with immediate attention to our navy and its maritime responsibilities.

Second, a closer transatlantic economic partnership is of paramount importance.

The Canadian-inspired Article 2 of the NATO Treaty calls for closer economic ties. The now negotiated Canada-EU agreement (CETA) opens the door for business-to-business matchmaking through smart initiatives like the EnterpriseCanadaNetwork.

Third, a transatlantic energy-security partnership is valuable.

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The EU depends on Russia and the Middle East for its energy. Russia has shut off the tap to serve its ambitions. We should market the Energy East and Line 9 pipelines, new refineries and Atlantic terminals as strategic investments providing energy security to the EU.

The paradox of the liberal international order is that its reciprocal benefits and privileges depend on collective responsibility to uphold the rule of law and respect for norms – like not invading neighbours. But in making it inclusive, it tolerates scofflaws, like Russia (and Iran, Syria, North Korea). Free riders – China, Brazil, India, even Switzerland – not only refuse sanctions but use the opportunity to increase their commerce with Russia.

According to Mr. Kissinger, the international order depends on a "sense of legitimacy" and an equilibrium of power "that makes overthrowing the system difficult and costly."

This week, NATO leaders must demonstrate collective political will and commit the necessary resources to sustain the security equilibrium. Canada can help show the way.

A former diplomat, Colin Robertson is vice-president of the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute and a senior adviser to McKenna Long and Aldridge. He participated in NATO Allied Command Transformation sponsored workshops in Washington and Paris

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