David Perry is President of the Canadian Institute of Global Affairs and host of the weekly podcast Dismantle the defense.
Next week, the heads of state of the 31 NATO members will meet in Vilnius, Lithuania. On the agenda are alliance partnerships in the Indo-Pacific and continued support for Ukraine, but among the more talking points is a new commitment to investment in defense.
The last point agreed at the Wales Summit 2014 is twofold, obligating allies to allocate 2% of their GDP to defense by 2024 and to allocate 20% of their total investment to the defense sector for the purchase of equipment and related research and development.
Ahead of the Vilnius Conference, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg will discuss “leaders” changing the 2% of GDP commitment from a spending target to a spending minimum. If passed, it should transform NATO from an organization that continually convinces its members to meet this spending target, to an organization in which spending 2% of GDP on defense is a condition of membership. agreed.
This discussion is taking place, of course, against the backdrop of Russia’s ongoing illegal war in Ukraine, which has prompted a basic security reform for many allies, and moves by Finland and Sweden to join the coalition. However, not all allies have kept the Welsh pledge since then At the NATO summit in Brussels in February 2022, many publicly pledged to do just that. In its new National Security Strategy, Germany has pledged to meet the 2% target, and Denmark and Norway have also agreed to do so.
For Canada, the new spending promise will put us in a very uncomfortable position. The Washington Post Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also reportedly declared behind closed doors that Canada would not honor Wales’ commitments. With our defense spending still less than 1.3% of GDP just one year after Wales’ deadline in 2024, this certainly did not come as a shock to our fellow NATO leaders.
However, other than the 2% target, Canada is one of only four Allies to fail to meet any of the spending pledges made by NATO Allies, as we also fail to allocate 20% of our defense spending to equipment and related procurement. research and development. Even worse, the Trudeau government’s last budget in 2023 announced that it would actually cut rather than increase defense spending.
The combination of a general reduction in federal spending on departmental operations and a 15% cut in spending on travel and outsourcing could reduce DHS spending by up to $1 billion annually, until another drop occurs. Allies promise hefty increases.
To be fair, the federal government promised A$38.6 billion in budget increases over the next 20 years to modernize NORAD last summer, and Mr. Trudeau told US President Joe Biden that some of that spending would be accelerated when the president visited Ottawa in March. But on an annual basis, this increase in investment will be relatively modest, and our record of reducing the defense budget is much better than our ability to deliver planned spending increases on time.
In this context, it was expected last fall that the government’s unfulfilled commitment to review Canada’s defense policy, initially promised in the 2022 budget, was called in defense circles. Having failed that target, the update was expected to arrive in time for a planned cash injection into the March 2023 federal budget. With no meaningful update planned in that budget, expectations turned to the new policy emerging ahead of the Vilnius Summit.
Presumably, Canada would like to meet with key allies to continue discussing defense spending cuts. But with only a week left, time is running out.