Defence Minister Anita Anand has expressed support for Ukraine’s eventual membership in NATO, but she stopped short on Thursday of joining her British counterpart in backing calls to fast-track the country’s entry.
“We will continue to be enthusiastic about Ukraine’s continued collaboration and co-operation with NATO allies and when the conditions are right we are fully supportive of Ukraine’s ascension to NATO,” Ms. Anand told reporters in London where she held meetings with Britain’s Secretary of Defense Ben Wallace.
NATO has been divided over whether to speed up Ukraine’s membership in the alliance by dropping the requirement that it develop a “membership action plan,” or MAP, which involves outlining military, economic and democratic reforms. The issue is expected to be a key topic of discussion during the upcoming NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, which starts on July 11.
Britain and France have expressed support for modifying or removing Ukraine’s MAP requirement. But the United States, Germany and some other countries have been more reluctant.
“I think we should absolutely look at skipping the membership action plan,” Mr. Wallace said during a press conference at the Canadian High Commission with Ms. Anand. He noted that Ukraine now had one of the largest military forces in Europe and that Finland and Sweden had been fast-tracked into the alliance.
Finland formally joined NATO in April. Sweden’s membership has been held up by Turkey and Hungary, but that could be resolved after the summit.
However, Mr. Wallace doubted that the issue of fast-tracking Ukraine would be settled in Vilnius since all 31 NATO member countries must agree.
Ms. Anand declined to say if Canada would join Britain in urging other members to drop the MAP requirement. “We support ensuring that we focus on the most important issue now which is Ukraine’s territorial integrity and its democracy and its sovereignty,” she said in response to a question about fast-tracking Ukraine.
Ukrainian officials have expressed frustration at the foot dragging by NATO. The country was invited to join the alliance in 2008 on the condition that it fulfilled the MAP obligations.
“We believe that we have been promised since 2008 that Ukraine will be a member of NATO,” said Vadym Prystaiko, Ukraine’s ambassador to Britain who attended Thursday’s press briefing with the defence ministers. “Even from the formal point of view, most of these MAP things were already done. Why do we have to repeat this exercise and have another barrier in our way? That’s what we are trying to explain to NATO. And Finland and Sweden just showed the example.”
Ms. Anand also faced questions about Canada’s failure to meet the NATO target of spending two per cent of gross domestic product on defence. Canada’s military budget is currently 1.29 per cent of GDP.
Ms. Anand said the government has boosted military spending by 70 per cent in recent years and she cited $8-billion in additional money allocated for defence in the last federal budget. “The point that I am making is there are various ways in which to measure a country’s commitment,” she said. “Canada’s defence spending has been on an upward trajectory and will continue to be so.”
The federal government is expected to release its long-awaited defence policy review before the NATO summit which will outline Canada’s military priorities. However, Ms. Anand would not say when, or if, Canada would meet the 2 per cent NATO guideline. “I am saying that we are on an upward trajectory in terms of our defence spending and that is a very positive signal in terms of Canada’s direction,” she said.
Britain is among only seven NATO members that meet or exceed the 2 per cent threshold and Mr. Wallace urged Canada to hit the target. While he welcomed Ms. Anand’s comments about recent increases in spending, he said, “We want all NATO countries to be above 2 per cent.”
Mr. Wallace said it was up to the individual countries to decide when to reach the target.
After Thursday’s meeting with Mr. Wallace, Ms. Anand announced that two Canadian ships will participate in NATO minesweeping operations in northern Europe next month. The Canadian vessels will join the NATO Mine Countermeasures Group 1 which was established in 1973 to clear World War II mines from the English Channel.