Trudeau to play up Canada’s role in NATO

Mem­bers mark al­liance’s 70th birth­day in U.K.

National Post (National Edition) - - Canada - LEE BERTHI­AUME

LON­DON • Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau will seek to de­flect ques­tions about Cana­dian de­fence spend­ing when he meets with fel­low NATO lead­ers start­ing Tues­day by point­ing to Canada’s nu­mer­ous other con­tri­bu­tions to the mil­i­tary al­liance.

Lead­ers from all 29 NATO mem­ber states have started to gather in Lon­don to cel­e­brate the 70th birth­day of the al­liance, which was cre­ated at the start of the Cold War to de­fend North Amer­ica and West­ern Europe from the Soviet Union.

More re­cently, the al­liance has fought in Afghanista­n, ousted Libyan dic­ta­tor Moam­mar Gad­hafi, pa­trolled for pi­rates off the Horn of Africa and de­ployed troops in East­ern Europe.

Canada has been in­volved in all those ef­forts and more, in­clud­ing lead­ing a NATO train­ing mis­sion in Iraq and con­tribut­ing fighter jets to pa­trol Ro­ma­nian airspace and frigates to pa­trol the Mediter­ranean and Black seas. The prime min­is­ter will re­peat­edly high­light those con­tri­bu­tions start­ing with a roundtable dis­cus­sion with his Dutch coun­ter­part on Tues­day, be­fore lead­ers for­mally meet be­hind closed doors Wed­nes­day to dis­cuss NATO’s fu­ture.

“We are go­ing to talk about the things we are al­ready do­ing and why those things mat­ter and why the con­tri­bu­tions we are mak­ing are real and are con­crete,” a se­nior gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial said dur­ing a back­ground brief­ing on Fri­day, given to re­porters in Ot­tawa on con­di­tion the par­tic­i­pants not be iden­ti­fied.

Yet the mes­sage will have an air of de­fen­sive­ness about it as Canada faces pres­sure from NATO and the U.S. to spend more on its mil­i­tary.

All NATO mem­bers agreed in 2014 to move to­ward spend­ing two per cent of their na­tional gross do­mes­tic prod­ucts (GDP) on de­fence within a decade. NATO Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral Jens Stoltenber­g has called this “burden sharing.”

Yet Canada is set to spend about 1.31 per cent of its GDP on de­fence for the se­cond year in a row. While that is more than sev­eral years ago, it still ranks in the bot­tom half of al­liance mem­bers, at 20th out of 29 coun­tries.

Canada’s spend­ing lev­els, which are ex­pected to peak at 1.4 per cent of GDP in 2024-25, come de­spite strong pres­sure from U.S. Pres­i­dent Donald Trump to spend more.

The se­nior gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial would not say whether the U.S. sent a let­ter ahead of this week’s Lon­don sum­mit.

“But I will say that our in­vest­ments in the mil­i­tary and our con­tri­bu­tions to NATO are sig­nif­i­cant and we will make that very clear and we will con­tinue say­ing that when­ever these types of ques­tions are raised,” the of­fi­cial said.

The threat is that the U.S. at some point might no longer see Canada as se­ri­ous about de­fence and start to take uni­lat­eral steps to se­cure the Arc­tic, the bor­der or other shared ar­eas of con­cern — with its own forces, on its own terms.

NATO it­self has faced a num­ber of pres­sures in re­cent years, with mem­bers grap­pling over how best to deal with Rus­sia and China even as Trump has raised ques­tions about his coun­try’s com­mit­ment.

Trudeau is not ex­pected to make any an­nounce­ments at the NATO sum­mit be­fore he re­turns to Canada on Wed­nes­day night in time for the re­sump­tion of Par­lia­ment on Thurs­day.

Rather, he will seek to un­der­score the im­por­tance of the al­liance, which has been seen as piv­otal to en­sur­ing rel­a­tive peace, se­cu­rity and pros­per­ity for North Amer­ica and west­ern Europe since the end of the Cold War.

SEAN KILPATRICK / THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau and son Xavier ar­rive in Lon­don on Mon­day for a meet­ing of the world’s NATO lead­ers.

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