Time to face Canada’s NATO com­mit­ment

Cape Breton Post - - EDITORIAL -

Try as he might, Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau isn’t go­ing to be able to shrug off the ques­tion of Canada’s com­mit­ment to NATO in terms of how much we spend on de­fence. Three years ago, NATO mem­bers met in Wales and signed a dec­la­ra­tion agree­ing to in­crease de­fence spend­ing to two per cent of the gross do­mes­tic prod­uct within 10 years. But the very next year, ac­cord­ing to NATO re­port­ing, Canada spent only about one per cent of the GDP on de­fence – the small­est amount since be­fore the Sec­ond World War.

We’re not alone on this point. Many mem­bers don’t con­trib­ute nearly two per cent. But Canada isn’t just a bit be­hind, we’re more like near the back of the pack, ranked 23rd of 28 NATO coun­tries, stuck be­tween Hun­gary and Slove­nia.

The Don­ald Trump gov­ern­ment says it wants coun­tries to start pay­ing their fair share or risk the U.S. “mod­er­at­ing” its com­mit­ment. And Trump isn’t the first com­man­der-in-chief to be irked by the lag­gardly be­hav­iour of other NATO coun­tries. It was a sore point with Ge­orge Bush, and even Canada-friendly Barack Obama wanted to see “more Canada” in NATO, al­though he didn’t spec­ify what that looks like.

Trudeau, along with De­fence Min­is­ter Har­jit Sa­j­jan, say money doesn’t tell the whole story. They ar­gue Canada should be judged on the work it does, the amount of “heavy lift­ing” Cana­dian troops do in sup­port of NATO ac­tiv­i­ties. Sa­j­jan says those con­tri­bu­tions in­clude send­ing troops to Ukraine and Poland, de­ploy­ing a frigate to the Black Sea and help­ing stop drug traf­fick­ing in the Caribbean.

Fair enough. But it’s not clear whether that con­sti­tutes more, less or the same amount of heavy lift­ing as other un­der-spenders. It’s also fair to add that the Amer­i­cans are very fond of Cana­dian mil­i­tary con­tri­bu­tions, with one U.S. gen­eral fa­mously re­mark­ing he wanted to give a hug and a kiss to ev­ery Cana­dian sol­dier step­ping off ar­riv­ing air­craft. Canada’s mil­i­tary per­son­nel are known for do­ing good, hard and some­times deadly work, with­out ques­tion or com­plaint.

But does all that mean we’re do­ing enough in terms of de­fence spend­ing as per our com­mit­ments?

The an­swer is prob­a­bly not.

How much more must the gov­ern­ment com­mit at a time when the econ­omy is less than ro­bust and deficits are al­ready wor­ri­some? A hike to two per cent would cost some­thing like $20 bil­lion a year, on top of the cur­rent $19 bil­lion de­fence bud­get. Un­likely given cur­rent fi­nan­cial cir­cum­stances. But hold­ing the line isn’t an op­tion ei­ther, al­though in fair­ness pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ments have done just.

Bot­tom line: The gov­ern­ment needs to take some se­ri­ous steps to­ward meet­ing the com­mit­ment it agreed to, or face the con­se­quences of not do­ing so.

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