Trudeau to play up Canada’s role in NATO
Members mark alliance’s 70th birthday in U.K.
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.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and son Xavier arrive in London on Monday for a meeting of the world’s NATO leaders.