Canada NATO defence spending is ‘shameful’: U.S. speaker

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Since arriving in Washington, D.C. earlier this week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has faced a barrage of criticism about his government’s lack of a plan to meet the NATO pledge of spending two per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP) on defence.

The U.S. Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mike Johnson, accused Canada of “riding on America’s coat tails.” at a security forum on the margins of the 75th anniversary summit of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, a military alliance Canada helped create.

“They have the safety and security of being on our border and not having to worry about that. I think that’s shameful. I think if you’re going to be a member nation and participant, you need to do your part,” Johnson said.

Bottom of the pack

Of 32 NATO members, 23 countries meet or exceed the two per cent pledge. Canada is currently spending 1.37 per cent, putting it at fifth from the bottom of the list, ahead of Belgium, Luxembourg, Slovenia and Spain, according to NATO’s figures.

At the opening ceremony on Tuesday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg warned members against complacency and said that “two per cent is not the ceiling, but two per cent is now the floor for our defence spending.”

NATO produced this chart comparing 2014 spending to estimated 2024 expenditures. (Source: North Atlantic Treaty Organisation)

Stoltenberg didn’t single out Canada, but the pressure is building on Trudeau to increase military readiness by recruiting more soldiers and producing more weapons and equipment.

The pledge issue also came up during the Prime Minister’s meeting with a group of American lawmakers. Earlier, senior government sources told reporters that Trudeau’s “Team Canada” meetings would focus on securing supply chains and advancing business opportunities.

When the discussions ended, Republican Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell in a post on X acknowledged shared values and economic ties, but said “it’s time for our northern ally to invest seriously in the hard power required to help preserve prosperity and security across @NATO.”

Canada’s Ukraine Defense

After the meeting, Trudeau defended his government’s record in his keynote speech to the NATO Climate Change and Security Centre of Excellence.

“When we took office, Canada was spending less than one per cent of our GDP on defence each year, but we vowed to change that. And we have followed through on our word.”

The Trudeau government plans to spend an additional $73 billion on defence over the next 20 years – if it remains in power.

The Department of National Defence projects that by 2030, Canada will be spending 1.76 per cent GDP on the military – but has not said when it will get to two per cent.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., left, Canadian Ambassador to the U.S. Kirsten Hillman, center left, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau , center right, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., right, meet on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, July 9, 2024. (Cliff Owen / The Canadian Press)

When it comes to collective security, Trudeau and his cabinet often point to Canada’s support of Ukraine as an example of how it is punching above its weight.

Ninety-nine percent of Ukraine’s military budget is funded by NATO allies.

Since the 2022 Russian invasion, Canada has contributed $4 billion in military support to Ukraine, and more than $12 billion in loan guarantees to keep its economy afloat.

The Prime Minister is often a vocal supporter of Ukrainian President Vlodymyr Zelenskyy in international meetings.

Losing a seat at the table

On Tuesday, a few blocks away from the Capitol, about 75 Ukrainian-Americans gathered at the Holodomor monument. They were there to see Zelenskyy, who laid a bouquet of flowers to mark the deaths of millions starved to death during a time of Soviet-era policies.

Paul Grod, a Canadian who is now president of the Ukrainian World Congress, said Trudeau should put more resources into military readiness, not just for Ukraine, but for the long term stability of the alliance.

Ukrainian President Vlodymyr Zelenskyy lays a bouquet of flowers at the Holodomor monument in Washington, D.C.

“Russia is on a war footing,” he said. “And quite frankly, Canada is being left behind by not at least keeping up with our allies in terms of how we are spending on defence.”

“We have to appreciate that Canada is a big country with a belligerent neighbor to the north called Russia.

“We’ve become one of the most visible laggards at the back of the pack,” said Roland Paris, an international affairs professor at the University of Ottawa. “It’s really important for Canada to be a credible ally if we want to be taken seriously in international meetings, if we want our voice to be heard.”

Paris, who also previously worked as Trudeau’s senior advisor on foreign policy, notes that Canada has been called out by almost a quarter of U.S. Senators on Capitol Hill.

In May, a group of American bi-partisan Senators sent Trudeau a letter reminding him that Canada had committed to reaching the NATO spending target since 2006.

“I think that this will be a very awkward meeting for Prime Minister Trudeau, if Canada doesn’t plan on making additional spending commitments at this summit,” Paris said.


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