Will Canada’s ‘woeful’ military readiness alienate NATO allies?

Click to play video: '‘There could be WWIII’: Defence officials urge feds to meet NATO commitments'
‘There could be WWIII’: Defence officials urge feds to meet NATO commitments
WATCH: Defence officials urge feds to meet NATO commitments – Apr 23, 2023

Canada’s “woeful” military readiness underscores the urgent need to boost defence spending and meet its commitments to NATO as the alliance confronts the most dangerous global security environment since the end of World War Two, former Canadian defence officials say.

Without doing so, they say Ottawa could risk pushing away its security allies.

The Washington Post reported on Wednesday that a secret Pentagon assessment — part of a trove of documents leaked to the Discord messaging app and social media sites earlier this month — says Prime Minister Justin Trudeau privately told NATO officials Canada will never meet the military alliance’s two-per-cent-of-GDP spending target. The document also allegedly voiced allies’ concerns over Canada’s “widespread” military deficiencies.

In an interview with Eric Sorensen on The West Block that aired Sunday, the former Canadian officials said those deficiencies are readily apparent.

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“I can’t vouch for the veracity of the leak, of course, but all you have to do is look at the results in terms of the Canadian Forces’ readiness — which is woeful, by the way — and you see that the current government has not spent what is required,” said retired Lt.-Gen. Andrew Leslie, a former Canadian Army commander and ex-Liberal MP.

Click to play video: 'Trudeau told NATO Canada will never meet defence spending target: Pentagon Papers'
Trudeau told NATO Canada will never meet defence spending target: Pentagon Papers

Global News has not seen the leaked document or independently verified its contents. Asked about the report Wednesday, Trudeau did not clarify what he allegedly said behind closed doors, only reaffirming Canada’s commitment to NATO.

NATO’s latest annual report, released last month, shows Canada spent an estimated 1.29 per cent of its GDP on defence spending in 2022. That’s down from 1.32 per cent the year before and is far below the two per cent threshold agreed to by NATO members, a target NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has called “a floor, not a ceiling” amid an increasingly unstable and chaotic world.

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“If there’s any severe miscalculations, there could be World War Three. The time to provide deterrence forces to convince the bad guy that we have the strength to withstand them — so don’t attack — is now.”

Only seven of NATO’s 30 member states met the two per cent target last year. The report notes just four members were meeting it when the guideline was set in 2014 and Finland, which became a member this month, has previously hit or hovered at 1.96 per cent. Over the next two years, Finland has committed to exceeding the two-per-cent target.

The assessment reportedly notes Canada’s military budget has stalled below 1.4 per cent of GDP over the past 26 years.

Click to play video: 'Pentagon leaks could help Russia patch its vulnerabilities, says former U.S. NATO envoy'
Pentagon leaks could help Russia patch its vulnerabilities, says former U.S. NATO envoy

Retired Gen. Raymond Henault, Canada’s former chief of the defence staff who previously served as the chairman of NATO’s military committee, told Sorensen the two-per-cent target is important for member nations to meet in order to fulfill the alliance’s doctrine of mutual defence.

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“(Article 5 of NATO says) an attack against one is an attack on us all,” he said. “It means that all of the nations have to step up to the plate, so to speak. And the only way that they can do that is share the burden that comes with belonging to NATO.”

Defence Minister Anita Anand’s office has pointed to a number of recent spending and procurement announcements for Canada’s military.

Those include $19 billion for 88 new F-35 fighter jets to replace its aging fleet, a $1.4-billion upgrade to its Dwyer Hill Training Centre special forces base, and $1 billion to date in military aid to Ukraine.

Canada has also pledged nearly $40 billion toward modernizing NORAD over the next 20 years, though it remains unclear how much of that spending is actually new money.

Click to play video: 'Feds pledge $1.4B to revitalize special forces base'
Feds pledge $1.4B to revitalize special forces base

Some of those modernization efforts have been fast-tracked following the detection of a Chinese spy balloon over North America and three more, unidentified objects in the skies over Canada’s north in February. Trudeau and U.S. President Joe Biden discussed NORAD and defence spending during Biden’s visit to Ottawa last month.

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But the Canadian Armed Forces has also been facing a recruitment shortage and lengthy delays in procurement of new equipment for years, which experts say have reduced Canada’s military readiness. The recruitment challenges come after exclusive reporting from Global News that began in early 2021 detailing what experts call the “crisis” of sexual misconduct in the military.

Both Leslie and Henault were among several former defence ministers, military officers and government officials who signed an open letter from the Conference of Defence Associations Institute, which advocates for Canadian national security issues, that called on Ottawa to accelerate procurement timelines and strive to meet the NATO spending target.

They told Sorensen that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, along with China’s growing aggression in the Indo-Pacific, have made the global security environment more precarious, making it critical for Canada to step up.

“Although you may be doing a number of great things — as they are with air policing, with maritime patrols, and of course our deployments to Latvia and support to Ukraine through Poland and others — you can’t necessarily satisfy all of those requirements,” Henault said.

Click to play video: 'Russia-Ukraine conflict: Trudeau reaffirms Canada’s commitment to expanding NATO battlegroup in Latvia'
Russia-Ukraine conflict: Trudeau reaffirms Canada’s commitment to expanding NATO battlegroup in Latvia

They said the Latvia deployment is a key example of Canada’s defence shortfalls. Despite pledging to upgrade that 2,000-troop battle group to a brigade — which would require boosting those numbers to between 3,000 and 5,000 troops — that hasn’t happened in the year since it was announced.

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“What the Armed Forces is asking for is not unreasonable in terms of several billion more per year to get the equipment and people that they need,” Leslie said.

“But once again, the money that was promised to them by this government is … getting wrapped up in layers of bureaucracy and stalling, quite frankly.”

Leslie said he fears Canada will have further difficulties down the road if it does not further boost its spending — and not just with its own military capabilities.

“Our allies are saying, ‘Canada, step up to the plate,'” he said. “And the last thing you want to do is go it alone. I’m not suggesting that will happen, but be careful.

“Your armed forces need help and they need the attention of Canada right now.”

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