Opinion | Canadian PM won't pay up for NATO and that's a good 'No, no'
By Augustus K. Yeung
There is the story that America is a "world policeman", whose task it is to go against one nation or another, who is believed to be a "rival", or a "pariah" as defined by the US.
However, none of us would expect that this US policemen would point his finger at Canada – whose prime minister has recently been accused of not paying up NATO membership fees.
In fact, Pier Elliot Trudeau, the former Canadian PM and the father of Justin Trudeau had had a history of independent thinking, diplomatically defying America's unipolar style of leadership.
Today, the world is witnessing a young Canadian leader who is facing up to an old American president, whose leadership is being challenged by his rebellious predecessor.
And so, the question arises.
Is Canadian PM Justin Trudeau a NATO "free-rider" or leader of a peace-loving nation? This question has implications for Canada's security commitment and military spending.
But the war in Ukraine and a classified Pentagon assessment that was part of a massive leak on the social media platform of top US military and intelligence secret – have all renewed the question with urgency.
According to the leaked assessment, Justin Trudeau told NATO officials in private that his country would never be able to meet their defense-spending target for each member state, which is roughly 2 per cent of gross domestic product as set out in NATO guidelines back in 2014.
Americans are unhappy. What about Jens Stoltenberg, the NATO chief?
Canada's military is "unready" and "unprepared"
The spending shortfall is glaring as the narrative goes.
Canada's most recent military budget is roughly equivalent to 1.3 of GDP. In the past quarter of a century, it averaged around 1.4 per cent. This has led to the Canadian military being dubbed "unready" and "unprepared" in all sorts of ways, according to US assessment.
The most recent example was the shooting down in February of an unidentified balloon in Canadian air space with the "assistance" of the US Air Force.
It came after the US shot down one that was allegedly used for Chinese "spying". Both Canadian and American fighter jets were deployed.
Ottawa said it was a smooth "textbook" operation jointly run by the Norad defense command over North America. But the leaked US document said the Canadian CF-18 fighter jets were "delayed" by 1 hour, necessitating US "assistance" and cited it as evidence of "unpreparedness".
After more than seven years in power, Trudeau may have become unpopular. But Canadian voters at least rejoice in this instance that their leader's stance on military underspending is in line with public opinion.
When it comes to choosing butter over bullets, Canada's attitude has been much closer to European countries and their social democratic tradition than its English-speaking cousins (in America, Britain and Australia). Canada is hardly alone in underspending on its military within NATO.
Ukraine conflict has forced NATO countries to reluctantly recommit more…
However, the Ukraine conflict has forced more European countries such as Germany to recommit 2 per cent or more of GDP, so Canada may be going on a lonelier path.
It's a big question mark whether the Europeans can sustain their military recommendation once the Ukraine crisis ends.
Canada, though, can "afford" to underspend: Unlike Europe, it's not an option for Washington to withdraw its so-called security umbrella from the Great White North, no matter what Ottawa does.
As the world's second largest country after Russia, Canada – by virtue of its geography – has provided an invaluable security buffer to the US – with its vast but sparsely populated land mass up north.
Imagine: How much money the US has saved over the decades by having the longest undefended border with Canada? (This frees its resources for wars and invasions elsewhere.)
Washington and NATO are putting enormous pressure on Ottawa to pay up. In this respect, the massive leaks, at least as related to the Canadian military, work in their favor by exposing its "inadequacies" and "deficiencies".
Even within Canada, the intelligence agencies have been drumming up the "China threat". The generals have consistently complained they lack support from politicians. (Source: SCMP)
Canada's politicians seem smarter than their US counterparts – over an extended period – though they may be "unprepared". It's important to ask, "Who benefits, the Canadian public?"
The issue of paying up NATO fees has always been a problem, or a source of embarrassment: Former US President Donald Trump fired the first shot on his maiden visit to Europe. He rudely asked, "Angela, Germany still hasn't paid its NATO fees…"
An embarrassed German Chancellor could only smile uneasily. What else could Merkel say?
Really, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, NATO has lost its "protective" function. Why get the countries to pay up for a structure of war which is no longer serving any security purpose?
Since the start of the Ukraine war more than a year ago, Deputy PM Chrystia Freeland, who is of Ukrainian heritage, and FM Melanie Joly may have talked tough. Under the new official Indo-Pacific Strategy, Joly said Canada would reorient its focus on the region.
And in what some friendly journalists have taken to calling the Freeland Doctrine, Canada is supposed to "friend shore" with democracies and isolate autocracies.
However, the leaders in Ottawa are keeping their generals at bay; Canada's lawmakers and politicians are working in unison with their leaders.
Therefore, unless Ottawa is willing to pay up for its military, an unlikely prospect, both strategies will remain.
Germany and France are expected to follow up soon after the war. This would free them from American dominance, leaving the countries sufficient financial resources to build Europe – for peace and prosperity.
All three countries (Canada, France and Germany) have one feature in common: They diplomatically tag along with the US, but pragmatically and consistently establish extensive trade ties with China, a rising power in Asia-Pacific region.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of DotDotNews.
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