By Scott Taylor
U.S. President Donald Trump has once again served notice that he will be pressuring NATO members not currently spending two-percent of their GDP on defence to start ponying up the difference. That list includes Canada and nineteen other countries in the 28 Nation Alliance.
Trump praised Greece, Latvia, Poland, Estonia, Lithuania, Romania and the U.K. for meeting or exceeding the two-percent of GDP benchmark. “They paid. They were on time. They paid the number that they were supposed to be paying” Trump said.
As for the 20 NATO members not spending the two percent, Trump warned: “Well, they’ll be dealt with.” As is his custom, the bombastic Trump did not disclose just how he plans to deal with Canada and the other alleged shirkers.
Still, the Donald’s spontaneous quip was enough to send the Canadian defence community into a flap. Canada currently spends around $20.6 billion (U.S.) per year on defence, and this amounts to slightly more than 1% of our GDP.
To comply with Trump’s desire, we would need to find another $20 billion (CND) annually out of the Federal budget. While most analysts realize this would be an unreasonable and unnecessary expenditure of tax dollars, there are a few hawks who still champion the arbitrary “two percent” spending limit. To them, Trump’s chastising comments and unveiled threats are music to their ears.
Saner voices, both in the former Conservative and current Liberal government have opined that NATO members should be judged by what they contribute to the alliance’s collective defence, rather than solely on the percentage of GDP which they spend.
The case in point would be best illustrated by the fact that the majority of those countries meeting the ‘two percent’ goal – Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Greece and Romania – all have comparatively tiny GDP’s. Latvia’s total annual defence budget is just $677 million (U.S.), while Canada’s incremental cost to maintain just a 450 soldier-strong combat battle group in that Baltic State costs Canada over $300 million.
In terms of actual dollars spent, and the real combat capability which that purchases, one need only look at the stark differences between Canada and Turkey. Both countries spend approximately $20 billion (U.S.) on defence, but in Turkey’s case this amounts to just under the magical two percent mark. For those dollars, Turkey is able to muster 510,000 regular service members plus an additional 531,000 reservists for a total of 1,041,000 personnel in uniform.
Canada boasts a mere 65,000 regular troops and 35,000 reservists for slightly less than 100,000 in total.
The Turkish order of battle includes 1,500 Main Battle Tanks, while the Canadian Army possesses fewer than 100.
In the air, Turkey maintains over 300 fighter jets compared to Canada’s aging fleet of just 76 CF-18 fighters. At sea, the Turkish navy has 16 frigates, 10 corvettes, 12 submarines, 18 fast attack craft, 16 patrol boats, 11 minesweepers, 33 amphibious warships, 2 refuel-resupply ships and one troopship. By contrast the RCN has 12 frigates, 12 maritime coastal defence vessels, four submarines and a leased resupply ship.
In other words, dollars spent does not translate directly into combat capability.
An even better example of this would be Saudi Arabia. With an annual defence budget of $76 billion (U.S.) Saudi Arabia is the third largest spender on defence behind the U.S. $677 billion (U.S.), and China $150 billion (U.S.).
In terms of defence spending per capita, Saudi Arabia is number one in the world. Despite this massive outlay of cash, no one considers Saudi Arabia to be even a regional military powerhouse.
Since April 2015, Saudi Arabia has been involved in a military intervention in neighbouring Yemen. This civil-war ravaged, impoverished nation spends only an estimated 3 billion (U.S.) per year on defence, yet somehow continues to resist the far wealthier Saudi military.
Canada has the best soldiers in the world, and we are blessed with the fact that we have only one land border, and that being shared with the United States of America.
We do not need to spend an arbitrary percentage of our GDP to prove our commitment to NATO. The blood and gold we expended in Afghanistan should have more than proven our resolve. More importantly, we certainly do not need to spend another $20 billion just for the sake of spending $20 billion, to meet Donald Trump’s quota.