PM touts ex­ist­ing de­fence plan at sum­mit

Lead­ers scratch heads af­ter Trump’s false as­ser­tion they had agreed to ex­ceed spend­ing tar­get

Winnipeg Free Press - - NEWS - TERESA WRIGHT

RUSSELS — U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump boasted Thurs­day of sin­gle-hand­edly win­ning com­mit­ments from his fel­low NATO lead­ers to meet and ex­ceed a de­fence spend­ing tar­get of two per cent of GDP — even though Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau spoke only of con­tin­u­ing with Canada’s ex­ist­ing mil­i­tary plan.

At a news con­fer­ence wrap­ping up the two-day NATO sum­mit in Brus­sels, Trudeau was pressed to pro­vide more de­tails about the U.S. pres­i­dent’s sud­den in­sis­tence that al­lies have agreed to spend more — and to do it more quickly.

Trudeau said he did agree to up­hold Canada’s com­mit­ment to the 2014 Wales NATO sum­mit pledge on de­fence in­vest­ment, but took pains to point out the dec­la­ra­tion tech­ni­cally states NATO al­lies would merely “aim to move to­wards” the two per cent guide­line within a decade.

“That is some­thing we cer­tainly agree with,” Trudeau told a news con­fer­ence.

“Lead­ing up to 2014 and the Wales con­fer­ence, NATO coun­tries had been un­der-in­vest­ing in their mil­i­tary and de­clin­ing in their mil­i­tary and de­fence in­vest­ments — in­clud­ing, un­for­tu­nately, in Canada.

B“There was a com­mit­ment to re­verse that de­clin­ing in­vest­ment and start mov­ing to­ward two per cent and that’s ex­actly what we agreed with as a govern­ment when we came in.”

Dur­ing his own news con­fer­ence Thurs­day, Trump was asked how he would in­crease pres­sure on Canada, Ger­many and Italy if any of the three failed to meet the two per cent tar­get.

“Well, they will,” he re­sponded. “I have no doubt about it. They all made com­mit­ments and they will be up to two per cent. It will be over a rel­a­tively short pe­riod of years.”

Trudeau was not the only leader who seemed at odds with Trump’s un­der­stand­ing of what emerged from an emer­gency meet­ing of NATO lead­ers that de­railed the fi­nal ses­sions of the sum­mit’s clos­ing day and set off an­other firestorm of con­tro­versy with the U.S. pres­i­dent at its cen­tre.

French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron quickly dis­puted Trump’s claim that NATO al­lies had agreed to boost de­fence spend­ing be­yond the two per cent bench­mark, cit­ing the group’s com­mu­niqué that lays out the orig­i­nal goal.

“It con­firms the goal of two per cent by 2024. That’s all,” said Macron, who also de­nied talk of Trump threat­en­ing to with­draw from the al­liance. “Pres­i­dent Trump never at any mo­ment, ei­ther in pub­lic or in pri­vate, threat­ened to with­draw from NATO.”

Trudeau touted his govern­ment’s long-awaited de­fence pol­icy re­view, re­leased last June, as the an­swer to Trump’s lat­est de­mands for more spend­ing from NATO al­lies. And he said Canada has promised to re­verse a de­cline in mil­i­tary re­sources with an eye to­wards the two per cent tar­get.

In­clud­ing that com­mit­ment, how­ever, Canada’s cur­rent de­fence spend­ing plans are only ex­pected to bring it to 1.4 per cent of GDP by 2024 — well short of the Wales tar­get.

“You know, the two per cent was a range, a goal, it wasn’t some­thing they were com­mit­ted to. Now it’s a com­mit­ment. That’s a big dif­fer­ence,” Trump said.

“It was just sort of like this amor­phous num­ber out there. Now it’s a com­mit­ment, a real com­mit­ment.”

Canada was never ex­pected to agree to Trump’s spend­ing de­mands. In­stead, Trudeau’s an­nounce­ment prior to the sum­mit — plans to lead a new train­ing mis­sion in Iraq and an ex­ten­sion on its role with a NATO bat­tle group in Latvia through 2023 — were aimed at demon­strat­ing a com­mit­ment be­yond mere dol­lars.

While in Latvia ear­lier this week, when asked about plans to meet the tar­get, the prime min­is­ter made it clear he had no plans to dou­ble Canada’s de­fence bud­get.

“Ul­ti­mately, the more im­por­tant met­rics are al­ways, ‘Are coun­tries step­ping up con­sis­tently with the ca­pac­i­ties that NATO needs? Are we lead­ing in dif­fer­ent op­por­tu­ni­ties? Are we con­tribut­ing the kinds of re­sources and demon­strat­ing the kind of com­mit­ment to the al­liance that al­ways needs to be there?’”

Fol­low­ing Thurs­day’s emer­gency ses­sion of NATO mem­bers, Trump de­clared the mil­i­tary al­liance to be “very uni­fied, very strong, no prob­lem.” He said he suc­cess­fully pushed for NATO mem­bers to spend more of their bud­gets on de­fence and at a faster pace than ex­pected.

“We have a very pow­er­ful, very strong NATO, much stronger than it was two days ago,” Trump said at his clos­ing news con­fer­ence, cit­ing Sec­re­tary Gen­eral Jens Stoltenberg as cred­it­ing the U.S. ap­proach for the progress.

“Sec­re­tary Gen­eral Stoltenberg gives us to­tal credit — mean­ing me, I guess, in this case. To­tal credit.”

The sum­mit’s dra­matic, chaotic con­clu­sion — com­plete with the U.S. pres­i­dent sud­denly mak­ing de­mands fol­low­ing a for­mal com­mu­niqué — bore a strik­ing sim­i­lar­ity to Trump’s de­par­ture from last month’s G7 meet­ings in Que­bec.

There, while on board Air Force One, he used his Twit­ter feed to re­scind his sup­port of a joint com­mu­nique and slam Trudeau per­son­ally af­ter hear­ing the prime min­is­ter re­peat Canada’s in­sis­tence it would de­fend it­self from U.S. ag­gres­sion on trade.

Trudeau chose his words more care­fully this time around, al­though he did ac­knowl­edge that ev­ery­one knew go­ing in that the pres­i­dent wanted his fel­low NATO mem­bers to carry more of the fi­nan­cial bur­den.

“The pres­i­dent has been con­sis­tent. There was no sur­prise in his ap­proach on this,” Trudeau said, adding that all NATO lead­ers were ready to demon­strate and reaf­firm their com­mit­ment.

But they also wanted to en­sure they pointed out that dol­lars-and-cents com­mit­ments aren’t the only ones that count.

“What you spend on a mil­i­tary bud­get doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily au­to­mat­i­cally lead to greater ca­pac­ity to con­trib­ute to NATO’s de­fence,” he said.

“That’s why in­vest­ments in ca­pac­i­ties, in­vest­ments in train­ing, in­vest­ments in ac­tu­ally new equip­ment are the kind of things NATO needs most.”

SEAN KILPATRICK / THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau (cen­tre) stands with For­eign Af­fairs Min­is­ter Chrys­tia Free­land (left) and Na­tional De­fence Min­is­ter Har­jit Singh Saj­jan as he holds a press con­fer­ence at the NATO Sum­mit in Brus­sels on Thurs­day.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.