Canada is “slightly delinquent” when it comes to defence spending, said United States President Donald Trump during a face-to-face meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ahead of NATO talks in London Tuesday.
According to NATO figures, vis-a-vis individual members’ benchmark defence spending at two-percent of their Gross Domestic Product, Canada rang in below that level for 2019 at approximately 1.3 percent.
“But Canada, they’ll be ok. I have confidence. (They’re) Just slightly delinquent. Some are major delinquents, some are way below one percent and that’s unacceptable,” said Trump, who hinted at leveraging trade to get members to pony up.
This ‘two percent of GDP’ obligation of NATO alliance members, or what became an “aspirational goal”, was a watered down demand by U.S. President Barack Obama and Britain in 2014; then they wanted Canada to double its expenditure on defence.
Trump made the remarks when pressed to categorize Canada’s current military spending as it stacks up against others.
“We are talking to Germany tomorrow and they’re starting to come along. They have to. They have to. Otherwise if they don’t want to, I’ll have to do something with respect to trade. And with trade I have all the cards.”
Germany’s defence spending as percentage of its GDP is slightly higher than Canada, while Spain, Luxembourg and Belgium are below one percent.
“And that’s unacceptable and then if something happens, we’re supposed to protect them,” Trump continued. “It’s not really fair and it never has been fair.”
Trump rounded off the comments by quipping that “well, we’ll put Canada on a payment plan, I’m sure the prime minister would love that” in answer to a question about whether Canada “should have a plan to meet the two percent standard.”
“Where are you at? What is your number?” Trump asked regarding the NATO benchmark.
This caused Trudeau to repeat what he noted earlier in the press scrum: that Canada’s military spending would increase by 70 percent through the coming decade.
“Over these past years, including for the coming years including significant investments in our fighter jets, significant investments in our naval fleets,” Trudeau said.
“We are increasing significantly our defence spending from previous governments that cut it.”
While the Twitter universe lit up with conjecture, in the moment Trump was not interested in the minutiae of Canada’s incremental budgetary increases over the next 10 years and pressed Trudeau.
“Ok, where are you now?” Trump asked again.
Trudeau: “We’re at one-point-three-five.”
“One-point-three?” asked Trump.
“One-point-four, and continuing to move forward,” replied Trudeau who later reiterated Canada’s leading role in military operations in Latvia and Baghdad during the half-hour media confab.
“United States and all NATO allies know that Canada is a reliable partner. We’ll continue to defend NATO, and our interests.”
In addition to Trump’s expression of confidence in Canada, he added that “two percent is very low. It should be four percent.”
For the 2019-20 fiscal year, Department of National Defence budget allocation was $21.9 billion. In terms of “significant investments” Trudeau noted in Canadian air and sea power, two years ago Canada bypassed Boeing for interim CF-18s and instead paid $90 million for 25 Royal Australian Air Force F/A-18s. Retrofitting them is expected to run another three or four-hundred million dollars.
This was after Trudeau scrapped the former Conservative government’s sole-sourced contract to buy Lookheed Martin’s next-gen F35 fighter after defeating Stephen Harper in the 2015 election.
In July of this year, the federal government reopened the project and invited multiple companies, including Airbus, Boeing, Lockheed Martin (F-35) and Saab to bid on a $22 billion contract to supply the Royal Canadian Airforce with 88 new fighter jets.
The Royal Canadian Navy is also in the throes of a major $4.3 billion rebuild, having already retrofitted several interim vessels and constructing four of six scheduled Arctic and offshore patrol ships.
A further 15 larger, surface combatant vessels based on “type 26 BAE warships” are also in the design phase, according Public Services Canada. The department estimates that construction could begin as early as 2020 with a $60 billion budget.
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