By Scott Taylor
With Donald Trump the last man standing in the Republican Party’s presidential candidate race, it would appear even the most cynical among us must now brace ourselves for the very real possibility that this buffoon could soon be the leader of the free world.
If we were in Mexico, it would mean conducting feasibility studies into building that big wall — and figuring out how to pay for it. For us Canadians, it means having to take a serious look at how much we spend on defence.
Amidst his torrents of bombastic rhetoric about making America great again, Trump has repeatedly said he would get tough on allied freeloaders who have come to rely on the U.S. to protect them. The simplest way to interpret this is to suppose that Trump means all of those countries, including Canada, that do not currently meet NATO’s proposed goal of spending two per cent of gross domestic product on defence.
Canada currently spends about $22 billion annually on national defence, which is just over one per cent of our GDP.
Chief among Canada’s warmongers who echo Trump’s calls for massive defence expenditures is none other than that old incorrigible, Conrad Black. In a recent presentation, reprinted in Maclean’s magazine, Black opined that Canada should be booted out of the NATO boys club until we balloon our defence budget to over $40 billion.
This is of course the same master strategist Black who once proposed that Canada should swell the ranks of its regular force military by simply conscripting the unemployed masses. Note to Mr. Black: This is no longer the 19th century, where states employ large standing armies of conscripted cannon fodder to achieve imperial goals.
The reason that Canadian military personnel are the best in the world is because they are the product of a rigorous selection process through all phases of their training and trade qualifications. To suggest that you could order all those currently collecting an employment insurance cheque to report for duty is an insult to the professional reputation of our proud military. Given Black’s experience, I am surprised he did not also suggest emptying our jails in order to swell the ranks. But I digress.
To counter Trump’s demand that we spend more on security, we need to remind him of how much blood and gold Canada spilled in Afghanistan, trying to salvage America’s doomed venture to create a democracy there after deposing the Taliban. The last estimate put Canada’s Afghan expenses — including long-term care for our 2,000-plus wounded soldiers — upwards of $22 billion.
Then we could tack on whatever it was that we actually spent during the U.S.-directed doomed intervention in Libya in 2011. Yes, under Canadian leadership and assisted by Canadian warplanes, the NATO mission did successfully depose Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. But then the world turned its back on Libya and that once-progressive country has since plunged into a half-decade of violent anarchy.
With Daesh now entrenched in Libya, there is no longer any doubt that the West will need to mount a second intervention into Libya — this time with troops on the ground and for a much longer window of commitment. Who can even guess what that will cost in blood and gold?
Add to this list the ongoing U.S.-led effort against Daesh in Iraq and Syria. Canada spent 18 months dropping bombs where the U.S. planners told us to drop bombs, and we continue to deploy military trainers to support Kurdish separatist militia (while our government professes to support a unified Iraq).
In other words, before we even humour future president Trump’s calls to spend more on defence, let’s remind ourselves — and him — of how much money and how many soldiers’ lives we wasted supporting America’s failures in Afghanistan, Libya and Iraq.
Are we all safer now as a result? I think not.
And just for the record, I wish to remind Trump and Black that Afghanistan currently spends 39 per cent of its GDP on defence, and its soldiers are still short of boots. Sometimes size really doesn’t matter.