The House

Canada should boost military spending, former NATO commander says

The former supreme allied commander of NATO says he agrees with Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump that non-U.S. allies need to step up and boost their military budgets.
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump arrives for his election night rally at the New York. Trump's proposed policies could have consequences for Canada's economy. (Canadian Press)

The former supreme allied commander of NATO says he agrees with Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump that non-U.S. allies need to step up to the plate and boost their military budgets.

"The 2 per cent goal is one that nations have set and I fully support it and I agree with Mr. Trump that nations should try to hit that 2 per cent goal," Admiral James Stavridis said in an interview with Terry Milewski on CBC Radio's The House

Canada signed on to meeting that target in 2006 but remains woefully behind reaching that goal. Canada's spending comes in at just one per cent of GDP, or roughly $20 billion a year, a figure that many argue is too low to sustain a modern military force. Indeed, only five other countries of the 28 in NATO spend less.

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to supporters during a campaign rally at Mid-Hudson Civic Center in Poughkeepsie, New York, U.S. April 17, 2016. (Eduardo Munoz/Reuters)

Trump argued Wednesday, in his first major scripted public policy speech, that the United States foots the bill for far too much of the alliance's defence capacity, and other member nations — including Canada — are "freeloaders" for failing to contribute their fair share of domestic military spending.

"It's obsolete and too many people are getting a free ride," Trump said after racking up lopsided victories in five presidential primaries. "Frankly, they have to put up more money. We are paying disproportionately. It's too much. It's a different world than it was when we originally conceived of the idea."

Canada's Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan responded to the growing calls for Canada to meet the 2 per cent NATO spending target — not just from Trump, but current president Barack Obama and liberal-minded Democratic senators in Congress —saying Wednesday it would be considered as part of the defence review.

"Our commitment to NATO is rock-solid," he said against Friday when asked again to respond to Trump's comments.

"We are focused on spending our defence budget in a way that ensures the CAF has the capabilities needed to provide security for Canadians at home and abroad, and to carry out the important missions the Government asks of it," noting that budget 2016 included predictable funding for the military.

NATO still relevant, former commander insists

If Stavridis agrees with Trump that NATO allies need to spend more, he takes issue with the harsh language he employs to chide key American allies.

"Would we like to see a bit more spending? Absolutely," the former top commander said. "But, I think we should be grateful for the spending we have and encouraging all to hit the 2 per cent goal.

"Overall, the United States spends $600 billion on defence and our non-U.S. NATO allies spends $300 billion a year on defence. That's more than China and Russia combined. So, it's not an insignificant contribution and to call our NATO allies and partners, especially those like Canada, who have stood, fought and delivered and died on NATO missions, I think it is the wrong term to say 'free loaders.'"

Adm. (Ret'd) James G. Stavridis, former supreme allied commander of NATO, tells Power & Politics that Canada is punching above its weight on NATO operations, but it could do more. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP Photo)

Stavridis also takes issue with Trump's characterization of NATO as an outdated multilateral alliance that does not meet the needs of the Western world.

The billionaire businessman has said that NATO does not adequately address the pressing problems of our time, notably Islamic terrorism, but is instead focused on an older adversary, Russia, and its continental encroachment.

The former naval commander said that NATO is constantly addressing the "transnational threat." 

"I completely disagree that somehow NATO is obsolete. NATO stood against Islamic terrorism in Afghanistan, in Libya, in the Balkans, and counter piracy missions. NATO adapted very, very well to the fall of the Berlin Wall," he said, while defending the alliance's current posturing against Russia.

"Should we be concerned about Vladimir Putin? I think the question answers itself when we look at his actions in invading Ukraine, and annexing the Crimea. That is a clear and present danger to the international system."


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