Canada, Germany and Norway discussing a security pact to cover the North Atlantic and Arctic

Canada, Germany and Norway are discussing the possibility of a trilateral defence and security partnership covering the North Atlantic and the Arctic — an arrangement that could be broader and deeper than previously thought.

When German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius was in Ottawa early last month, he made reference to a letter delivered to his Canadian counterpart, Bill Blair, offering co-operation in the maritime domain. The letter was co-signed by Norwegian Defence Minister Bjørn Arild Gram.

On Wednesday, Blair acknowledged he had follow-up discussions with both of his counterparts at the recent NATO defence ministerial.

The partnership — if it comes to pass — would be wide-ranging and would include defence-industrial cooperation on certain projects in order to create interoperable combat platforms.

Germany’s Minister of Defence Boris Pistorius (left) and Minister of National Defence Bill Blair take part in a joint news conference at National Defence Headquarters in Ottawa on Friday, May 10, 2024. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

“I think the opportunity to work closely with allies is always a welcome one, but there are a number of things that also require other research and decisions to be made,” Blair said following a meeting with the Liberal caucus.

“It was primarily a letter about working more closely together on various military procurements. It mentioned specifically a submarine that [Germany and Norway] are working on together.

“I’ve advised them that Canada is definitely going to be in the market for submarines, but we have some market research to do before we could enter into making any decisions with respect to the choices we will have available to us.”

The Liberal government’s recent defence policy promises to “explore options” for replacing Canada’s aging fleet of Victoria-class submarines. When the policy was released, both Blair and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau insisted that buying new submarines was not a matter of if, but of when and how many.

Responding to criticism of Canada’s continued failure to meet NATO’s two per cent defence spending benchmark, Blair and other federal ministers have said more defence purchases are coming and they will push the country over the top. Submarines are often cited as one of those possible purchases.

Canada invited to join submarine procurement program

Germany and Norway are building new submarines that both countries could use.

Designated as the 212CD, the boats are based on the well-established German Type 212A design, which is operated by both the German and Italian navies.

Six 212CDs are currently under construction — two for Germany and four for Norway — as part of an $8.1 billion (5.5 billion euro) program.

Both European countries are expected to open talks with the manufacturer in 2026 for a second batch of submarines and have been quietly offering Canada the opportunity to get in.

The notion that Canada, Germany and Norway could strike a wide-ranging security pact intrigues former lieutenant-general Guy Thibault.

The defence agreement involving the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia — known as AUKUS — started with discussions about the need for submarines in the Pacific Ocean. Canada was not invited to take part in that arrangement — a source of political consternation in Ottawa.

Thibault, a former vice-chief of the defence staff who now leads the Conference of Defence Associations Institute, said smaller, regional security pacts like AUKUS and — potentially — a new arrangement in the North Atlantic and the Arctic may become more common in the future.

“I think this would be a really interesting opportunity for Canada,” said Thibault.

“I think that when we look at where there’ll be opportunities for cooperation — deepening technical or technological cooperation, for interoperability [among militaries] — it makes sense that certain countries now would see Canada being perhaps a logical partner to work with.”

Another defence analyst agreed, saying a partnership with Germany, in particular, would be beneficial to Canada.

“Germany is internationally known for its capabilities across the industrial spectrum,” said Alex Dalziel, a senior fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute and a former federal defence and Privy Council official. 

A partnership involving the three countries would bring economic benefits, aside from the purchase of submarines, he added, because of the potential for “meaningful, sustained cooperation, linking up more than just the defence ministry, but getting our industry actors involved as well.”

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