US envoy says Canada’s increased military spending ‘wasn’t enough’

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WASHINGTON — For years, US administrations have wanted Canada to increase its military spending. Former President Donald Trump has spoken about it extensively – although with Canada and other NATO allies he has often framed his criticism as a matter of paying dues to the United States in return for protection . But the same underlying problem was a lingering concern expressed by Barack Obama before him. Joe Biden’s ambassador to Canada, David L. Cohen, mentioned it during his confirmation hearings in the US Congress last year before taking office in December.

In response to a NATO-wide reassessment of military readiness following the invasion of Ukraine, Canada on Thursday announced an $8 billion increase in its defense budget, previously $25.7 billion per year. That’s not enough to meet NATO nations’ pledge to spend 2% of their GDP on defense (federal officials told The Star on Thursday that would bring Canada to around 1.5%).

In an April 8 meeting with the Star’s editorial board, U.S. Ambassador David L. Cohen said Canada’s $8 billion increase in defense spending “probably wasn’t enough,” but added that the two countries “will continue to work together” to make defense a priority.

And Cohen told the Star during a visit to the editorial board on Friday that that’s probably not enough to satisfy the US government.

“I will say that an $8 billion increase in defense spending, even spread over a five-year period, is an increase. So let me acknowledge that there has been an increase. I will also say that it does not appear to be the kind of increase that a lot of Canadians expected, or that the United States expected, based on the pre-budget rhetoric and conversations that were taking place said Cohen. “For me, the headline is that it was about increased spending. It probably wasn’t enough.

Cohen stressed the need to meet NATO commitments to protect European allies and update the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) to defend North America. He said increased spending will be an ongoing advocacy issue for the government he represents in Ottawa.

“We will continue to talk. We will continue to work together, we will continue to ensure that we maintain common defense and defense preparedness as a top priority for both countries. »

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has shaken the world order and caused a widespread reassessment of defense policy and spending. The European Union, for the first time, began to buy weapons and give them to a country at war. Germany revised its approach to military affairs and sharply increased its spending to achieve the NATO objective.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg recently called on Canada to essentially double its defense spending to meet the target. Canada joined other NATO leaders in reiterating that budget commitment in a statement late last month after a meeting in Brussels, although at the time Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did not did not directly say how or when Canada would do it. “We continue to have these discussions at home. We have a budget process going on right now,” he told reporters March 25 following the NATO announcement. NATO officials are due to meet again in Spain and provide updates on how its members intend to achieve the goals.

On Wednesday, Parliament passed a non-binding motion sponsored by the Conservative Party calling for Canada to meet “at least” NATO’s 2% commitment (the governing Liberal members voted in favour, as did the Conservatives and the Bloc Québécois, while the NDP and the Green Party opposed this).

Either way, Canada hasn’t come close to that budget’s target, and Cohen diplomatically expressed his disappointment when speaking with the Star on Friday.

But Cohen went out of his way to praise Canada’s leadership alongside the United States in uniting Western allies against Russia.

“Canada is truly a leader in the global democracy movement. And I think the partnership and the ally between the United States and Canada has positioned Canada to say certain things to certain countries that are better off because Canada says it rather than if the United States says it,” said said Cohen. “And the United States and Canada have been a very effective team in leading the coalition that was put together to isolate Russia.”

Cohen also followed up his criticism of Canada’s defense spending in the budget by hailing Ottawa’s recent decision, after more than a decade of delay, to buy F-35 military jets from US firm Lockheed Martin at the price of $19 billion. Jet aircraft will replace Canada’s aging CF-18 fleet.

“This is a very positive step for defence, not only because Lockheed Martin is an American company, but because the F-35 is an interoperable aircraft, with the American fleet and with the essential of the air fleet of the ‘NATO,’ Cohen said. “So that’s an important part of the strengthened defense that I don’t think is reflected in the budget figures that came out yesterday.”

A senior Canadian official speaking to the Star’s Jacques Gallant on Budget Day on Thursday hinted that more defense spending could be coming in the near future, after “conversations” about collaborations with NATO, negotiations with the United States on NORAD updates and a defense policy review.

“The situation in the world has changed, and I agree that we need to spend more,” Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said in French after the unveiling of the budget. “But it’s important to spend in a planned, efficient way, and that’s why we’re spending more today and saying we’re going to do a quick review of our military spending and Canada’s needs.”

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