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Budget 2022: Canada won’t meet NATO target with more than $8B in new military funding


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By Lee Berthiaume in Ottawa

The federal Liberal government responded Thursday to months of pressure from the NATO military alliance and others by promising more than $8 billion in new military spending over the next five years.

Yet the injection of new funds contained in the federal budget appeared largely symbolic as the government struggled to say what the money, most of which won’t materialize for years, would actually buy.

Officials also acknowledged that even with the additional money, Canada will remain far short of NATO’s spending target, even as other allies dramatically ramp up their own military investments following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland made only a passing reference to the new investments and the need to strengthen Canada’s “hard power” as she presented the Liberals’ latest budget in the House of Commons.

“We know that freedom does not come for free, and that peace is guaranteed only by our readiness to fight for it,” Freeland said in her budget speech, according to prepared remarks.

“That is why we are making an immediate, additional investment in our Armed Forces, and propose a swift defence policy review to equip Canada for a world that has become more dangerous.”

The budget proposes $8.5 billion in additional military spending on a cash basis spread over five years. In real terms, that means between $800 million and $3 billion in new funds for the Defence Department and Canadian Armed Forces each year.

That new money is on top of previous spending increases contained in the Liberals’ 2017 defence policy.

The budget specifically earmarks around $250 million for culture change efforts, and another $450 million to extend the military’s support mission to Ukraine and a long-standing anti-terrorism operation off the coast of Africa and the Middle East.

But it is noticeably vague on what the government plans to do with the vast majority of the remaining funds, including how much will be used to modernize North America’s defences with the United States.

Defence Minister Anita Anand promised this week a “robust package of investments” for updating the North American Aerospace Defence Command in the coming months, raising expectations of a major announcement in the budget.

The budget plan does say the government is “currently considering options” to upgrade Norad, including looking at new surveillance, intelligence, command and control capabilities, as well as new capabilities to “deter and defeat threats.”

Military officials and experts have warned for years about the state of Norad, parts of which are now obsolete as Russia and other adversaries have developed more advanced weapons.

The budget does include more than $875 million for the Communications Security Establishment to help the cyber spy agency defend and protect Canadian assets online. That includes boosting its ability to launch attacks.

But a senior Finance official speaking on background during a technical briefing suggested decisions on how the new money for the military will be spent will come at a later time, likely after the defence policy review.

Freeland directly attributed the decision to spend more on defence to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine while defending the lack of details, saying the government needs to do its due diligence first.

“We will very quickly have a study of our military expenditures, of Canada’s needs today,” she told reporters in French. “A study that must focus on the effectiveness of spending and create a plan that we can actually implement.”

The budget document also didn’t say how the addition of new funds will affect defence spending as a share of Canada’s gross domestic product, though the senior Finance official said Canada will eventually hit the 1.5 per cent mark in five years.

That is unlikely to satisfy Canada’s allies in the NATO military alliance, which has been pressing members to dedicate two per cent of their GDP on defence in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Canada is estimated to have spent only 1.36 per cent of its GDP on the military last year, with only four other NATO members having spent less: Belgium, Luxembourg, Slovenia and Spain.

All NATO members agreed to the two per cent target in 2014 and reaffirmed it during a special leaders’ summit in Brussels last month, with promises they would present plans for meeting that target when they meet again in Portugal in June.

Defence analyst David Perry of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute said the new money announced on Thursday falls short of the expectations the government had set in the weeks leading up to the budget’s release.

Even with the new money, he said, Canada is in danger of falling behind virtually all of its allies in terms of spending as a share of GDP based on their public commitments.

And while some have questioned whether the military could spend new money given long delays in procuring equipment, Perry said there are large, pre-existing shortfalls in areas like maintenance and infrastructure.

The Conservatives had been demanding the government dramatically ramp up military spending, and interim leader Candice Bergen said her party was happy the budget included additional funds for the Armed Forces.

