By Scott Taylor
Now that U.S. President Donald Trump has fully assumed the reins of office, it appears that he remains intent on implementing even the most outrageous of his election promises.
Within a week of his inauguration, he had issued an executive order in an attempt to block entry to the U.S. for all citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries. Although this edict was subsequently overturned by what Trump labels “so-called judges” in both the Washington District Court and by the Ninth District Court of Appeals, the president has vowed to keep issuing similar executive orders to ban entry for Muslims.
No ground has been broken yet in its construction, but Trump is equally adamant that he will build a southern border wall and make the Mexicans pay for it.
For Canadians, it would seem that our place as a favoured trading partner will remain, even if Trump pushes forward with a renegotiated North American Free Trade Agreement. Where we do need to be concerned, however, is on the issue of our current defence spending.
The Trump administration — including Secretary of Defense (ret’d) General James “Mad Dog” Mattis — is sticking to its guns on NATO partners paying an equal share towards the alliance’s collective defence. That magical number is the already existing and agreed-to NATO objective that member states must spend two per cent of their GDP (gross domestic product) on defence.
This is a figure that the Canadian military booster clubs and cheerleaders have long pointed to when lobbying successive Liberal and Conservative governments to increase the defence budget. To put this in perspective, Canada currently spends around $20-billion on the military and that equates to less than one per cent of our GDP. To get to the Trump/NATO goal of two per cent, we would need to find an additional $21-billion per year from the federal coffers.
You do not need to be an economist to realize that this represents a heck of a lot of funds being drawn from potential health care, education and infrastructure budgets in exchange for more weapons and uniformed personnel.
Then there is the fact that the two per cent of GDP is simply an arbitrary number that in no way guarantees an increase in actual defence capability. While it may seem that Canada is a shirker in ponying up for defence, we are currently the 17th biggest spender in terms of total military budgets among the United Nations’ 193 member countries. Yes, we are in the top ten per cent folks.
In terms of military budget as a percentage of national GDP, Saudi Arabia allocates an astonishing 13.7 per cent to defence. Broken down in spending per capita, the Saudis actually spend the most in the world — nearly 3.5 times what the U.S. spends per person — and yet no one considers Saudi Arabia to be even a regional military powerhouse.
I maintain the opinion that the Canadian Armed Forces are not among the best in the world, they are the best in the world. There may be militaries that field more state-of-the-art weapons and technology, but when you factor in the training, discipline, experience and ethos of our professional soldiers, they stand second to no one.
Despite our natural isolation by virtue of geography, Canada has also been quick to deploy our military resources to far-flung conflicts and peacekeeping missions, often placing our troops in the most dangerous environments.
During our deployment to Afghanistan for instance, Canada spent six years based in the volatile Kandahar sector, and as a result suffered the highest ratio of casualties per capita of all the allies in theatre.
According to the Trump two per cent of GDP theory, we would have been a better NATO member if we had kept our soldiers at home, doubled their salaries and purchased an arsenal of high-tech weaponry that we will never employ.
If spending an arbitrary percentage of a nation’s GDP on defence simply for the sake of spending that percentage is the goal, then NATO should simply bring Saudi Arabia into the alliance to balance the books.
However, if it is demonstrable military efficiency and willingness to commit our forces that Trump / NATO really want in a partner, then we are already doing more than our share.