U.S. senators urge Trudeau to meet NATO’s 2% defence spending target – National

A bipartisan group of U.S. senators is appealing directly to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to ensure Canada meets NATO’s target of spending at least two per cent of GDP on defence, a benchmark Ottawa is not expected to reach this decade.

A letter to Trudeau dated Thursday and signed by 23 senators warns Canada risks failing to uphold its commitments to the alliance as it faces “one of the most severe threat landscapes in its history.”

It comes about two months before the U.S. is set to host NATO’s annual summit, which will mark its 75th anniversary.

“As we approach the 2024 NATO Summit in Washington, D.C., we are concerned and profoundly disappointed that Canada’s most recent projection indicated that it will not reach its two percent commitment this decade,” the letter reads.

“Canada will fail to meet its obligations to the Alliance, to the detriment of all NATO Allies and the free world, without immediate and meaningful action to increase defense spending.”

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Canada’s newly-unveiled defence policy update forecast $7.9 billion in new spending on the Canadian Armed Forces over the next five years, which would raise defence spending to 1.76 per cent of GDP by the the 2029-30 fiscal year.

Click to play video: 'Canada has ‘work to do’ beyond defence policy update to meet military needs: Bill Blair'

Canada has ‘work to do’ beyond defence policy update to meet military needs: Bill Blair

The Liberal government has repeatedly declined to say definitively when or if it will ever meet NATO’s two-per cent benchmark, which was reiterated in the all-members agreement signed at last year’s summit.

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Defence Minister Bill Blair says he is pursuing even more spending that wasn’t included in the new defence policy, including the purchase of a new submarine fleet, that could push Canada beyond 1.76 per cent and even get it to two per cent. But he also says those commitments first need to be paid for, and he has been trying to make the “business case” to secure the extra funding.

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“We need to do it right, we need to take the time, we’re doing that work now, we have excellent people working on it to refine exactly what we require,” he told reporters in Ottawa Thursday when asked about the senators’ letter.

Blair would not provide a timeline for when that work might lead to a firm spending commitment, but he said even after Canada “inevitably” reaches the two per cent threshold he will request additional funding that will boost defence spending even further.

“We know we’ve got work to do … and I’m sure I’d be able to assure those concerned senators that Canada will be a ready and capable ally to NATO, in North America and NORAD and around the world,” he said.

The increasing focus on the two-per cent target comes as Russia continues its invasion of Ukraine more than two years later, and has begun testing the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons in a direct warning to NATO countries.

Former U.S. president Donald Trump, who is running to return to the White House this year, has also raised concerns among allies after recently vowing not to come to the defence of members that don’t meet their spending commitments.

British Foreign Secretary David Cameron earlier this month said the spending target should be raised even further, to 2.5 per cent of GDP, to meet the current global threat environment.

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Thursday’s letter was spearheaded by Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Republican Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina, who co-chair the U.S. Senate NATO Observer Group. Other signatories include Republican Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah, Ted Cruz of Texas, and Dan Sullivan of Alaska, along with Democratic Sens. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland and Tim Kaine of Virginia.

Click to play video: 'Canada pledges $8.1 billion in new defence spending'

Canada pledges $8.1 billion in new defence spending

Although the senators commend Canada for taking a leading role in supporting NATO military operations, including the multinational battlegroup in Latvia, they also express concern about the need for modernization of NORAD — ” a process that can only move forward with direct cooperation from your government.”

Ottawa has pledged around $40 billion to modernize the U.S.-Canada continental defence organization, along with billions on purchasing F-35 fighter jets and building new naval ships. The defence policy update contained no new commitments for NORAD beyond that modernization plan, but much of its new spending is focused on Arctic defence.

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“Later this year, when the United States hosts the 2024 NATO Summit to lay out priorities for the upcoming year, we will expect your government and every NATO member that has not met the two percent defense spending threshold to have a plan to reach this benchmark as soon as possible,” the letter reads.

“We anticipate a robust partnership between the U.S., Canada and all Allies to achieve the benchmarks the Alliance has identified to enable us to defend democracy, preserve security and expand opportunity.”

The Prime Minister’s Office deferred comment on the letter to the Department of Defence, which referred to Blair’s comments Thursday.

Although the letter marks a rare direct appeal from a Canadian ally to a prime minister, American lawmakers have taken aim at Canada’s defence spending shortfalls before.

Last year, Sullivan grilled NORAD commander U.S. Gen. Gregory Guillot during his confirmation hearing about Canada’s ““incredibly disappointing” defence budget, and said “Americans get frustrated when our allies don’t pull their weight.”

During his meeting with Blair last week, Austin commended Canada’s defence policy update and said it would “help” Canada reach the two-per cent NATO commitment.

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