“But we’re going to be looking for where they’re going to be spending it and that they’ll actually get that money out,” she said.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, who has previously called the NATO spending target “arbitrary,” nonetheless voiced his support for the new defence funds.

“Our Armed Forces, who do important work for us, should have the equipment to do that,” he told reporters.

“And there’s been clear gaps identified where our Armed Forces do not have the equipment to do the work they need to do. So (a funding increase) is something understandable.”

Singh did lament only minimal increases in foreign aid and development.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 7, 2022.

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Defence minister says Canada wants to share advanced military technology with allies

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Minister of Defence Anita Anand responds to a question during a joint news conference with Polish Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of National Defence Mariusz Błaszczak at National Defence Headquarters, in Ottawa, Monday, May 8, 2023. Anand says Canada wants to share advanced technology with allies. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld


The defence minister says Canada is interested in sharing more advanced defence technology with its allies as the focus of a trilateral military deal between Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States starts to expand.

But Anita Anand would not directly say if Canada is making a formal bid to join the agreement known as AUKUS.

The deal was announced about 18 months ago as a security pact that would see the U.S. and Britain help Australia develop a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines in response to growing concerns about China.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said Canada isn’t interested in nuclear-powered submarines and dismissed concerns of critics who say Canada’s exclusion from the deal is evidence that other countries don’t believe it is taking the China threat seriously.

Anand says Canada is interested in co-operation with those allies on quantum computing, AI, and other technology despite being left out of AUKUS.

The countries involved in AUKUS have agreed to discuss sharing that kind of technology separate from the pact on nuclear submarines.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 8, 2023.

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Measuring Canada’s defence commitment in terms of dollars a ‘bad mistake’: ambassador

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau leaves the NATO summit, in Madrid on Thursday, June 30, 2022. A former U.S. envoy to Ottawa says he’s concerned about what Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reportedly said about Canadian defence spending. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

By James McCarten in Cleveland

It’s an all-too-common “bad mistake” to judge Canada’s commitment to global military security solely on the basis of how much money it spends on defence, President Joe Biden’s envoy to Ottawa said Friday.

David Cohen refused to comment on a Washington Post report this week that said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had privately told NATO officials Canada would never hit the military alliance’s spending target of two per cent of GDP.

But he had a lot to say about whether Canada deserves its long-standing reputation as miserly when it comes to devoting resources to the Canadian Armed Forces.

“I think it would be a bad mistake — and I frankly think that too many people are making this mistake … that somehow we need to assess Canada’s commitment to defence by one metric,” Cohen said.

“I don’t think that’s right.”

Cohen was the keynote speaker Friday among several past and present U.S. ambassadors, trade lawyers and bilateral scholars gathered for the annual conference of the Canada-U.S. Law Institute in Cleveland.

Canada makes its own decisions about priorities and budget allocation, he said. In 2014, it voluntarily agreed, along with a host of other allies, to aspire to the two per cent target originally established by NATO in 2006.

But Cohen suggested the country’s support for Ukraine in its war against Russia and its plans to fortify Arctic defence should carry more weight in the policy debate than they currently do.

“Forget about the percentage of Canada’s defence spend as compared to GDP. Canada has stepped up at every opportunity, whenever requested by the United States or by the UN, to provide military support to Ukraine,” he said.

“Every time there’s been a need, Canada stepped up.”

Cohen’s defence stood in contrast to the assessment of one of his predecessors, David Jacobson, who told the previous night’s awards banquet that he fears the consequences of what Trudeau reportedly said.

Jacobson, who served as Barack Obama’s ambassador from 2009 to 2013, said the Post report could make it harder for Canada and the U.S. to resolve future bilateral irritants.

“It’s one of those things that causes governments to lose confidence,” Jacobson said.

“It’s a perfect example of what not to do in order to help solve some of the bilateral issues in both directions that are … legitimately very important to segments of the Canadian public and the American public.”

Peter MacKay, who was the Canadian minister of national defence for six years under Stephen Harper’s Conservative government, noted that Trudeau has not denied the report.

