For some time now, even before President Trump was elected, I have been writing about the potential impact of US President Donald Trump on Canada’s defence budget dilemma. On this one thing, I believe, President Trump has the rational and moral high ground. Now he seems to have reopened that old wound:
That tweet is, mainly, about his ongoing problems with NAFTA but it tells us that the defence spending sore is still festering.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau could, of course, take that one issue off the table, and, perhaps, make President Trump see him (and Canada) in a slightly less hostile way, by promising to increase Canada’s defence spending by, say, 10±% per year for 10+ years until it reaches 2% of GDP, which is likely to mean that, by say about 2030, Canada will spend something like $(CA)56± Billion on its defence forces since some analysts (The Independent, using PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) data) say that Canada’s GDP in 2030 will be $(US)2.141 Trillion (which is about $(CA)2.8 Trillion at current exchange rates). That $(CA)56 Billion is far greater than what ‘Strong, Secure, Engaged,’ the Trudeau defence plan, estimates it needs, in order to increase “defence spending from $18.9 billion in 2016-17 to $32.7 billion in 2026-27.“
Is 2% the right amount? NATO has said so (in 2014) and Canada has agreed. But, despite promising to increase defence spending, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has “all but shrugged off Donald Trump’s persistent demand that America’s fellow NATO allies start spending two per cent of their GDP on defence.” I have looked at the 2% solution … more than once. 2% of GDP is a reasonable amount for a G7 country, like Canada, to spend on its national defence, which includes making contributions to alliances like NATO and NORAD and doing a fair share of making peace and then keeping the peace around the world. But, as Professor David Bercuson has written, in The Conversation, after discussing the political problems surrounding Canadian military operations since 1899, “What is the main lesson the current government has learned from this history? … [mainly to] … Hide the military as much as possible. That way there’s fewer political problems and national unity issues, no fierce debates about national apathy, no assertions of where Canadian interests lie or ought to lie. Instead, fall back on age-old slogans about protecting Canada and protecting North America, and helping out allies when called upon to do so — sometimes … [and then] … Fund just enough military to protect our sovereign borders, which are largely not threatened by anyone. That way we haven’t solved any military problems, but we have debated them away, which is just as good for most Canadians. And in the next election, there will be no military matters to worry about.” That seems to me to be about the standard which was applied, also, by Joe Clark, John Turner, Brian Mulroney, Kim Campbell, Jean Chrétien, Paul Martin and Stephen Harper … Pierre Trudeau, I have been told by sources I regard as highly reliable, actually wanted to disarm Canada, completely, and it took the very real threat of a cabinet revolt to dissuade him and he finally settled for slashing Canada’s NATO commitment in 1969.
Now, in what appears to me to be a fit of pique regarding Canada or, equally likely, Justin Trudeau himself, President Trump has raised the old bugaboo that America is defending Canada for “free.” There must be no question that in continental defence America is the dominant partner, but Canada does do a share ~ but, perhaps, not as full and or as fair a share as it might. But it must also be recognized that even if Canada did nothing, the United States would have a strategic imperative to defend the approaches to the USA and one of them is Canada’s territory and the airspace over it. The fact that Canada plays a active, if modest role is a bonus for the USA and it is something that Canada must do to protect its own sovereignty … if we did not do “just enough” on our own the USA would do it for us, with or without our permission.
Doing “just enough” to not give the Americans and excuse to do it for us seems to be the default position of the Laurentian Elites and, more often than not, of the Government of Canada which, generally, serves their interests. I really doubt that Justin Trudeau will do anything to pacify President Trump, even with NAFTA at stake. I suspect that the view from the Prime Minister’s Office is that being bullied by Trump is (in partisan political terms) better than being seen to be giving in to Trump.
It’s not clear to me where the Conservatives stand. During the leadership race Erin O’Toole promised to meet the NATO 2% target, but I think he was the only one who promised that. In a July 2018 interview, quoted in iPolitics, Foreign Affairs critic Peter Kent said ““I think that Canada (now) does need to step up and start need to start making some major commitments to get closer to that two per cent target … [and, he added] … Obviously its not going to be done in one year, or two years, or even five years, but I think there is more than a little truth in the accusation that Canada’s getting a free ride under the umbrella of American defence.”” At the August 2018 policy convention the Conservatives passed a motion …
… which falls far short of a promise to meet the 2% target.
What will it take, Canadians should be asking, to prevent US President Trump from tearing up NAFTA and threatening the jobs of tens of thousands of Canadian workers? How much of what he demands on e.g. auto trade and dairy and egg markets is “reasonable?” Where do we draw our line in the sand? One question is: what is the relationship between Canada’s niggardly defence spending and President Trump’s position on NAFTA? How many, if any, billions of ‘new’ dollars for the Canadian Armed Forces, over, say, the next decade might NAFTA be worth to us?