Funding NATO: Time for Tillerson to Lean on Trudeau

rex tilleron

NATO allies are scheduled to meet in Brussels this month. The Trudeau government (as was the case under Harper) is continuing severely underfund Canada’s military, and this has arguably been the case with respect to NATO funding for many years.

Despite the often cited target of 2% of GDP benchmark minimum for NATO members. Canada’s military expenditure is slightly more than 1% of GDP, having increased in each of the past 6 years.

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Chart 1. Canada spending. Constant (2011) US Dollars: SIPRI.org data

Trudeau’s March 2017 Federal Budget eliminated $8.7B from the military’s equipment budget. At the same time the Liberals claimed they would return the loot within the next 20 years. Not the best move if the goal is to improve overall relations with NATO and in particular with the USA.

“NATO is unfair, economically, to us, to the United States. Because it really helps them more so than the United States, and we pay a disproportionate share.” Donald Trump. (NYT March 26/17)

However, this could change soon. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaking to NATO counterparts in late March in Brussels said, “Our goal should be to agree at the May leaders meeting that by the end of the year all allies will have either met the pledge guidelines or will have developed plans that clearly articulate how, with annual milestone progress commitments, the pledge will be fulfilled.”

Despite pledges in 2014 by NATO leaders to up spending toward the 2% of GDP target only the USA, Greece, Poland, and Estonia currently meet the goal. At the time Canada was not onside with the European members.

The increased spending would require more than doubling current military spending from about $18B to $40B. Such change would draw the ire of huge swaths of soft-power voters.

“Canada has always done more than its share in NATO and we will continue to,” Trudeau said.

Prime Minister Trudeau has been sticking to talking points to declare Canada “punches above its weight” and that there are “many ways” of measuring Canada’s contribution to NATO. But already Tillerson is speaking out about the Trump Administrations call to have collective security need targets in place soon. Some NATO allies welcome the call.

“We are already seeing the effect of your strong focus on the importance of burden-sharing in the alliance.” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has praised President Trump’s stance on defense spending.

Rex Tillerson will lean on Trudeau (and others) over the severe shortfall. What will the Liberals do as a countermove? Although embattled Defense Minister Sajjin’s long awaited Defense Policy Review is reportedly wrapped up, it is not expected to be made public until after Trudeau meets with Tillerson and others at the NATO Summit in Brussels in late May.

Amid today’s global chaos the risks will only increase. To imagine military spending to be less than a priority is foolhardy. How much publicly visible pressure will Tillerson apply on the Trudeau government? We’ll know soon.

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About the Author

Rob McLean
Rob McLean is a regular contributor to Halsey News commenting on Canadian and Global politics. He can be reached at rob@halseynews.com or on Twitter at @DailyRasp.