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Canada to make ‘substantial’ boost to military spending

President Donald Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau walk from the Oval Office to the Residence of the White House in Washington, February 13, 2017.
Kevin Lamarque | Reuters
President Donald Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau walk from the Oval Office to the Residence of the White House in Washington, February 13, 2017.

Canada plans to boost military spending amid concerns in Ottawa that the US under Donald Trump is less interested in serving its decades-old role as a leader on the global stage.

Chrystia Freeland, the Canadian foreign minister, said Canada would make a "substantial" investment in defence to ensure it had adequate "hard power" to support its diplomacy. She did not mention Mr Trump by name, but she said Canada had to recognise that the election of Mr Trump pointed to a shift in America's willingness to lead around the world.

"The fact that our friend and ally has come to question the very worth of its mantle of global leadership puts into sharper focus the need for the rest of us to set our own clear and sovereign course," Ms Freeland told the Canadian parliament.

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While Ms Freeland said Canada appreciated the "outsized role" Washington has played in defending the postwar liberal order, her comments underscore the escalating concern among Nato allies about the role of America under Mr Trump and his "America first" foreign policy. Following tensions at the recent G7 summit, Angela Merkel, German chancellor, said it was clear that "Europeans must really take our destiny into our own hands".

"While the US may not appreciate the tenor of the remarks, it is likely to welcome any Canadian decision to increase military spending."

Following Mr Trump's subsequent decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord, French president Emmanuel Macron declared the need to "make our planet great again" in a reference to Mr Trump's mantra to "make America great again". Tensions have also risen with the UK after US intelligence agencies leaked information related to the terrorist attack in Manchester, and after Mr Trump recently lashed outat the mayor of London.

Roland Paris, a former foreign policy adviser to Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau, said Canada was not embarking on a dramatic shift in policy. But he said Ms Freeland's speech was "an example of how Canada is managing the Trump era".

"I don't think there was any direct rebuke. If anything it was a lament that some Americans don't seem to view the leadership role of the US serving American interests any more," said Mr Paris. "It's very different to Macron . . . taking 'make America great again' and turning it upside down."

"The government is very conscious of the fact that Canadians don't want Canada to capitulate to President Trump, but that many Canadians support multilateralism and the UN and so they're trying to frame it that way." -Peggy Mason, President of Rideau Institute in Ottawa

While the US may not appreciate the tenor of the remarks, it is likely to welcome any Canadian decision to increase military spending. Mr Trump has criticised those Nato members who do not spend 2 per cent of gross domestic product on defence. Canada would have to more than double its annual $19bn defence spending to allocate 2 per cent of GDP, equivalent to $40bn.

"It's about time that Canada invested more in its defence," said Nile Gardiner, an expert at the conservative Heritage Foundation, describing its spending levels as "staggeringly low".

Mr Gardiner said Ms Freeland's remarks suggested that Canada was making a "significant about-turn" after Mr Trump hit Nato allies for not spending more at the Brussels summit. "Clearly the Canadian administration is getting the message from Washington," he said. In March, Mr Trudeau had said that Canada was already doing "more than its share in Nato".

Critics said Ms Freeland was trying to justify a reversal by referral to a US retreat internationally. "It's trying very hard to dress up a capitulation," said Peggy Mason, president of the Rideau Institute in Ottawa. "The government is very conscious of the fact that Canadians don't want Canada to capitulate to President Trump, but that many Canadians support multilateralism and the UN and so they're trying to frame it that way."

Canada is the sixth-highest spender in Nato and 16th in the world, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Walter Dorn, professor at the Royal Military College of Canada and Canadian Forces College, said Ottawa had repeatedly postponed upgrading and replacing its fleet of helicopters, ships and other equipment over nearly 25 years.

"It's been hard to keep up with the US and we want inter-operability with the US which means upgrading our systems," said Mr Dorn. "We still don't have our own tactical-level long-endurance drones. We had to rent them from Israel [for our mission] in Afghanistan."

But despite misgivings over the state of Canada's military equipment backlog, Mr Dorn said Canada spends about the right amount on defence for a country with its security concerns.