Trudeau says Canada one of NATO's 'strongest actors' without committing more money

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke about Canada's diverse contributions to the NATO partnership without committing to up its defence spending when he addressed a news conference in Berlin.

Prime minister says there are other ways to measure Canada's contributions to the alliance

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, centre, Hamburg Mayor Olaf Scholz, right, and German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, left, pose for photographers at city hall in Hamburg, Germany, on Friday. Trudeau later gave a speech talking about warding off populist anger by addressing middle-class anxiety. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke about Canada's diverse contributions to the NATO partnership without committing to up its defence spending when he addressed a news conference in Berlin.

Trudeau and Angela Merkel addressed reporters Friday following their morning meeting and an impromptu dinner Thursday at the German chancellor's invitation.​

Trump has called the 28-country alliance obsolete and U.S. Defence Secretary James Mattis told his fellow defence ministers in Brussels this week that while the United States still holds NATO in high regard, it expects its allies to start spending more on defence or the Trump administration will "moderate its commitment."

Germany has signalled it will heed the warning and make attempts to boost defence spending, which Merkel brought up when asked about it on Friday.

But in Ottawa, there's little indication that any increase in NATO-specific defence spending is on the horizon.

Germany and Canada have always been among the strongest actors in NATO.- Justin Trudeau

Canada currently spends 0.99 per cent of gross domestic product on defence. That's below the NATO target of two per cent of GDP, which only a handful of alliance countries have met.

On Friday, Trudeau said that two per cent target is one all NATO countries agreed to, but there are many ways of looking at a country's contributions to the alliance.

"When you look at the countries that regularly step up — delivering troops, participating in missions, being there to do the heavy lifting in the alliance — Germany and Canada have always been amongst the strongest actors in NATO," he said.

He made the case that Canada is leading the battle group in Latvia, and working to procure more aircraft and ships for its military as two examples.

Justin Trudeau on NATO

6 years ago
Duration 1:29
Canada's prime minister talks about the country's contribution to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization

Germany vows to up NATO spending

Germany's spending stands at 1.2 per cent of gross domestic product, but the Merkel government has made commitments to spend more to edge that figure upward, German ambassador Werner Wnendt said in a recent interview.

Merkel repeated that commitment on Friday.

Trump is far from the first U.S. president to lean on its NATO allies, Wnendt added.

"We have heard this from previous presidents of the United States... that they said there must be a fair burden sharing," said Wnendt.

"That's well accepted in the alliance, so we will deliver."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Justin Trudeau brief the media after talks at the chancellery in Berlin, Friday. Both leaders were asked about their commitment to defence spending as part of the NATO alliance, with Trudeau not making the same commitment as Merkel to spend more. (Associated Press)

During a June 2016 speech to Parliament in Ottawa, U.S. President Barack Obama softened his request of Canada by saying he wanted to see more Canada in NATO.

Prior to that, the Canadian ambassadors for former president George W. Bush were far more blunt in calling on Canada to pull its weight on defence.

On Tuesday in Brussels, Mattis made some specific demands. He called on NATO put a plan in place this year that lays out a timetable for governments to reach the two-per-cent target.

Different economic strategies

There's also some daylight between Trudeau and Merkel on the best way to stimulate economic growth, which was expected to be a key topic of their Thursday meeting.

The two first met in November 2015 at the G20 summit in Turkey, Trudeau's debut on the international stage.

Trudeau found himself aligned with the G20's broader goal of promoting growth through investing in infrastructure, financed through modest deficits.

Merkel, however, held to her long-standing commitment to government austerity.

Trudeau and Merkel are more aligned now than they were in Turkey but differences still remain in how they view investment versus austerity, said an official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

That ongoing conversation between Merkel and Trudeau will set the stage for his return visit to the German city of Hamburg in July for the G20 leaders' summit.

On the shifting global economic forces unleashed after Britain voted to leave the European Union and Trump's surprise victory in November, the chancellor and the prime minister are firmly on the same page, officials from both countries say.

Trudeau and Merkel are expected to discuss how to promote liberalized trade in an increasingly hostile anti-trade world, one that includes Trump's antipathy towards big trade deals.

"There's a lot of talk about what's going on in the world. Canada, in particular, and Germany look like states with systems that are fairly stable," said Wnendt.​

Ends day with speech on economy

Trudeau started his day with a meeting with German parliamentarians and a sombre visit to a rain-slicked German Holocaust Memorial. Later, he visited the location where 12 people lost their lives in December when a Tunisian asylum seeker rammed a truck into a crowd of holiday revellers.

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Justin Trudeau and Angela Merkel visit Christmas Market memorial in Berlin

He ended the day in for St. Matthew's Banquet, a gala event with a 700-year history where his keynote address warned top European business leaders to take concrete steps to address the rising populist angst or suffer the consequences.

"Increasingly, inequality has made citizens distrust their governments [and] their employers. It turns us into them," he told the black-tie crowd.

He later said people need political leaders to find solutions, not focus on problems.

With files from CBC News


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