Canada is balking at a push for NATO countries to commit to boosting military spending to 2 per cent of Gross Domestic Product because Ottawa feels the pledge is too vaguely defined and goes beyond what Canadian taxpayers would support.
The drive by the United Kingdom's Cameron government is to have North Atlantic Treaty Organization leaders make the commitment at an early September summit in Wales. The UK and the United States are among a small minority of NATO members that currently spend 2 per cent or more of their GDP on defence, according to NATO figures. Canada spent roughly 1 per cent of its GDP on defence last year.
"We're not going to sign off an an arbitrary, abstract commitment," a Canadian government source said.
Government sources say Canada is prepared to consider increasing defense spending to fund specific proposals that would for instance help block Russian aggression in Eastern Europe.
NATO members pledged in 2006 to spend 2 per cent of their GDP on defence, but only four countries – the United States, Britain, Greece and Estonia – met that target last year. In a letter to NATO leaders earlier this month, British Prime Minister David Cameron said increasing overall defence spending would help the alliance respond to changing global threats such as failed states, terrorism and cyber-attacks.
"As our economies start to recover, reversing the decline in defence spending and investing in our defence capabilities would strengthen alliance cohesion and signal that NATO means business," Mr. Cameron wrote. He also suggested that at least one-fifth of defence spending should be focused on equipment and research.
Next week's NATO summit in Wales will take place against a backdrop of growing concern about Russia's aims in Ukraine. NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Friday that Russian forces are involved in direct military operations in Ukraine that violate that country's sovereignty.
He also said NATO would respect Ukraine's decision to pursue membership in the alliance, after Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk announced that his government would ask parliament to abandon the country's non-aligned status to allow it to seek NATO membership.
Government sources in Canada say committing 2 per cent of Ottawa's spending to military aims within a decade is far too costly a pledge. They said it would mean boosting defence expenditures to $60-billion from about $20-billion today. That would entail increases of $4-billion per year annually for 10 years.
The Harper government doesn't feel Canadian voters would back such a shift in spending.
Government sources disputed a Reuters report saying Canada is blocking the push for commitment at the NATO summit, saying there is nothing stopping any one of members of the military alliance from boosting its defence spending to 2 per cent of gross domestic product.
With reports from Kim Mackrael in Ottawa and Reuters.