Justin Trudeau has told NATO officials privately that Canada will at no time meet the military alliance’s defence spending target, according to a leaked Pentagon document obtained by The Washington Post that also says Canada’s overall military shortcomings are damaging ties with allies.
Documents leaked in February and March through Discord, a chat platform for video gaming, include a U.S. Department of Defence assessment of Canada’s military spending, and that Mr. Trudeau has informed allies that Canada won’t meet the 2-per-cent target.
The leaked assessment said “widespread defence shortfalls hinder Canadian capabilities while straining partner relationships and alliance contributions.”
It said the Canadian Armed Forces had determined that it “could not conduct a major operation while simultaneously maintaining its NATO battle group leadership,” in Latvia and aid to Ukraine. However, Canada has given more than $1-billion in military assistance to Ukraine since Russia’s war began in February of last year.
The Globe and Mail has been unable to independently verify the contents of the Pentagon document.
The Post said, according to the document, that the Prime Minister has “told NATO officials that Canada will never reach 2 per cent defence spending.”
Mr. Trudeau on Wednesday declined to confirm to reporters whether he had in fact said this to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
“I continue to say and will always say that Canada is a reliable partner to NATO, a reliable partner around the world. And with our military investments, with the support we give to Canadians, we will continue to be doing that,” he said.
Canada and its allies in 2014 agreed to spend the equivalent to 2 per cent of each country’s annual economic output. Nearly a decade later, however, Canada is spending only 1.29 per cent of gross domestic product, according to NATO’s assessment of 2022-23 numbers.
And with Russia’s continuing military assault on Ukraine as a backdrop, the NATO military alliance appears to be preparing for even bolder defence spending commitments at a leader’s summit in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius this July.
“At the Vilnius summit, I expect allies to agree to an ambitious new defence investment pledge, with 2 per cent of GDP as a floor, not ceiling,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said earlier this month.
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Canada’s annual defence department budget is currently about $27-billion. But commitments will increase defence spending to $40-billion by 2026-27. In January, Ottawa announced that it would buy U.S.-made F-35 warplanes after more than 10 years of stops and starts in procurement decisions. And it’s partway through a decades-long process to replace warships and suffers a chronic recruitment problem.
Ottawa also announced billions of dollars to help upgrade North American Aerospace Defence Command surveillance and warning systems.
The Post said the document reveals that Germany is concerned about whether the Canadian Armed Forces can continue to aid Ukraine while meeting its NATO pledges, Turkey is “disappointed” by the Canadian military’s “refusal” to support the transport of humanitarian aid after February’s deadly earthquake, and Haiti is “frustrated” by Ottawa’s reluctance to lead a multinational security mission to the Caribbean country.
David Perry, president of Canadian Global Affairs Institute (CGAI) think tank, and an adjunct professor at the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary, said these revelations should not come as a surprise for Canadians, despite what he calls the federal government’s “overly-rosy talking points” on defence.
“As a country, we kind of seem to be deluded into thinking that our allies can’t do their own math and make their own assessments,” Mr. Perry said. He said the level of investment Ottawa is putting into its military is limiting the options for what it can undertake and prompting allies to form new initiatives such as the AUKUS security pact without Canada.
“We’ve got to the point where we aren’t just going to get an invitation any more because of past warm feelings.”
CGAI’s 2021 annual report – the latest available – said it received financial support for projects and events from donors including defence contractors and Canada’s Department of National Defence.
Stephen Saideman, a political scientist at Carleton University in Ottawa and director of the Canadian Defence and Security Network, said Canada under the Liberals has been careful to chose no-risk or low-risk military commitments rather than risky ventures such as Haiti.
He said the 2-per-cent military spending target is a “lousy metric” because it values quantity over quality. “The Greeks spend tons of money on the military. Does it make them a good ally? No, they are an unreliable ally because they spent it all on personnel and they spend it on personnel aimed at Turkey, another NATO ally.”
He said the absolute amount of money Canada spends on the military has increased since 2014 but this country’s economy has also expanded, pushing up the NATO target amount.
Prof. Saidemen said he doesn’t think the Liberals would receive any political boost for spending significantly more on the military and noted it was former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper who cut military spending.
The U.S. embassy in Canada declined to comment on the leaked documents but said in a statement that “Canada and the United States have a strong partnership and mutual commitment to security and defence.” It added that the two countries “both understand that collective security is not free – we need 21st century defense and security to meet 21st century challenges.”