Gaug­ing Canada’s com­mit­ment to NATO

Trudeau all but shrugged off Don­ald Trump’s push to squeeze al­liance mem­bers for more money

The Hamilton Spectator - - CANADA & WORLD - MIKE BLANCHFIELD

BERLIN — Canada’s in­dif­fer­ence to the ever-present push for more NATO spend­ing was laid bare Fri­day in Ger­many as Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau all but shrugged off Don­ald Trump’s push to squeeze al­liance mem­bers for more money.

Stand­ing along­side Ger­man Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose coun­try has al­ready promised sig­nif­i­cant in­creases to its own NATO con­tri­bu­tions, Trudeau sug­gested that when it comes to demon­strat­ing Canada’s com­mit­ment, money isn’t ev­ery­thing.

He ac­knowl­edged the spend­ing tar­get agreed to in 2014 by the mem­bers of the 28-coun­try transat­lantic al­liance — two per cent of GDP an­nu­ally — but de­scribed Canada and Ger­many as prin­ci­pal NATO ac­tors who do much of the “heavy lift­ing.”

“There are many ways of eval­u­at­ing one’s con­tri­bu­tion to NATO,” Trudeau said.

Ger­many and Canada have “al­ways been among the strong­est ac­tors in NATO,” he said, cit­ing Canada’s lead­er­ship of a multi­na­tional NATO mis­sion in Latvia aimed at strength­en­ing its eastern flank against Rus­sia.

He also said Canada is i n the midst of “sig­nif­i­cant pro­cure­ment projects” — fighter jets and ship­build­ing, specif­i­cally — and work­ing with NATO to en­sure the al­liance is be­ing as ef­fec­tive as pos­si­ble.

But Canada’s po­si­tion dif­fers from the Ger­man mes­sage. Merkel said Ger­many an­swered the 2014 call by in­creas­ing its de­fence bud­get eight per cent over last year.

That will build on Ger­many’s cur­rent 1.2 per cent of GDP, but there is no firm com­mit­ment that Canada’s de­fence bud­get — which stands at 0.99 per cent of GDP — will re­ceive a cash in­fu­sion any time soon.

Cana­dian gov­ern­ment in­sid­ers feel they are win­ning the day in terms of per­suad­ing NATO al­lies that the Cana­dian con­tri­bu­tion is more than the sum of its parts. They point to com­ments made by U.S. De­fence Sec­re­tary James Mat­tis after his meet­ing with De­fence Min­is­ter Har­jit Sa­j­jan, as well as lan­guage in the joint dec­la­ra­tion from Trudeau and Trump after their meet­ings ear­lier this week.

“The United States values Canada’s mil­i­tary con­tri­bu­tions, in­clud­ing in the global coali­tion against Daesh, and in Latvia,” the state­ment reads, us­ing one of the sev­eral names by which the Is­lamic State of Iraq and the Le­vant is known.

No­tably, the state­ment makes no men­tion of any in­suf­fi­ciency in Cana­dian funds for NATO.

A Cana­dian gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial who briefed jour­nal­ists on the con­di­tion of anonymity prior to Trudeau’s de­par­ture for Europe this week said Canada is “quite com­fort­able” with its cur­rent con­tri­bu­tion to NATO. Not so for Ger­many, said Merkel. “This com­mit­ment hasn’t changed to this day, so we in­tend to pur­sue this po­lit­i­cal course,” she said through a trans­la­tor. “Ger­many shows that it is ready and will­ing to ac­knowl­edge its re­spon­si­bil­ity in this re­spect.”

Merkel did make a broader point about the im­por­tance of NATO’s role in the world, re­gard­less of who might be pick­ing up the cheque.

Trump has called NATO ob­so­lete, while U.S. De­fence Sec­re­tary James Mat­tis de­liv­ered an ul­ti­ma­tum this week, say­ing the U.S. ex­pects its al­lies to start spend­ing more on de­fence or else it will “mod­er­ate its com­mit­ment.”

Mat­tis also called on NATO to put a plan in place this year that lays out a timetable for gov­ern­ments to reach the two-per-cent tar­get.

Trump is f ar from the first U.S. pres­i­dent to lean on its NATO al­lies, Ger­man am­bas­sador Werner Wnendt noted.

“We have heard this from pre­vi­ous pres­i­dents of the United States ... that they said there must be a fair bur­den shar­ing,” said Wnendt. “That’s well ac­cepted in the al­liance, so we will de­liver.”

Dur­ing a June 2016 speech to Par­lia­ment in Ottawa, U.S. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama soft­ened his re­quest of Canada by say­ing he wanted to see more Canada in NATO. With the U.S. pres­i­dency very much top of mind in Europe and else­where around the world, Trudeau’s po­lit­i­cal-celebrity sta­tus was on full dis­play Fri­day on the front of at least two Ger­man news­pa­pers: “the an­tiTrump is here” and “Sex­i­est politi­cian alive,” read the head­lines.

ADRIAN WYLD, THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Justin Trudeau par­tic­i­pates in a joint news con­fer­ence with Ger­man Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin.

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