According to an article in the Toronto Sun, “As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau prepares to attend the upcoming NATO summit in Brussels, U.S. President Donald Trump is calling on Canada to meet the alliance’s defence spending targets … [and] … In the June 19 letter, Trump says there is “growing frustration” in the United States with North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies like Canada that have not increased defence spending as promised.” Of course there is and there should be … Donald J Trump may be a buffoon and a bully and a threat to the liberal world order but, like a stopped clock, he must, now and again, be right.
Canada has a long and even noble tradition, dating back over 100 years of carrying more than a full load when freedom and justice needed defending … but after 1968 we looked for ways to shed that burden, to let others take the risks and do the ‘heavy lifting.’ We wanted to be liked and green and ‘cool,’ as The Economist pronounced us to be in 2003, after Jean Chrétien’s Liberals had surprised most Liberals by being fiscal conservatives ~ something that his Conservative predecessor, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, had not managed to be. But we had, by 2003, had 35 years of harsh, even seriously damaging cuts to our national defence and our standing in the world had diminished from leading middle power, under Prime Ministers St Laurent, Diefenbaker and Pearson, to freeloading pipsqueak under Prime Ministers Pierre Trudeau, Brian Mulroney and Jean Chrétien. Despite some good work by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and especially Defence Minister Gordon O’Connor, and, of course, thanks, above all, to the courage, skill and tenacity of the men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces, Canada was a leader in the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan until 2014; but that wasn’t ‘cool,’ almost no one liked Stephen Harper but, briefly, he and Canada were respected and our voice mattered on the world stage.
Now we are back to Pierre Trudeau’s Canada ~ the one that former Liberal Deputy Prime Minister John Manley described as the country that is like the cheapskate who, when the waiter brings the dinner bill, excuses himself to go to the washroom.
So President Trump is right about one thing: Canada is shirking its responsibilities to its friends and neighbours and the world. It’s not all Justin Trudeau’s fault … the problem goes all the way back to his father who wanted to disarm Canada, making us a sort of big, cold Costa Rica, and, concomitantly withdraw from alliances, like NATO and act as some sort of nice, global peacemaker, an initiative which was an almost comic failure. But we must recall that the notion that Uncle Sam would defend us all, from everything, out of the goodness of America’s heart (or out of self interest) was, then, and is still wildly popular throughout the US led West, especially in Canada, and it made Pierre Trudeau’s pacifism seem reasonable to a solid majority of Canadians … and the same thing happened in Germany and France and Italy and Spain and so on. Right now, NATO says, only Estonia, Greece, the United Kingdom and the United States (that’s only 4 out of 29 members) are meeting their commitment (only an aspiration, Canada says) to spend 2% of GDP on defence.
I think that President Trump knows that this is a big club with which he can beat his allies, the ones he (mostly) treats as adversaries, because not even the Democrats will disagree that Canada, and the other shirkers, can and should do more.
Should Canada react and actually increase defence spending? “The Liberals,” the Sun reports, “promised last year to increase spending on the military by 70 per cent over the next 10 years. But even with this increase, Canada will fall short of NATO’s target of spending two per cent of GDP on defence,” so of course it should; it’s a no-brainer, even for some progressives … but only after the government ~ a strong, capable minister and some very senior civil servants ~ oversees a thorough house cleaning inside DND and the Canadian Forces. Some cuts have to be made before anything new is added, especially to the senior levels of the uniformed bureaucracy. The Canadian Armed Forces command and control superstructure is, as I have said, many times, is more than just fat … it is morbidly obese. If something like⅓ to ½ of the currently serving admirals commodores and generals (and a similar proportion of Navy captains and Army and RCAF colonels) are not
fired forced into early retirement then most new money will be wasted on ill-conceived ‘pet projects’ and unnecessary bureaucratic process. Also, before new money is added the entire defence procurement system needs to be torn down and rebuilt … what we have today is an incomprehensible mishmash that allows, even encourages waste and poor performance. There needs to be serious reform, which will take a year or more, before the defence budget is increased by about 110% over, say, five years … not just 70% over 10 years.
The defence budget can be doubled without raising taxes … priorities need to be shifted. But before it can grow, the government and the chattering classes and the Laurentian Elites need to get on board and then ‘sell’ the rational for bigger, better, more expensive armed forces to a skeptical population. That’s going to take some leadership from some ministers and some insiders.