Canada on ‘upward trajectory’ on NATO spending, modernizing Norad: defence minister
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WASHINGTON – The federal government is on an “upward trajectory” when it comes to meeting NATO spending targets and modernizing Norad, but Defence Minister Anita Anand stopped well short Wednesday of committing Canada to any firm timelines.
Anand, who spoke at an online forum hosted by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, did promise to work with domestic contractors as she crafts the “unwritten chapter” of her department’s overarching strategy: a comprehensive overhaul of bilateral continental defence.
But when pressed by chamber president Perrin Beatty on whether and when Canada might ever reach the elusive NATO spending target of two per cent of GDP, Anand was as noncommittal as ever.
“We will continue enhancing our capabilities in terms of the resources and support for the Canadian Armed Forces, as well as in terms of our commitments to NATO and Norad,” Anand said.
“We are on an upward trajectory, which is very, very important, especially in terms of the changing global threat environment.”
Anand said defence spending in Canada is on track to grow by 70 per cent over the nine years beginning in 2017, and that the most recent federal budget committed $8 billion in military funding over the next five years.
On the question of Norad, which Canadian military leaders have long decried as being woefully out-of-date and incapable of confronting the ever-evolving threats of the 21st century, Anand has only said that a detailed plan will be forthcoming in the “short term.”
“We will continue to work closely with industry in our ongoing efforts to strengthen both domestic and continental defence, in conjunction with our capabilities,” she said — capabilities that depend on the Canadian Armed Forces having the equipment they need to do the job.
“Equipping the Canadian Armed Forces is … an issue that I take extremely seriously in terms of what we are going to do, vis-a-vis the United States and working closely with them.”
Anand said much the same thing during a meeting at the Pentagon last month with her U.S. counterpart, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, a brief hour-long bilateral followed by a 20-minute news conference that was frustratingly short on details.
Defence experts were encouraged Wednesday to hear Anand say she intends to consult contractors in Canada as the Norad strategy comes together. But they worry that by dragging its heels, Canada risks letting the protectionist-minded U.S. capitalize on a once-in-a-generation opportunity.
“We have to compare ourselves here to what the Americans are up to. They are several steps ahead of us at this point,” said Nicolas Todd, vice-president of government relations at the Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries.
Canadian contractors and suppliers are looking for leaders within the federal government who are willing and able to lead what he called a more robust industrial approach to modernization, leveraging the know-how and expertise that exists within the industry.
“If nothing changes — this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity — it’ll be primarily left in American hands, to the benefit of American companies and to the detriment of Canadian innovation, Canadian business investment and growth, and high-wage, high-skilled employment here in Canada.”
Another complicating factor is the fact that while the Canada-U.S. relationship is clearly more civil and more stable than it was during the tenure of former president Donald Trump, his successor has clearly embraced the idea of domestic protectionism.
There was no suggestion of that during Anand’s visit to the Pentagon; Austin was effusive in his praise for his Canadian counterpart and delivered all the usual diplomatic bromides that accompany such bilateral meetings.
But ties between Canada and the U.S. are clearly strained, said Meredith Lilly, a professor of international affairs at Carleton University in Ottawa who specializes in the trade relationship between the two countries.
“It’s my view that our relationship with the Americans is not OK, that the Biden administration is protectionist, ‘America First’ and unapologetic about its goals of using dispute settlement and trade enforcement to restore jobs to the U.S.,” Lilly said.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is sure to only exacerbate the worsening tremors in international geopolitical relations — a “sea change” that she said could make the Trump era look calm by comparison.
“The world has changed,” Lilly said.
“We can’t expect things to return to normal in a few months — not with trade, not with foreign policy, and not with defence. So it’s really essential that Canada be tracking the developments that are happening and that Canadian businesses anticipate the changes that I know are coming.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 18, 2022.