Gauging Canada’s commitment to NATO
Trudeau all but shrugged off Donald Trump’s push to squeeze alliance members for more money
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.
Justin Trudeau participates in a joint news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin.