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In The Media

Defence policy review to be released after Trudeau meets NATO allies in Brussels

by Murray Brewster (feat. David Perry)

CBC News
May 14, 2017

Canada's long-awaited defence policy review will not be made public before Prime Minister Justin Trudeau faces allies at the NATO Summit in Brussels later this month, CBC News has learned.

It's a significant decision that could make the gathering of alliance leaders uncomfortable for the prime minister, especially in light of the demands and expectations of U.S. President Donald Trump, who has insisted allies boost spending on their militaries.

A senior government official tells CBC News the plan had been to release the policy before the meeting, but officials believe it is important that Canada's defence policy align with a broader set of foreign policy goals.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland will deliver a major speech shortly after the gathering of NATO leaders that will more clearly define the Liberal government's vision, said an official with direct knowledge of the plan.

That will be followed closely by Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan's policy review, which has been more than a year in the making and will set the future direction for the military, in terms of expectations, spending and equipment.

Many critical decisions, including the replacement of aircraft, ships and vehicles, have been in a holding pattern because of the review.

The latest federal budget removes over $8 billion from the immediate equipment purchasing plans of National Defence and promises to sprinkle the cash into programs in future years.

NATO leaders agreed at the 2014 summit in Wales that, with a resurgent Russia on the world stage, member countries should have a plan to increase their defence budgets and bring spending up to two per cent of their gross domestic products.

That would require Canada to double the size of its defence appropriation to just over $40 billion from the current $18.7 billion.

Cash vs. action

Both Trudeau's Liberal government and former prime minister Stephen Harper's Conservative government have balked at the notion, arguing that the GDP measurement is arbitrary and that the true measurement is participation in NATO missions.

But the Trump administration, which has consistently hammered allies to pay more towards collective security, is likely to be unimpressed that Trudeau is showing up empty-handed, said one defence analyst.

"I think the Americans are going to be disappointed and our European allies will be dumbfounded," said Dave Perry, of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute. "Our recent budget changes have all been negative. We've pushed several billions of dollars of purchasing off into the future and our share of defence spending continues to decline."

According to NATO estimates, Canada is spending just under one per cent of its GDP on defence, but a recent Senate committee report, using Library of Parliament data, pegs that figure at .88 per cent.

"So, to go into the meeting empty-handed, without even the defence review; it will put our government in a very uncomfortable position," said Perry.

Ending defence cuts

The senior government official, who spoke on background because of the sensitivity of the file, said they are expecting that defence spending  "will be brought up, as it always has been" at the NATO meeting,  but argued "the defence policy is not for our allies. It is for Canadians."

The Americans were given a sneak peek at the new policy and were pleased, said a pair of defence sources, who were not authorized to speak to the media.

The expectation that Canada will deliver something of substance when leaders meet on May 25 extends beyond the U.S.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the 28 member nations pledged to stop cutting defence and find a way to to get to two per cent GDP.

"I expect all allies to be able to meet the commitment we made in 2014," Stoltenberg said Thursday following a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

It will be a major topic in the coming days, and he said everyone is expected to be on onboard.

"What we're going to address is how to implement the pledge and I am encouraged by what I see across Europe and Canada."


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