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Philippe Lagassé is associate professor of international affairs at Carleton University. David Perry is president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

Canada is promising to pump billions into the military. The Liberal government’s new defence policy, Our North, Strong and Free: A Renewed Vision for Canada’s Defence, expects Canadian defence spending to reach 1.76 per cent of GDP in 2029-2030. Over the next five years, the policy lays out approximately $10-billion in new spending, on a cash basis; looking out 20 years, about $100-billion of additional money is being pledged for the military.

By Canadian standards, the new spending is significant, even if our overall defence expenditures will still fall short of our allied commitments. Despite these new investments, Canada will not meet the 2 per cent of GDP defence-spending commitment that Ottawa made as a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Part of the reason that Canada won’t reach the 2-per-cent target is that it is still “exploring options” in a number of areas. Among the capabilities that the new policy is merely “exploring”: a replacement for Canada’s aging submarines, new light armoured vehicles and tanks, developing counter-drone capabilities, modernizing the military’s artillery, and acquiring long-range air and sea launched missiles.

Given how long it took to release this defence policy update, one would assume that the government had plenty of time to explore and should be ready to act. The deteriorating global security environment, too, would surely suggest that we need less exploration and more deciding. Alas, Ottawa still needs time to ponder.

So if we’re still contemplating all these new capabilities, where is the new money actually going? The military will be getting a new tactical lift helicopter to replace its dependable but aging Griffon fleet, to the tune of $18-billion. Defence infrastructure will see new money as well, with the government pledging to modernize and repair facilities from “coast to coast,” which will cost more than $10-billion. The military will be setting up a Cyber Command to undertake defensive and active cyber operations; cyber investments will come in at nearly $3-billion. To keep the navy’s frigates afloat and supplied, the policy also sets out $9.9-billion for the sustainment of Canada’s existing warships. More than $1-billion will also be spent on new sensors for Canada’s Arctic offshore patrol ships.

Canada is further investing in access global satellite capabilities, which are increasingly essential to modern operations, with a price tag of $5.5-billion. As well, Canada will be acquiring airborne early-warning aircraft, known as AWACS, to contribute to the defence of North America. This is a new capability for the Canadian military, and it will make a notable contribution to continental defence, but only $300-million has been put aside for it, which suggests that the initiative is mostly exploratory. With the war in Ukraine exhausting ammunition stocks across NATO countries, the new defence policy further promises to expand Canada’s artillery munitions production and build a larger strategic munitions reserve, at a cost of more than $9-billion.

The new policy also promises to tackle continuing challenges with recruitment and retention in the military, with planned investments in housing and childcare for members of the armed forces. In addition, the government is introducing a probationary period for new recruits to speed up enrolment and introducing various measures to keep people in uniform, including giving members more control over their careers. And recognizing that defence procurement is far too slow, the policy pledges to reform how Canada acquires military capabilities. Nearly $1.8-billion will be spent on the civilian defence workforce as well, in an effort to increase the Defence Department’s capacity to support the Armed Forces.

This additional spending to boost the defence bureaucracy, in fact, points to a key challenge this new policy will face: implementation. Promising new money and capabilities is the easy part; spending to actually get them is hard. The reality is that the Defence Department and Armed Forces are at capacity in terms of their ability to move major projects and initiatives. While this new policy is certainly ambitious, it’s unclear how this challenge will be overcome, particularly when the military is still short 16,000 personnel.

Another important obstacle is Canada’s fiscal situation. The new defence policy is pledging billions over the short and long term even as the federal deficit and debt balloons. Protecting this new promised money from future cuts, while making the case for the currently exploratory capabilities that would require real commitments to meet the NATO 2-per-cent target, will be a tough sell.

Exploring possibilities is important. But a full defence policy is built on real commitments, not aspirations.

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