‘World is watching’ Canada’s military spending: US envoy

Ottawa: The US ambassador to Canada says the world is closely watching Canada’s defence spending commitments, as the NATO alliance scrambles to shore up Ukraine’s supply of military goods.

In an interview that aired Sunday on Rosemary Barton Live, David Cohen praised Canada’s “very significant” military contributions on a variety of fronts, including purchases of new equipment and its activity around Ukraine, the Arctic, NORAD and more. But he also applied some pressure when it comes to military spending.

“By the same token, I have been quite clear — and the United States has been quite clear — that NATO and the world is watching what Canada is doing with respect to its commitment…. It’s not something we’ve imposed on Canada. But the world is watching,” he told CBC chief political correspondent Rosemary Barton.

Cohen noted that other countries belonging to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization had either already reached the target of spending two per cent of GDP on defence or had a robust plan to do so.

“I don’t think Canada has any interest in being that kind of an outlier in NATO.”

CBC chief political correspondent Rosemary Barton speaks with David Cohen, the U.S. ambassador to Canada, about the stalled U.S. aid package to Ukraine and how desperately soldiers there say they need it.

But Cohen did make it clear that spending is only one factor when looking at contributions to defence.

“I think you have to look at more than any one single metric, and the percentage of Canada’s GDP that it spends on defence is just one metric,” he said.

In 2023, Canada invested an estimated 1.38 per cent of GDP in defence, placing it 25th out of 30 allies.

At the 2023 NATO leaders’ summit, Canada signed a joint communiqué committing allies to meeting the two per cent target.

That communiqué also acknowledged that in “many cases, expenditure beyond two per cent of GDP will be needed in order to remedy existing shortfalls and meet the requirements across all domains arising from a more contested security order.”

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters, “We will be there to step up with our NATO partners. We will be there to continue to make sure that the women and men of the Canadian Armed Forces have the equipment they need and that our allies can count on us to continue to be there for them.”

Concerns over military spending and readiness are also tied to Western support for Ukraine, which was invaded by Russia two years ago. Countries in the NATO alliance have struggled to ramp up armament production and to provide Ukraine with timely aid.

Ukraine, which now appears to be on the defensive in the war, has articulated a wide range of needs.

“The need is the whole range of weapons and ammunition, starting with armoured vehicles and artillery shells,” Oleksandr Kamyshin, Ukraine’s minister of strategic industries, said in a separate interview on Rosemary Barton Live.

The United States, which has provided a major portion of the military and economic support to Ukraine so far, has yet to authorize additional aid.

Cohen expressed confidence that the U.S. would be able to pass a $60-billion US aid package for Ukraine, a legislative proposal that has been delayed and disrupted by ongoing negotiations between Democrats and Republicans.

“This is tied up in some of the messiness of democracy, and there are other issues at play,” he said, adding that “the package is going to pass.”

During a visit to Kyiv this weekend to mark the second anniversary of the war, Trudeau announced a $3-billion security assurance deal with Ukraine.

That deal can be seen as part of a “stop-gap solution” when it comes to support for Ukraine, as allies wait for American aid to be finalized, said Christian Leuprecht, a professor at the Royal Military College of Canada and Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont.

But Leuprecht said Canada and others needed to commit to substantive aid for Ukraine and have a better plan for support.

“We need a Plan B, in case the Congress in the United States doesn’t come through, in case there’s a President Trump that gets elected and in case the Ukrainians can’t hold the defensive lines with which they’re currently struggling,” he said. “It’s a fight of wills, on both sides.”