In what Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan called “a warm and cordial call,” former Marine Corps general James Mattis thanked him for his leadership and “the deep and enduring defence partnership between the United States and Canada.”
— Harjit Sajjan (@HarjitSajjan) January 20, 2017
“The two reiterated the depth and breadth of the relationship shared between the United States and Canada as Norad partners, NATO allies, and North American neighbors,” said a Pentagon statement.
“Secretary Mattis and Minister Sajjan reinforced the vital importance of U.S. and Canadian commitment to North American defense and Norad. Secretary Mattis emphasized the indispensable partnership with Canada across the spectrum of bilateral and multilateral security issues such as Iraq, NATO Enhanced Forward Presence and the [fight against ISIL]. The two leaders also addressed the importance of North American defence relations among the United States, Canada, and Mexico.”
It was Mattis’s first phone call to a defence counterpart since his confirmation on Friday. He followed it up with calls to U.K. Defence Secretary Michael Fallon and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, with whom he reinforced U.S. commitment to the transatlantic pact.
“Secretary Mattis thanked Minister Sajjan for Canada’s strong support for our alliance, and expressed his personal appreciation for the professionalism of the Canadian Armed Forces,” said Captain Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman. “The two committed to stay in close communication and noted they looked forward to meeting one another.”
Sajjan said the fact the phone call was Mattis’s first as defense chief was “a testament to the excellent defence relationship between our nations.”
“The minister looks forward to a productive working relationship with his new counterpart as they continue to build upon the world’s strongest bilateral defence relationship,” said Sajjan spokesman Jordan Owens.
President Donald Trump, inaugurated Friday, has brought into question the future of some defence pacts, particularly NATO. Earlier in January, he told the German daily Bild and The London Times that the alliance was “obsolete.”
“I said a long time ago that NATO had problems,” Trump said. “No. 1, it was obsolete because it was designed many, many years ago.
“We’re supposed to protect countries, but a lot of these countries aren’t paying what they’re supposed to be paying, which I think is very unfair to the United States.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel rebuked Trump’s remarks, saying Europe can take care of itself. Stoltenberg has noted in the past that “the only time that we have invoked Article 5, our collective defence clause, is after an attack on the United States; after 9/11.”
Readout from Secretary James Mattis’ Call with Canada Minister of Nati https://t.co/zoA1yj43vM
— Harjit Sajjan (@HarjitSajjan) January 24, 2017
Mattis, who served as NATO’s supreme allied commander for transformation, and Stoltenberg discussed “the key role NATO plays in transatlantic security,” Davis said, adding Mattis wanted to “reinforce the importance he places on the alliance.”
The two leaders discussed shared values, and “the secretary emphasized that when looking for allies to help defend these values, the United States always starts with Europe,” Davis said.
Stoltenberg said in June that defence spending across the 27-member alliance had increased in “real terms,” but only five countries met the NATO standard of two per cent of GDP–Greece, Estonia, Poland, the U.K. and the U.S.
NATO ranks Canada at No. 23, spending an estimated 0.99 per cent of GDP on defence in 2016.