“It’s notable that the prime minister didn’t take the opportunity to clarify or contextualize or say that’s simply not true. And so, the intrigue festers,” MacKay said in Cleveland.

“I still hold on (to) some hope that we’ll hear someone from government say, in fact, we will meet our two per cent (target), or we will continue to aspire to reach that level of spending.”

The report, published online Wednesday and then Thursday on the newspaper’s front page, was based on a document from a trove of Pentagon secrets leaked in recent weeks in an online chat forum for gamers.

Jack Teixeira, a 21-year-old IT specialist and member of the Massachusetts Air National Guard, was arrested last week and faces charges of violating the U.S. Espionage Act.

The Post said the unsigned, undated document, which The Canadian Press has not seen, mentions “widespread” military deficiencies in Canada that are causing friction with security partners and allies.

Jacobson acknowledged a long-standing truth in the politically polarized U.S.: that public support for military missions abroad is fragile, especially when American taxpayers are footing the bulk of the bill.

While NATO has long struggled to get many of its members to meet its two per cent spending target, military spending in the U.S. is about 3.3 per cent of a GDP that is 13 times the size of Canada’s.

By comparison, the federal government in Ottawa currently spends about 1.4 per cent of GDP on defence.

“What will happen is that the American public is going to decide, ‘Why should we do this? Why should we defend the world?'” Jacobson said. It’s in the best interests of the U.S. to do it, he added.

“But at some point, people are going to say, ‘Well, we’ve got all these freeloaders’ — I hate to use that term — ‘we’ve got all these freeloaders and we’re not going to do it anymore.'”

It’s a turn of phrase that brings to mind former president Donald Trump, who frequently berated NATO allies for shortchanging the alliance — and who is running for president again next year.

The Post story did not detail Trudeau’s comments. But it did describe complaints from a number of allies about perceived shortfalls within the Canadian military.

NATO, for instance, is “concerned” that Canada hasn’t added to the ranks of its battle group in Latvia, part of a multinational deterrence mission in eastern Europe known as Operation Reassurance.

Turkey was “disappointed” by Canada’s apparent “refusal” to help transport aid after an earthquake earlier this year, while Haiti is “frustrated” by Canada’s reluctance to mount a security mission there, the Post reported.

“Widespread defence shortfalls hinder Canadian capabilities,” the Post quoted the document as saying, “while straining partner relationships and alliance contributions.”

The document appears to predate Biden’s visit to Ottawa in March, which Canada capped with some showcase military spending, including on modernizing Norad, the binational continental defence system.

“When you look at this on a threat assessment basis, and not just looking at a single data point, Canada has stood up. They have been responsible, they have been our partner, they talk to us,” said Cohen.

The “trajectory” of defence spending in Canada has also been gradually improving in recent years, he added.

The Liberal government has committed to nearly $40 billion on Norad modernization and North American defence, along with $8 billion in military spending announced in the 2022 budget.

“In the Joe Biden view of the world, no country should be judged or assessed out there on their own for what they’re doing in the defence space,” Cohen said.

“The question is: what kind of a partner are you? We think of Canada and the United States as inextricably intertwined.”

As for Latvia, Canada has launched an urgent, competitive procurement process to equip troops there with anti-tank, anti-drone and anti-air defence systems, Defence Minister Anita Anand said.

The Post said the Forces warned in February that a major military operation was currently impossible, given the Latvia deployment and Canada’s ongoing military support for Ukraine in its war against Russia.

The U.S. has been anxious to find someone to lead a multinational support mission in gang-ravaged Haiti, and officials have even name-checked Canada as a worthy option.

But Jacobson said his sense is that the question of Canada’s role in Haiti is less a bilateral disagreement than a serious question about capacity.

“One of the things I learned about military engagement is you can’t do everything. You never have enough bullets, you never have enough tanks, you never have enough soldiers to do all the things you want to do,” he said.

“You have even fewer tanks and soldiers and bullets if you’re spending 1.4 per cent of your GDP.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 21, 2023.

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