Steven Chase, writing in the Globe and Mail, reports that “The Canadian government is defending itself against accusations from U.S. President Donald Trump that Canada is falling short on defence spending, saying there are big military expenditure increases planned in future years and that this country always contributes to NATO deployments … [and] … This rejoinder from Canada comes as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau heads to the Baltic country of Latvia to showcase a Canadian military deployment aimed at deterring Russian aggression.“
This bit of bait and switch is unlikely to fool anyone, even President Trump, because as one military analyst says “Canada is dodging, rather than answering justified criticism by changing the subject to deployments from funding levels.” Prime Minister Trudeau will preface NATO’s major heads of government summit next week, on 11 and 12 July, with a two day trip to Latvia to visit Canadian Armed Forces personnel who are based there to warn off the Russians. It’s an important task, let there be no doubt about that, but it (450 soldiers forming part of one 1,000+ strong battle group which is, in turn, part of a larger NATO force in the Baltic states and Poland) is hardly in the same category as our chronic, since Pierre Trudeau tried to abandon NATO entirely in 1969, underfunding of our military and our reluctance to contribute a full and fair share to Western security.
Mr Chase goes on to report that “A spokesman for Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan defended Canada’s military commitment in the face of this latest criticism from the Trump administration, noting that the Trudeau government has promised to boost spending … [but] … Charles Davies, a research fellow at the Conference of Defence Associations Institute, said that even with new budgetary commitments made in recent years, Canada is still not on track to hit the 2 per cent defence-spending target.” Mr Davies is then quoted as saying that ““The Canadian government obviously sees itself being on the wrong side of this discussion … [because] … it refuses to engage in a direct conversation about the issue … [instead] … it continues to play bait-and-switch, trying to divert attention towards the entirely different subject of the politics around the commitment of forces to NATO operations. This is an intellectually dishonest response to valid criticism.”“
There’s nothing new in this, of course, it’s been going on since Pierre Trudeau came to power in 1968. He appears to have disliked the Canadian military ~ there were rumours (that’s all they were as far as I know) that he intensely disliked the Britishness of the Canadian military ~ and the whole idea of military force. It appeared to me that he, honestly, thought that the whole Cold War was a dangerous mistake because where others, say Churchill and Eisenhower, saw Soviet aggression he saw the expansion of a sort of post-national state, which he, sincerely, believed to be a solution to the nationalism ~ which he thought had caused the great wars of the 20th century. I never doubted the sincerity of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s peace initiative in the 1970s but I did (and still do) doubt its logic. Pierre Trudeau shifted spending away from defence and towards social programmes, something Canadians very much liked.
… defence spending was, already falling under both Diefenbaker and Pearson, after the Korean War ended and the Cold War settled into a stalemate under the doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD), but it was at just over 4% of GDP in 1960. When Trudeau took over it fell to below 2%. It rose again, slightly, at the end of the Trudeau years under intense pressure from allies, and remained steady under Prime Minister Mulroney before falling, again, under Pierre Trudeau’s acolyte Prime Minister Jean Chrétien.
Tripling (or more) the Canadian defence budget over, say, a decade to, say, $(CA)60+ Billion (based on a projected GDP of $(US)2.3 Trillion ($(CA)3.0 Trillion) in 2022) without raising taxes is going to be a HUGE challenge for even the most committed government. This inept Justin Trudeau regime is committed to nothing except staying in power.
But, why should we double or, indeed, by, say, 2030 more than triple our current defence budget?
The primary reason, I think, is that, with the arrival of both Chinese Paramount Leader Xi Jinping and US President Donald Trump the strategic situation is unstable. China is embarked on a course of strategic power expansion just as America seems to be more and more inclined towards isolation and protectionism ~ America First. Canada has, since 1940, remained secure in the implicit promise that America would guarantee our sovereignty against all comers; by the mid to late 1950s it was apparent that Canada and the USA needed to do more to defend their shared continent but circumstances dictated that Canada, although, in the 1950s still a significant military power, was a junior partner in defence matters, even in the defence if Canada, itself. But those assumptions might no longer be as solid as they once seemed … President Trump is not inclined to altruism; he wants, expects, to be paid for anything and everything America does for anyone else, even when it is, clearly, in America’s self-interest. Canada is not going to be an equal partner with the USA in defence matters but we probably want to be a much stronger partner than we are now and we probably also want to have other strong alliances ~ which will require Canada to do some of the military heavy-lifting.
The secondary reason is that we seem to aspire to have more global soft power. We want, sometimes need to use influence around the world to accomplish our own, national aims. Soft power is a wonderful thing but, in reality, your soft power can only be used if people recognize that you have enough hard (military) power to back it up … people have to actually listen to you before they will heed your words. Canadian aid, trade and diplomacy are only as effective as our ‘respect’ in the world makes them … and respect in today’s world is very often a measure of military power. Our military has been in a mostly steady decline since about 1968 ~ it isn’t just about spending … we reduced defence spending, as a percentage of GDP, from about 1958 to 1968 but managed to actually improve the quality of our (smaller) armed forces, but, beginning in 1968, we let both quantity and quality decline … sometimes the cuts were deep, not just trimming away the fat, but cutting muscle and bone, too. It will be difficult and expensive to rebuild the military into something worthy of a G7 nation with global leadership ambitions: 2% of GDP is not an unreasonable amount to spend on defence, but it will be a lot of money.
I can understand that Prime Minister Trudeau’s heart isn’t in it: he’s involved in a Trade War that Canada cannot win with the USA, newly elected Premier Doug Ford is planning to shred his carbon pricing regime and, perhaps even worse, for him, personally, the “Kokanee Grope” keeps growing in importance … he is, perhaps, hoist with his own petard because of the high standards he imposed on others but seems to reject for himself.
But, difficult as it may be it is time for Justin Trudeau to stop the bait and switch tactics and face up to the fact that we, Canadians, must now pay the price for what his father, Pierre Trudeau did in the late 1960s … that, or we just satisfy ourselves with being America’s biggest, best and maybe last colony.