By Scott Taylor
Ever since Donald Trump was elected US President the Canadian defence community has been in a self-flagellating flap. The reason for this being that the tough talking Trump made it part of his campaign platform to crack down on NATO member states that are not paying their fair share in terms of defence spending. The arbitrary yardstick used by Trump is NATO’s own self-professed goal for countries to spend 2% of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on weapons and soldiers.
Canada currently spends a little less than 1% of our GDP on National Defence, which would put us squarely in the Donald’s sights as a delinquent freeloader, unworthy of US protection, and a drain on the alliance
Fearful of invoking the ire of our closest ally and only nation with whom we share a common border, many a Canadian defence pundit has urged the Trudeau government to rapidly increase our defence spending to reach this 2% of GDP goal. There is a whole choir of them singing from the same song sheet, but lead soloist, David Perry of Canadian Global Affairs Institute is perhaps the most strident voice among them. Like a pet shop parrot, Perry repeats “two percent of GDP” to anyone, and everyone who will listen.
The reality of such an increase would mean that the Liberal government would need to find $20 billion per year in tax revenue every year, which would either mean massively increasing our current deficit or cutting services from other departments. That would be one hell of a big pill for Canadians to swallow.
Perry and the Colonel Blimp brigade argue that we need to meet Trump’s “two percent of GDP” objective if only to keep the orange haired bully boy appeased. The problem with that approach is that when it comes to spending money on defence, Trump will never be satisfied.
Just last week Trump complained that Saudi Arabia was not paying its fair share for collective defence in the Middle East. “Frankly, Saudi Arabia has not treated us fairly because we are losing a tremendous amount of money defending Saudi Arabia” Trump told reporters. This of course echoed Trump’s election campaign message wherein he claimed the US was “losing it’s shirt” in protecting Saudi Arabia.
This all sounds plausible to a lay audience in North America, wherein we are eager to believe that poor old US G.I. Joes and Janes are holding the bad guys at bay, while fat cat Saudis spend their days counting oil profits.
The reality is that Saudi Arabia has the third largest defence budget in the world, behind only the US and China. In terms of defence spending per capita, Saudi Arabia ranks number one, and its defence spending as a percentage of its GDP is by far the highest in the world at a staggering 10%.
The estimated $88 billion (US) annual defence budget is not simply squandered away on excessive salaries and fancy uniforms. The Saudis have approximately 688,000 active military personnel in their armed forces including reservists.
The Saudi army has nearly 1200 main battle tanks, and the air force employs over 300 frontline fighter jets. By comparison, Canada operates 80 main battle tanks and just 80 CF-18 fighters.
The Saudis are by no means a military powerhouse, but they do engage in regional disputes. In 2011, Saudi forces entered Bahrain to prop up the Sunni muslim monarchy against a popular uprising by the Shiite majority. Some 1500 Saudi troops remain in Bahrain as a deterrent to future unrest.
There are also nearly 10,000 Saudi troops deployed into neighbouring Yemen to assist the deposed Sunni regime in its attempt to overthrow the new Shiite government in Sana’a.
Canadian pundits should realize from Trump’s latest rant against the Saudi freeloaders, that it matters not what you spend, nor how many soldiers you put in harms way, you are still a freeloader in the Donald’s eyes.
Canada has the best military in the world, and we have contributed to the costly international interventions in the recent past. That should mean a lot more to our US neighbours then spending an arbitrary percentage of our GDP.