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Flanked by Minister of Defence Anita Anand and Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks to media at the NATO Summit on July 11 in Vilnius, Lithuania.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Canada’s commitment at last week’s NATO summit in Vilnius to reach 2 per cent of gross domestic product in military spending heightens the need for the public release of the much-promised-but-still-not-delivered defence policy review.

If Canada keeps its word (and it would be unconscionable not to), then this country’s defence budget this decade must increase swiftly and substantially – ultimately by more than $20-billion a year – to reach that target. The 2-per-cent floor agreed to by NATO members may seem arbitrary to some, but Ottawa has committed to that number, and must honour that commitment, as this space argued on Thursday.

The Liberal government launched a review of its defence policy 15 months ago in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Defence Minister Anita Anand should accelerate that review’s completion and release, given the urgency of countering threats from both Russia and China. That (overdue) update’s executive summary might read something like this:

“Canada was a founding member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 1949, a recognition then that a dangerous world required collective security, and a commitment to the idea that collective security was best guaranteed through a permanent alliance. Today, Canada is renewing that commitment, made more than seven decades ago, to counter the growing threat of wars of aggression.

First and foremost, the Canadian Armed Forces must expand in size. The current force is 16,000 members below full strength. Making up that shortfall will require pay increases and other incentives. But the Department of National Defence will go further, increasing the overall size of Canada’s armed forces well beyond the current level of about 100,000 regular and reserve members.

Canada must meet its NATO and NORAD commitments, while having forces available for unforeseen needs, such as contributing to stability in Haiti, participating in peacekeeping missions and also fighting floods and fires at home.

Although Chinese coercion, especially toward Taiwan, is a growing alliance concern, the greatest threat facing NATO is Russian aggression, as it was when the alliance was founded in 1949. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has committed to increasing Canada’s military commitment in Latvia to brigade level. Those troops will be supplied with the weapons, air defence and other supports needed to counter a Russian attack.

The war in Ukraine has revealed the importance of new weapons, such as drones, but also of weapons once thought to be out of fashion, such as tanks and artillery. Canada’s forces will be re-equipped to fight on the modern battlefield.

As part of the ongoing upgrading of NORAD, Canada will partner with the United States on cybersecurity and artificial intelligence, as well as radar, satellites and sensors. The next budget will include a large and immediate financial commitment to help jumpstart modernization.

The government’s plan to acquire a fleet of 88 F-35 fighter jets will do much to repair the gap in Canada’s air defences. But maintaining a robust presence in Europe, the Far North and the Indo-Pacific may require expanding the air fleet.

Canada’s naval defences need a new generation of submarines, and a new generation of submariners to operate them. As with all new equipment purchases, the emphasis must be acquiring the best possible equipment in the shortest possible time frame, rather than on creating jobs. This is a defence policy, not an industrial development strategy.

This government also commits to end the practice of returning billions of dollars each year that are allocated for defence spending but not actually spent owing to delays in the procurement process. Henceforth, when this government decides it needs to buy something for the military, it will actually spend those funds.

Today’s geopolitical challenges are different than those that NATO faced at its founding. But Canada’s response is the same: We stand with our allies, and we will spend what is needed to do our part in assuring our collective security.”

That is what Canada’s new defence policy should look like when NATO leaders gather in Washington, D.C. a year from now, marking the 75th anniversary of the founding of the alliance. Canada must be able to show it has embarked on a credible program and timeline to meet its commitment of spending at least 2 per cent of GDP on defence.

We have already given our word. Now, we must show the world how we plan on keeping it.

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