Politics

Harjit Sajjan says NATO spending doesn't measure Canada's true contribution

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan isn't expecting a giant cheque from Finance Minister Bill Morneau any time soon, even though Canada falls short of NATO's spending commitment — that each country should spend two per cent of GDP on defence

'A defence review, and our spending, will be based on the needs for our nation,' says Sajjan

Minister of National Defence Harjit Sajjan says Canada's future defence spending "will be based on the needs for our nation." (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan isn't expecting a giant cheque from Finance Minister Bill Morneau any time soon, even though Canada falls short of NATO's spending commitment — that each country should spend two per cent of GDP on defence

In an interview with CBC Radio's The House, Sajjan said Canada's actions speak louder than its spending percentages.

"We're stepping up in many regards," he told host Chris Hall. "But when it comes to the actual spending, we have a defence review going on. A defence review, and our spending, will be based on the needs for our nation."

​New figures released by NATO ahead of this weekend's leaders' summit in Warsaw, Poland, show Canada occupies the lower third of NATO membership in terms of defence funding — even though the government is planning to spend an additional .01 per cent of GDP on defence.

To put that in perspective, NATO members have agreed that each nation should spend two per cent of GDP on defence as its annual benchmark. Canada is ranked 23 out of 28 member countries in the alliance by that measure, positioned between Hungary and Slovenia, which has been a source of frustration for some other members of NATO.

When U.S. President Barack Obama spoke to Parliament last month, he called on the Liberal government to meet the NATO measure because, he said, "the world needs more Canada."

Obama: 'The world needs more Canada' 1:21

Sajjan said the two per cent of GDP spending commitment was set up to measure what nations spend, but doesn't account for every military effort a member state is making.  

"If you look at what we are delivering as a nation, we are stepping up from before," he said.  "Up to 830 troops in Iraq, increasing our number of troops and taking a leading role in NATO and we have more work to do in this because the last piece in this is peace keeping."

Ukraine agreement coming

Turning to Canada's new role in Latvia, Sajjan says the eventual goal is to open the dialogue with Russia. To that end, Canada will send a battle group of soldiers to Latvia by early 2017 as part of a NATO plan to counter fears of Russian aggression in eastern Europe.

"Believe it or not, there has been some dialogue [with Russia] and more are scheduled with NATO. I think Russia is also interested in dialogue," Sajjan said.

After the NATO summit in Poland Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will head to Ukraine. 

Sajjan said Canada is on the cusp of finalizing a defence cooperation agreement with the country, but added Trudeau's trip will be more than just about the agreement. The deal would allow for more direct Canadian military and defence industrial support for Ukraine.

"At the end of the day, you want a nation to be more self sufficient and that is what this allows," he said. "It allows Ukraine to have greater access to our resources."

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