NATO Secretary General urges Canada to meet defense target

NATO Secretary General urges Canada to meet defense target
NATO Secretary General urges Canada to meet defense target

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg reiterated that Canada and the rest of its allies must respect their promise to spend at least 2% of their GDP on defense during a short visit to Ottawa on Wednesday.

“I continue to expect that we will all respect the 2% spending guideline,” he told a packed house on Parliament Hill.

The secretary general’s visit comes as Ottawa ranks among eight countries still devoting less than 2% of its GDP to military spending, alongside countries such as Portugal, Spain and Italy.

Alliance members unanimously agreed to spend at least 2% of their GDP on defense within ten years, following Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

During a visit with US President Joe Biden to Washington on Monday, Stoltenberg disclosed that 23 alliance member countries would reach the threshold this year. Canada is currently at approximately 1.37% of its GDP and is expected to reach 1.76% in 2029-2030.

The Secretary General indicated that military spending would be one of the priority topics of discussion during his meeting with Prime Minister Trudeau and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mélanie Joly, on Wednesday evening.

“I hope we all reach 2%. We have accepted this target for defense, and I believe that those who will not be able to achieve it by this year will present a plan to that effect. I can’t wait to have a plan of Canada,” he told reporters.

Canada is the only NATO country that has not yet formulated a clear plan to achieve the famous funding target.

Budget constraints

The secretary general made several mentions of the importance of the 2% objective, but he did not dare to directly criticize the Canadian government.

“I have been a politician, parliamentarian and prime minister for years, and I know that it is always easier to spend money on health, education or infrastructure than to invest more in defense,” conceded Mr. Stoltenberg, during a discussion moderated by Canadian journalist Lisa LaFlamme.

“The challenges you face in Canada are the same challenges that every other country with a budget faces,” he added.

Last month, National Defense Minister Bill Blair said it is difficult to convince his cabinet colleagues of the importance of investing more in defense.

The President of the Treasury Board, Anita Anand, made a discreet appearance in the room during the Secretary General’s address.

The new defense policy published in April aims to reach 1.76% of GDP by 2030, or a budget of $49.5 billion. The Defense Ministry’s budget was 26.9 billion last year.

“We see China and Russia investing massively [dans leurs dépenses militaires] and that particular pressure will be exerted on their neighbors. […] So it is important that we invest to defend ourselves,” insisted the Secretary General.

An important summit

Mr. Stoltenberg’s visit to the capital comes just weeks before the NATO summit in Washington, also marking the 75e anniversary of the alliance.

Aside from the 2% funding target, increasing financial aid to Ukraine will be high on the agenda, he said.

“Since the Russian invasion, Canada has provided billions of dollars in aid to Ukraine, including air defense systems. This was essential for the Ukrainians to be able to fight back and survive as a sovereign nation,” Mr. Stoltenberg recalled.

“But this winter and spring, we saw serious delays and gaps in financial aid sent to Ukraine, which had consequences. We cannot let this happen again,” he lamented.

During a recent visit to the White House, Mr. Stoltenberg also declared that he hoped that the allies would agree to “intensify their financial and military support for Ukraine” and reduce the burden weighing on the United States. United.

“It may seem paradoxical, but the path to peace is to provide more weapons to Ukraine to convince President Putin that he cannot win this war,” he declared under a salvo of applause.

Mr. Stoltenberg’s last visit to Canada was in August 2022.

The latter will return to Washington on Thursday, where he will meet with US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and members of the US Congress.

NATO leaders will then meet in Washington July 9-11 for the NATO Summit.

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