The diplomatic conversation between Ottawa and Washington has been focused on pipelines for years, but that topic appears to have been traded in for a discussion on peacekeeping and how both countries will meet the challenges of an increasingly turbulent world.
It is a subject that is expected to be on the agenda when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Barack Obama spend time together today behind closed doors. The meeting comes after the conclusion of the Three Amigos Summit and before the U.S. president's historic address to Parliament.
The White House signalled Tuesday — beyond the already well-telegraphed commitments on environment and trade — that it's looking to demonstrate Western military unity internationally, something experts say is even more important in the wake of Britain's decision to leave the European Union.
Specifically, the U.S. wants support "co-ordinating peacekeeping around the world," Mark Feierstein, a senior director at the U.S. National Security Council, said Tuesday.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau talks with U.S. President Barack Obama during the Nuclear Security Summit, Friday, April 1, 2016, in Washington. (Photo: AP)
That may be music to the ears of the Liberal government, which campaigned on returning Canada to a prominent role in peacekeeping.
Although Trudeau has talked up the notion, there's been little concrete indication where Canadian peacekeeping troops, equipment and know-how might be headed.
That might be about to change.
Colombian peacekeeping mission?
Colombia recently ended a brutal, decades-long war with rebels and is now looking for a United Nations ceasefire observer force — something Canada and Mexico are considering as a joint venture.
"The leaders will have an opportunity to review developments in the Americas — for example, in Colombia, where the FARC and the government are on the verge of finalizing a historic peace accord, and in Central America, where all three countries are supporting the Northern Triangle countries to reduce crime and violence, and enhance economic opportunity," Feierstein noted.
Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and Prime Minister Trudeau arrive to speak with the media following bilateral meetings ahead of the 'Three Amigos Summit' at Parliament Hill in Ottawa, June 28, 2016. The Liberal government welcomed Mexican efforts to establish its own peacekeeping training centre and to participate in UN operations. (Photo: AFP/Getty Images)
Federal sources told CBC News that defence planners have been examining various options for a peacekeeping mission in Colombia since the UN approved a request for an unarmed force last January.
Late Tuesday, the Prime Minister's Office issued a security and defence fact sheet in which the Liberal government said it welcomes Mexican efforts to establish its own peacekeeping training centre and to participate in UN operations.
"Canada is prepared to further its support to Mexico in the development of a peacekeeping training institution by facilitating access to expertise from the Canadian Armed Forces training schools," the statement read.
Awaiting NATO decision
Holding a slot open for a possible peacekeeping operation was one of the suggested reasons Canada did not automatically sign on to a NATO deterrence mission in eastern Europe and the Baltic states.
The clock is ticking towards the NATO leaders summit in Warsaw and wrestling a firm commitment out of Canada is likely going to be high on the closed door agenda, said two international relations experts.
"Will Canada show up in Latvia or not?" asked Steve Saideman, an international affairs professor at Carleton University. "In terms of a bilateral relationship, it's on the top of the list right now."
The U.S., Britain and Germany have already said they'll contribute to the highly mobile brigade of roughly 4,000 soldiers destined for eastern Europe and meant as a show of force against Russian expansionism.
"NATO is looking for help to deter more of Putin's revisionism in Eastern Europe and to demonstrate post-Brexit unity." —Srdjan Vucetic, associate professor of international relations, University of Ottawa.
The domestic debate about whether the Canadian air force gets the F-35 or the Super Hornet, likely won't make it on to the radar, Saideman added.
Britain's break with the EU ups the stakes for NATO leaders, said Srdjan Vucetic, an associate professor of international relations at the University of Ottawa.
"NATO is looking for help to deter more of Putin's revisionism in Eastern Europe and to demonstrate post-Brexit unity," he said Tuesday.
"For Canada, the Baltic mission is relatively low-risk and it has several benefits: it builds on historical and current practices; it is likely to be popular with most Canadians, certainly relative to the sending troops to Asia or Africa; and it would give Canada clout in Brussels and Washington."
Pipeline questions — once a dominant topic of bilateral discussions under Stephen Harper's Conservatives — are all but a dead issue, according to a senior White House adviser, who seemed content to bury it under the great green initiatives and goals being rolled out today.
"I think that the partnership is explicitly focused on trying to support our country's efforts to be more ambitious with respect to climate and clean energy and the environment," Brian Deese told reporters on Tuesday. "And there will be a discussion about infrastructure for sure. The focus there is on making sure that we have harmonizing integrated infrastructure to encourage clean energy."
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