Politics

Canada 'slightly delinquent' on defence spending, Trump says at NATO gathering

Canada is “slightly delinquent” when it comes to meeting NATO’s target for spending on defence, U.S. President Donald Trump said Tuesday on the eve of the military alliance’s 70th anniversary celebrations.

Trudeau met with Latvian President Egils Levits, Prince Charles earlier Tuesday

President Donald Trump meets with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at Winfield House, Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2019, in London. (The Associated Press)

Canada is "slightly delinquent" when it comes to meeting NATO's target for spending on defence, U.S. President Donald Trump said Tuesday on the eve of the military alliance's 70th anniversary celebrations.

He seemed ready to go easy on Ottawa, however — telling journalists in a wide-ranging news conference with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau this morning that he's confident Canada will boost its military spending.

Trump has demanded that all NATO allies meet the benchmark of spending two per cent of their gross domestic product on the military.

At one point during his media event with Trudeau this morning, Trump asked the prime minister directly how close Canada is to meeting that goal. The prime minister initially deflected the question before Trump asked a second time.

That led to an awkward exchange among the Canadian officials in attendance, who rattled off numbers until Trudeau settled on 1.4 per cent of GDP — the goal the Liberal government hopes to reach in 2024-25.

Despite the fuzzy math, Trump seemed satisfied.

"They're getting up to a level that's quite acceptable," he said. "They're under two per cent obviously, but they're going up."

The last batch of NATO figures put Canada's contribution at 1.27 per cent of GDP, but federal officials say the calculation was recently revised and now sits at 1.31 per cent.

Trump once again raised the spectre of the United States not defending allies who don't meet the benchmark, but later said he might instead retaliate against the countries he described as "delinquent" through trade measures.

'Maybe I'll deal with them from a trade perspective,' the U.S. president said at a news conference with French President Emmanuel Macron. 0:58

When asked to characterize Canada's position, Trump said it was "slightly delinquent, but they'll be OK. I have confidence."

Trudeau stuck to his standard line — that the Liberal government's defence policy, introduced in 2017, plans to increase defence spending by 70 per cent over a decade.

"We know that making sure everyone is there to step up and deliver is really important," he said.

During a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, President Trump calls Canada 'slightly delinquent' when it comes to its spending on NATO, and Trudeau is forced to defend Canada's contributions. 1:46

The photo-op involving Trump and Trudeau lasted slightly more than 30 minutes and was apparently a topic of conversation among the leaders during a reception at Buckingham Palace Tuesday night.

Video and audio captured on the pool camera shows British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, French President Emmanuel Macron and Trudeau apparently talking about why Macron was late for a meeting and the marathon press session with the Canadian prime minister.

Trump was never mentioned by name in the conversation.

PM Justin Trudeau, France's Emmanuel Macron, UK PM Boris Johnson and other VIPs shared a few words at a Buckingham Palace reception Tuesday - and seemed to be talking about U.S. President Donald Trump's lengthy impromptu press conferences earlier in the day. 0:25

Earlier Tuesday morning, Trudeau also met with Latvian President Egils Levits. The two discussed the deployment of nearly 600 Canadian troops in the Baltic State, part of a NATO mission meant to deter Russian aggression.

Some NATO leaders have openly questioned the future of the 70-year-old military alliance, with Macron saying it is suffering "brain death."

"This alliance at 70 is extremely important to Canada and to people around the world, and we're going to continue to be dedicated to it," said Trudeau.

Trump takes aim at Macron

Levits was even more determined to shore up the alliance in the face of criticism.

"For Latvia, I can say the transatlantic bond — that means Europe and Canada and the U.S. — are the cornerstones of our defence politics and of our foreign politics," he said.

"Because NATO is comprised of member states which share the same values, rule of law, democracy. And these values are to be defended. And we both, Canada and Latvia, are ready and willing to do so."

In a meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Tuesday morning, Trump took aim at Macron's comments.

"Nobody needs NATO more than France," said Trump. "You can't just go around making statements like that about NATO. It's very disrespectful."

Trump later sat down with Macron and said the countries that do not meet NATO obligations would be "dealt with."

"Maybe I'll deal with them from a trade perspective," Trump said.

Meanwhile, retired Canadian Forces general Tom Lawson told CBC News Network's Power & Politics on Tuesday that Canada's defence spending should increase — but he questioned the necessity of meeting NATO's two per cent spending target.

Retired General Tom Lawson, former chief of defence staff of the Canadian Armed Forces, says Canada's defence spending should be increased, but raises questions about the necessity of meeting NATO's 2% spending target. 8:12

The infighting within the alliance and the rise of authoritarian regimes around the world means NATO is on the cusp of redefining itself once again.

"NATO has always had to adapt to the changing security environment," said Stéfanie von Hlatky, an associate professor of political science and international affairs at Queen's University.

"There was a big adaptation with the end of the Cold War. NATO kind of reinvented itself from a traditional military alliance into an international security organization."

After the 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington, and throughout the so-called war on terror, NATO had to reinvent itself again.

"Now I think NATO has to deal with the rise of China," von Hlatky said. "What is significant about this leaders' meeting in London is that China is featuring on the agenda for the first time."

Meeting with Prince Charles

Trudeau also met Tuesday with Prince Charles at Clarence House, the royal residence that had been home to the Queen Mother. There have been reports in Britain that the prince will be stepping up more often to assume public duties normally carried out by Queen Elizabeth, who turns 94 in the spring.

The reports come as the Royal Family tries to contain the damage from a BBC interview Prince Andrew gave over his friendship with convicted American sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. On Monday, BBC aired an interview with an American woman who says she was forced to have sex with the prince when she was a teenager.

About the Author

Murray Brewster

Defence and security

Murray Brewster is senior defence writer for CBC News, based in Ottawa. He has covered the Canadian military and foreign policy from Parliament Hill for over a decade. Among other assignments, he spent a total of 15 months on the ground covering the Afghan war for The Canadian Press. Prior to that, he covered defence issues and politics for CP in Nova Scotia for 11 years and was bureau chief for Standard Broadcast News in Ottawa.

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