How much is enough?

Over the past several weeks I have rattled on quite a bit about defence, beginning with: The Defence of the Realm, and then talking about some basics and a bit of history, and then about grand strategy and even a grand strategy for Canada. Then I established a few baselines for (mostly) continental defence, and then turned my attention to the Defence of Canada, expeditionary forces and how to support the military. In each post I talked about needing adequately equipped forces and time and again I suggested that while Canada and the Canadian Forces have some of the tools there is, always, a need for more and if not more then better tools. It all costs money.

Measuring defence expenditures against GDP (Gross Domestic Product) is, really, a measure of two things for democratic countries:

  1. Capacity ~ how much could a country afford to spend? and
  2. Commitment ~ how much is a country willing to spend?

Using SIPRI (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute) data, which is very reliable, Canada’s spending on defence declined from 2% of GDP in 1990, about the time the Cold War was seriously winding down, to 1.1% in 2000 and, although it took an “Afghanistan bump” upwards (to 1.4%) in 2006 to 2009, it declined, again, to 1% in 2014.


Now, in simple dollar terms defence spending has gone up from $11.9 Billion in 1990 (which was over 10% of the government’s expenditures) to $12.1 and by 2014 it was about $18.5 Billion. But, in fact, especially in the 1990 to 2000 decade, the small increases in defence spending failed to even keep pace with the general rate of inflation, much less the higher rates of inflation that, generally, apply to aerospace and weapon systems. Thus the cost of things like food and fuel ate up greater and greater shares of the budget and sophisticated equipment like helicopters went from costly to unaffordable.

Although Canada’s GDP more than trebled (from $590 Billion in 1990 to over $1.8 Trillion in 2014) the defence budget did not even double. The capacity was there, the commitment was not.

Why spend any more?

The answer, it seems to me, is simple …

First …


… the Royal Canadians Navy’s whole fleet is in need of replacement and none of the promised new ships has been built, and every report out of Ottawa says that there is not enough money for any of them, not, at least, in the quantities the Navy has said are needed to do the tasks the government has, traditionally, assigned.

Then …


… the Canadian Army does not have enough money to maintain some of the equipment it has, it has too few of some key weapon systems, and it needs, but has no hope of affording, still others.

Next: the RCAF needs new Search and Rescue (SAR) aircraft to replace the obsolete Buffalos, and new fighters to replace the ageing CF-18s (but the Liberals have said it will not be the state-of-the-art F-35), and many experts say it needs more transport aircraft and heavy-lift helicopters, too.


And that doest even begin to consider e.g. satellites based surveillance and global C³ capabilities and new field hospitals and, and, and …

1% of GDP does not suffice.

So, how much IS enough?

NATO says 2% of GDP should be the target for NATO members like Canada. That 2% figure is, according to SIPRI, again, about what Australia, France, Portugal, Taiwan and the United Kingdom spend. That (2%) is more than the Netherlands currently spends and less than Singapore does. 2% of Canadian GDP would be about $36 Billion in 2016, almost twice the current Canadian defence budget.

But, I think we should assume that, given the current global economic situation and the Liberal Party’s platform, we should look forward to:

  1. A nearly no growth defence budget until 2019; and
  2. A GDP of about 2 Trillion in 2019.

The Liberals will be wrong to ignore defence and hope for the best, but they are, most probably, going to operate in “election mode” for the next four years and they will believe that there are few votes to be won by spending on defence.


dominic-leblancA couple of Liberal cabinet ministers may want to promote shipbuilding, for example, as some sort of Atlantic Canadian infrastructure programme, but it is likely that even a pair of Liberal heavyweights will come up short. The party ~ dominated by folks from the Toronto ~ Ottawa ~ Montreal axis ~ will be after butter, not guns, social housing, not ships. The problem with the Liberal “plan” is that it ignores the point I made in a post about some military basics and 20th century history, back in the 1950s US President Eisenhower committed us all to the “come as you are” war. We, the US-led West, will have to deal with whatever threats emerge ~ and we can be sure that new, unforeseen ones will emerge ~ with the forces we have, in being, at the time, using the equipment we have in service. If, as I hear they are now, the sailors and soldiers are badly organized (too many officers in too many HQs, not enough infantrymen or vehicle mechanics or even people working in supply depots) and the spare parts bins are empty so that the technicians we do have cannot repair needed equipment, then our military capabilities may not be up to the task, notwithstanding the skill and courage of individual Canadian sailors, soldiers and aviators.

But, the Liberals will have other priorities … “sunny ways,” and all that.

I think a Conservative platform should, first: explain the strategic and defence management challenges facing Canada ~ unforeseen threats, inadequate resources; and, second: promise to steadily, over two terms in office, “grow” the defence budget to about 2% of GDP (something approaching $50 Billion, perhaps, by 2030) in order to build stronger (bigger), adequately equipped, well trained, combat-ready military forces that are able to help Canada promote and protect its vital interests anywhere in the world, and to make a positive and meaningful contribution (Appropriate for a G7 country) to keeping (making, when necessary) the peace around the world so that nations, including Canada, may trade freely, in peace, to ensure our long term prosperity.


Published by Ted Campbell

Old, retired Canadian soldier, Conservative ~ socially moderate, but a fiscal hawk. A husband, father and grandfather. Published material is posted under the "Fair Dealing" provisions (§29) of the Copyright Act for the purposes of research, private study and education.

40 thoughts on “How much is enough?

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