In advance of the NATO summit in Brussels July 11-12, Donald Trump is calling on Canada to step up its military spending to $44 billion per year, or two per cent of Canadian GDP (which is $2.2 trillion). Currently Canada spends $25 billion, or 1.2 per cent of GDP, on the military.
In a letter to Justin Trudeau, Trump claims that Canada is undermining NATO security by not fulfilling the pledge made by the Harper Conservatives in 2014 to meet the two per cent target.
In 2017, as part of a defence policy review, the Liberal government announced its intention to increase military spending to $32.7 billion in 2026-27 (presented as a 70 per cent increase over past levels). This increase is projected to amount to 1.4 per cent of GDP in 10 years, or less if the economy grows more quickly than expected.
Out of an overall federal spending budget of $339 billion in 2018, the amount currently allocated for defence is about 12 times what Canada will spend on international development assistance (about $2 billion).
Other than attempting to curry favour with the U.S. president it is not apparent the Liberal government has any clear idea of what purpose NATO-related defence spending is supposed to serve. More to the point, it is not that clear what strategic purpose NATO serves today at all, other than to get its members to do U.S. bidding.
NATO was formed in 1949 after it became apparent the emerging major power conflicts — between the U.S. and the Soviet Union in Berlin, Greece and elsewhere — were not going to be resolved within the United Nations security council — as had been envisaged in 1945 when the UN was created.
The original NATO mandate was to protect postwar western Europe from an eventual armed invasion by the Soviet Union by bringing the U.S. nuclear capacity into play as a deterrent to any ground attack from eastern Europe.
The Soviet Union collapsed 27 years ago, the eastern European nations neighbouring on western Europe are now members of NATO and the risk of invasion of NATO members from the East — never high despite anti-communist hysteria in Washington, D.C. — is non-existent today.
At the urging of Canada, NATO founders adopted treaty article 2 which stated in part that the members ” … will seek to eliminate conflict in their international economic policies and will encourage economic collaboration between any or all of them.”
Despite this NATO undertaking the U.S. has initiated a trade war targeting the European NATO members and Canada, and not just China.
At its various gatherings NATO cajoles its members to join in military exercises led by U.S. forces and to buy NATO compatible military equipment, often U.S.-made.
Forty years after NATO was created Ronald Reagan thought that a substantial increase in American military spending would “bury” the Soviet Union.
Accordingly the U.S. spent nearly 60 per cent more on defence after Reagan became president in 1981, convinced the Soviet economy would weaken as it poured scarce resources into the military in a doomed effort to keep up with the U.S.
According to Republican received wisdom, the escalation of military spending by the U.S., including “Star Wars,” the ballistic missile defence program (formally known as the Strategic Defence Initiative) were what forced the Soviet Union to concede defeat in the Cold War.
Despite widespread belief to the contrary within the U.S. establishment, there is no evidence the Soviets tried to match the Reagan military build-up or that the economic and social fabric of the “evil empire” succumbed to pressure put on it by U.S. military spending. Rather, the Soviet Union collapsed through its own multiple shortcomings.
What is increasingly obvious is the damage done to the American social and economic fabric by its own excessive military spending over many decades. Despite the fall of the Berlin War, the break-up of the Soviet Union and the end of the original Cold War, there has been no promised peace dividend for U.S. citizens.
Under President Donald Trump, official U.S. military expenditures are projected at $719 billion by 2019 and independent studies show the figure to be in excess of $1 trillion.
Planned U.S. expenditures include over $1 trillion to replace the aging U.S. nuclear arsenal.
The UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was adopted in 2017 by 122 nations. It “includes undertakings not to develop, test, produce, acquire, possess, stockpile, use or threaten to use nuclear weapons.”
Following the lead of the U.S., NATO member countries, including Canada, refused to participate in the UN treaty process.
Through government spending, it is as if the U.S., echoing President Reagan, has decided to bury itself, preferring military spending to providing health care, urban transit, environmental protection, basic infrastructure and other public services to its citizens.
Is this a direction Canada needs to emulate?
Duncan Cameron is president emeritus of rabble.ca and writes a weekly column on politics and current affairs.
Photo: Adam Scotti/PMO