Canada lauds NATO, but won’t commit to alliance’s spending target

The federal government has yet to confirm whether it will increase defense spending to the levels requested by NATO in the upcoming budget.

Last week, NATO Secretary General Jens Soltenberg called on group members “to do more” to contribute to the military alliance as members grapple with how to help Ukraine, following Russia’s invasion last month.

“We have an agreement and I expect all allies, also Canada, to follow up on that — that we should aim at two per cent of GDP, because we live in a world which is more dangerous,” Stoltenberg said Sunday on CBC’s Rosemary Barton Live.

Canada currently spends 1.39 per cent of its GDP on the military, according to the latest NATO figures. The government is expected to present its budget next month.

Defense Minister Anita Anand pointed to ongoing defense spending in an interview with As It Happens guest host Gillian Findlay Friday. Here is part of their conversation.

Minister Anand, how much pressure did you come under this week as you were having your meetings in Europe to improve and accelerate Canada’s military contributions to NATO?

NATO is a unified alliance, and we work very collaboratively. NATO is very well aligned in terms of our collective support for Ukraine and our collective continued support for defense and deterrence that underpin the NATO alliance. And we’re all very much aligned in terms of the short- and the long-term goal of this alliance, in terms of spending and other items.

Two per cent of GDP is the long-standing ask and commitment at NATO. Yesterday, NATO Secretary General [Jens] Stoltenberg described a two-per-cent minimum as the price of peace and freedom. And indeed, many smaller countries than Canada in NATO have exceeded that. So can you give a commitment that your government is now prepared to make that minimum commitment to NATO?

One of my most important responsibilities is to ensure that the Canadian Forces have the resources and equipment that they need to meet current and future threats. We are raising defense spending by over 70 per cent during a nine-year period ending in 2026. And our prime minister [Justin Trudeau] said yesterday at NATO that we will be increasing defense spending.

We are prepared to do even more in the area of ​​NORAD modernization by making new investments of $252 million for situational awareness and [to] modernize command and control systems, and on presenting a robust package to modernize NORAD, which would go towards the two per cent.

But would it reach two per cent?

The budgetary process is currently underway. Details of what is in the budget will be shared when the budget is released.

A man walks past a building damaged by shelling in Mira Avenue (Avenue of Peace) in Mariupol, Ukraine, on March 13. (Evgeniy Maloletka/The Associated Press)

Earlier this month, we spoke with former lieutenant general and [former] Liberal MP, Andrew Leslie, and he said a couple of things. He said that the Russian invasion had caught NATO unprepared. NATO wasn’t in a position to fight a war against Russia today, even if it wanted to.

And he said that the solution to that was … a buildup on the scale of what happened in the late 1930s. He said: “We have to invest quickly. We have to build capability quickly. We have to get our troops moving quickly.” And he said: “I see none of … that happening now in Canada.”

What would you say to your former colleague, General Leslie?

Well, I would argue that since 2017, Canada’s contribution to NATO has been extensive. We have led NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence Battle Group in Latvia with over 540 personnel on the ground.

We are doubling our contribution to NATO Maritime forces in the region by adding a second frigate. On land, we are adding new military capabilities and personnel to that battle group. And in the air, we also have an Aurora Maritime Patrol aircraft that’s been transferred to NATO command, and we have 3,400 Canadian Armed Forces personnel on high readiness in case they’re called upon by NATO.

The short answer is that we’re continuing to act in lockstep with NATO’s request, and we are prepared at any time to move towards increasing our support as called upon.

WATCH | Retired lieutenant general says additional NATO steps ‘absolutely insufficient’

Additional NATO steps ‘absolutely insufficient,’ expert says

Retired Canadian Lieutenant-General Andrew Leslie said NATO’s response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine has been ‘insufficient to act as a viable deterrent to Russia.’ 6:35

One of the other things that came out of the meetings in Europe this week, in particular, was the United States warning about a Russian chemical biological attack as being a real possibility. As you said in those meetings, and presumably you were privy to some of the intelligence … how scary was it? How real a threat is it?

Let me tell you, the discussion about escalating this war to include nuclear, biological or chemical weapons does concern us all, and this is a possibility that we have seen discussed in open source media.

Our job is to be non-provocative, to be rational and to be ready for anything. Putin’s rhetoric and actions are dangerous and irresponsible. Canada condemns them in the strongest possible terms and as a government, our job is to ensure that we are ready for any eventuality, any threat, and that is exactly what we are doing.

But the United States President [Joe Biden] is saying he is particularly concerned about this, so I’m curious to know what is the evidence? What are the concerns that are being shared with you?

I am in frequent touch with the secretary of defense in the United States, as well as Secretary [Ben] Wallace in the UK, and I spoke yesterday with [Defence] Minister [Oleksii] Reznikov in Ukraine. And the reality is that we are discussing a number of very concerning situations, of course all related to Russia’s illegal invasion and occupation of Ukraine.

And we have vowed to work together in terms of preparing for any eventuality. We’re concerned with Putin’s escalatory rhetoric, and he must withdraw and he must back down.

Canadian Defense Minister Anita Anand, left, arrived in Kyiv earlier this year. Her visit came after the federal government announced a renewal and expansion of the Canadian training military training mission in Ukraine. (Ukrainian Defense Ministry)

What will NATO’s response be if that were to happen?

We are all very concerned about what is happening in Ukraine and in particular, whether it could amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.

As a former lawyer, I will say that the test in international law is whether there is a deliberate attempt to target civilians with any type of warfare. And in our view, any attack on civilians is unacceptable. And that’s why our country has led on referring the situation to the International Criminal Court.

We stand with Ukraine and we stand with our allies in this.

But if he were to use chemical, biological, nuclear weapons, would there be a military response?

This is an issue that we will continue to discuss with our allies. Canada is not going to be taking unilateral action —

– Of course.

— without a consultation and discussion with our NATO partners —

— I’m not suggesting that, I’m asking what would NATO’s response be in this situation if that were to occur?

The reality is that NATO’s strong, unified and coordinated, and we are meeting regularly to make sure that we are ready for any threat and acting in coordination. Article Five of the Washington Treaty says that an attack on one is an attack on all, and we as allies will defend every inch of NATO’s territory while continuing to assist Ukraine and provide comprehensive military aid.

The answer to your question is that this is an issue we will continue to discuss as allies in the context I just described.


Written by Andrea Bellemare with files from Christian Paas-Lang. Interview with Anita Anand produced by Kevin Robertson. Q&A edited for length and clarity.

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