Canada slashes defense spending as NATO pressures Harper to double it

Harper government announces $2.7 billion in cuts to National Defense spending as NATO pressures Ottawa to double defence budget


When compared to other western leaders, Barack Obama, David Cameron, Angela Merkel or Francois Hollande, for example, Harper is well-recognized as perhaps the most pro-western and pro-democracy politician among them.

Whether it’s Ukraine, the war Arab-Israeli war, or the Islamic State in northern Iraq and Syria, unlike Obama or Cameron, there’s rarely a moment where you have to guess where Harper stands on the matter.

NATO Summit

credit: Ieuan Berry

But the prime minister’s bravado and principled tough talk has put him in a difficult spot. Just before NATO allies met for a summit in Wales, UK on Sept. 4–5, NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Canada needs to increase its defense budget to ensure NATO is prepared for future military engagements.

“You can compare it with insurance. NATO is…security insurance. And for an insurance you pay a premium,” Rasmussen said. According to Rasmussen, between the Russian invasion of Ukraine and a resurgent and genocidal Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, NATO must be prepared politically and militarily to deal with any consequences that may possibly erupt from these bloody and corrosive conflicts.

“Now the premium has gone up because of this unstable security environment and that’s why we need more defence investments in the coming years,” he said.

However, not only is the government resisting NATO pressure to expand the military but is also dramatically reducing the defence budget.

National Defence was recently told by the prime minister that it can expect $2.7 billion in cuts heading into 2015. Harper is adament about balancing the books before the next general election and the military is an obvious and easy target.

Current spending is approximately one per cent of GDP. NATO wants that number at two per cent or doubled. The pressure is mostly coming from the United States and Britain, the only two NATO countries whose budgets are at or exceed that threshold.

Although the government said it would not raise defense spending to that level – which would add tens of billions to the budget – new spending measures, however, were not entirely rejected.

“We are open to increasing military spending when and where it makes sense and in response to particular needs,” Jason Macdonald, the prime minister’s spokesman said Tuesday night. “But the notion of setting an arbitrary target does not make sense,” he added.

“We have agreed to compromise language with our NATO allies and the commitment agreed to will be reflected in the NATO Summit statement to be issued later this week,” Macdonald said.

“Regarding the 2%, specifically, it is an aspirational target and will be acknowledged as such in the Summit statement,” Macdonald added.

In response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Canada has committed warplanes to patrol the Baltic States, a single frigate, boosted its staff at NATO headquarters, and has committed a thousand soldiers to Eastern Europe on a rational basis. The government has also committed money and nonlethal military equipment to Ukrainian forces.

“We agree with our NATO allies that it is important to continue increasing our defence spending, and we have committed to doing so,” the prime minister’s spokesman said.  “Canada will continue to focus on increasing spending on measures that meet actual operational needs, in response to global issues et cetera, and not on meeting an arbitrary target.”

However admirable Harper’s principles and forceful convictions may be, however necessary they may be on the world stage, it is evident that NATO and our allies want Ottawa to start putting its money where its mouth is.

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