U.S. President Donald Trump says Canada is “slightly delinquent” compared to other NATO allies failing to meet their defence spending targets.
In a media availability with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ahead of a joint meeting on Tuesday, Trump was asked about his repeated references to NATO allies not hitting the agreed-upon target of spending two per cent of their GDP on defence as “delinquent,” and was asked how he viewed Canada’s failure to do the same.
“Slightly delinquent, I would say Canada, but they’ll be okay. I have confidence,” Trump responded.
“Some are major delinquents, well below one per cent, and then if something happens we’re supposed to defend them? And it’s not really fair.”
NATO members agreed in 2014 to spend two per cent of their GDP on defence by 2024.
Almost five years later, though, most are still not hitting that goal.
According to a report published by NATO earlier this year, Canada’s defence spending for 2019 is projected to come in at 1.31 per cent of its GDP.
A separate ranking from the same month, excluding contributions to military pensions, projected Canada would end up at 1.27 per cent for the year.
Two years ago, that number was slightly higher at 1.44 per cent because of a one-off adjustment to those pensions, as noted in an assessment of Canadian defence spending done in May 2019 by the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.
Trump was then asked whether he would recommit to the NATO principle of shared defence even if faced with the decision of defending a member country that does not spend the target amount.
“It’s a very interesting question, isn’t it? It also depends on your definition of delinquent,” he said, suggesting he might look more favourably on countries spending a higher percentage of their GDP on defence than on those at the lower end of the spectrum.
The question of defence spending prompted repeated questions throughout the course of the media availability, with Trump at one point suggesting the U.S. might need to put Canada on a “payment plan” to get to two per cent.
“We’ll put Canada on a payment plan. I’m sure the prime minister would love that,” Trump said, before turning to Trudeau and asking, “What are you at? What’s your number?”
“The number that we talk about is a 70 per cent increase over these past years and for the coming years, including significant investments in our fighter jets, significant investments in our naval fleets,” Trudeau said in response.
“We are increasing significantly our defence spending from previous governments that cut.”
That figure is a reference to the spending commitments outlined in the 2017 Liberal defence policy review.
Those included $62 billion in new money for the military over 20 years, bringing Canada up to 1.4 per cent — but still a far cry from the two per cent target.
But much of that money has not yet been spent.
Much of it is attached to large-scale capital projects like the fighter jet replacement and the awarding of planned contracts for new ships.
Trump then asked the question again: “Okay. Where are you now in terms of your number?”
Trudeau glanced at a number of senior officials seated off-camera, who spoke but whose remarks were indistinguishable.
“We’re at one …” Trudeau appeared to listen closely.
“One point three?” Trump seemed to ask the officials.
“One point four. One-four. And continuing to move forward,” Trudeau then responded.
“They’re getting there, they’re getting there,” Trump then told reporters.
“They know it’s important to do and their economy is doing well. They’ll get there quickly, I think. It’s to their benefit.”
Trudeau then jumped back in, stressing Canada’s other forms of support to NATO.
“And the president knows well as well that Canada has been there for every NATO deployment,” he said. “We have consistently stepped up, sent our troops into harm’s way. We’re leading in Iraq, we’re leading in NATO in Latvia.
“We continue to step up like most of our allies, and there are some countries that, even though they might reach the two per cent, don’t step up nearly as much and I think it’s important to look at what is actually being done.
“The United States and all NATO allies know that Canada is a solid, reliable partner and will continue to defend NATO and defend our interests.”
The exchange comes after U.S. officials sent Ottawa what sources described to Global News as a “blunt” diplomatic letter, criticizing Canada’s failure to spend the agreed-upon target of two per cent.
Conservative defence critic James Bezan called that a “warning shot” from the Americans.
“We can’t expect the Americans to always be the world’s policeman, and the threat environment that we’re facing from Russia, from China, from Iran, from North Korea, are playing into an unstable world — the great power struggles between the major nations,” he said, urging the government to move faster on the major defence procurement deals facing it.
“You don’t sit back and not buy equipment until the whole world is starting to melt down … as long as we rest on our laurels, we’re a weak member of the defence team.”