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Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan answers a question during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Thursday, June 9, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian WyldAdrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan should be stepping forward to take part in a proposed new NATO force in Eastern Europe.

Mr. Trudeau's election platform emphasized peacekeeping, but it also said, rightly, that Canada should have "an agile, responsive and well-equipped military force" that can "offer international deterrence and combat capability," with full commitment to NATO's "assurance measures" in Central and Eastern Europe.

Those NATO "assurance measures" are needed. Vladimir Putin's increasingly aggressive position is unlike anything since the collapse of the Soviet empire. After Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea – unprecedented in postwar Europe – and the subversion in the Donbass region, parts of Ukraine have become a kind of no-man's-land. The Baltic countries and Poland feel uncomfortably and insecurely exposed.

NATO is trying to establish a rotating force of 4,000 troops on its eastern flank. So far, Britain, Germany and of course the United States are the only members that have yet committed themselves. Other members feel short of money, or burdened by other missions – in one instance, the Italian Navy is doing good work in the Mediterranean on the migrant crisis.

The Russians are making no secret of building a new military base not far from the Ukrainian border, as part of a whole series of positions from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea.

In 2007, Russia "suspended" its role in the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe. And just a few months ago, in March, Russia said it had "completely" stopped taking part in it.

In a real campaign, the Russian military would of course overwhelm a NATO force of only 4,000 troops, but even Mr. Putin doesn't want an outright war, as his ambiguities in Ukraine and Syria show.

Canada's purpose in joining this long-term NATO mission would be to show our seriousness in standing with our allies – countries that share our democratic values. It's why, from the end of World War II until the early 1990s, Canada stationed thousands of troops in Germany. They were there to remind Moscow to stay on its side of the line.

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