Canada to unveil NATO spending plan, details ‘first step’ on new submarines

Click to play video: 'NATO summit: Canada to buy up to 12 conventional submarines for Arctic defence'
NATO summit: Canada to buy up to 12 conventional submarines for Arctic defence
WATCH: While the NATO summit continues in Washington, D.C., the Trudeau government says it will buy up to 12 conventional submarines, as Russia and China's presence in the Arctic has raised concerns about their military ambitions. Mercedes Stephenson explains – Jul 10, 2024

Canada is moving ahead with the purchase of new submarines to replace its aging fleet, as it faces mounting pressure at this year’s NATO summit to spend more on the military.

Shortly after Wednesday’s announcement, a senior government source told Global News that Canada will unveil its plan Thursday for reaching NATO’s benchmark of spending at least two per cent of GDP on defence.

NATO leaders have been pressing Canada for that plan in the lead-up to the summit, and Canadian officials have suggested a new submarine fleet would be a part of it.

Defence Minister Bill Blair said in a statement the Canadian Navy is “taking the first step towards the procurement of up to 12 (submarines to) … covertly detect and deter maritime threats.” He provided no details about the cost or timeline, only saying that the request would go out to the industry this fall to look at available options.

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Click to play video: 'NATO summit: Trudeau boasts Canada’s defence spending despite not meeting targets'
NATO summit: Trudeau boasts Canada’s defence spending despite not meeting targets

Blair is in Washington, D.C., along with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as NATO leaders gather for the annual meeting of the alliance, which is marking its 75th anniversary.

For years, defence experts have urged the federal government to buy new subs to operate more effectively in the Arctic and defend Canadian sovereignty against increasingly aggressive behaviour from Russia and China.

“It’s long overdue. I would argue that this is a significant capability that should have been on the approved list, at least a decade ago,” said former navy Commander Retired Vice-Admiral Mark Norman in an interview with Global News.

The Canadian navy has four 1980s-era diesel-powered submarines, but only one is operational.

The new subs will have under-ice capabilities to counter “emerging security threats,” the defence minister said.

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The fleet will need to “ensure that Canada can detect, track, deter and, if necessary, defeat adversaries in all three of Canada’s oceans,” added Blair.

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The government is planning to buy conventional submarines, not nuclear ones like the U.S., Australia, and the U.K. do in their AUKUS defence pact — an alliance meant to counter China’s growing presence in the Indo-Pacific.

Click to play video: '‘Our alliance is not perfect’: NATO chief reflects on 75th anniversary, Russia-Ukraine war'
‘Our alliance is not perfect’: NATO chief reflects on 75th anniversary, Russia-Ukraine war

But Norman says Canada’s new fleet will likely be “high technology” and a welcome announcement for its military partners.

“It will all help demonstrate to our allies that we are taking our defence commitments seriously,” he said.

Canada routinely misses NATO’s target for members to spend two per cent of GDP on defence, and sources have told Global News the Biden administration is losing patience.

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Norman warns it could take years to acquire new submarines.

I’m very concerned about how long it takes us to do these types of things. Our track record is atrocious,” said Norman.

Will subs get Canada to 2%?

A new submarine fleet was included in a list of uncosted priorities the government said it will pursue as part of its defence policy update released earlier this year.

That policy forecasts spending will rise from 1.37 per cent of GDP currently to 1.76 per cent by 2030, which is an increase from $26.9 billion in the last fiscal year to an estimated $49.5 billion.

Blair has said the purchase of new submarines would help close the gap toward two per cent alongside other priorities like advancements in air and missile defence, but notes funding cannot be committed before procurements are secured.

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As of Wednesday, Canada is the only NATO ally not currently meeting the two per cent spending target that has not released a roadmap on how to achieve it.

NATO says 23 allies now meet or exceed the two-per cent benchmark, up from just seven in 2022.

But this week’s NATO summit has heard multiple leaders suggest that benchmark should be even higher.

“Two per cent is now the floor for our defence spending,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Tuesday. “It’s not good enough what we do now.”

Blair himself admitted on Wednesday during an event at the NATO Public Forum that “Canada has to do more and Canada will do more.”

“We’ll meet that two per cent pledge, and I think we have to even go beyond that two per cent pledge,” he said.

Click to play video: 'NATO Summit: Former Canadian ambassador discusses possible tensions'
NATO Summit: Former Canadian ambassador discusses possible tensions

U.S. lawmakers, particularly Republicans, have also become increasingly critical in public about Canada’s commitments to defence.

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On Monday, U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson said Canada was “riding America’s coattails” to cover for its own shortfalls.

“They have the safety and security of being on our border and not having to worry about it,” he said at a foreign policy event hosted by the Hudson Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington.

“I think that’s shameful.”

Trudeau met with a bipartisan group of American senators Tuesday, including Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

After the meeting, McConnell posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, that Canada needs to “invest seriously” and boost its defence spending.

With files from Mercedes Stephenson and Marc-Andre Cossette

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