Last week, while everyone was busy looking at that nice picture of Obama and Trudeau amiably chatting it up in Little Burgundy, the government dropped Canada’s new “deliberately ambitious” National Defense Strategy. This includes a 73% increase of the military defense budget over the next ten years and replacement of the CF-18 fleet with 88 advanced fighter aircraft (instead of the 65 planes promised by the Conservatives).
Among all the usual reasons presented by the government for this rather dramatic hike, two stood out: the need to respond to NATO pressure and the need to assume more of a leading role on the international stage in response to the Trump administration’s isolationism.
NATO requests that member states devote 2% of their GDP to national defense and Canada spends little more than half of that. By 2027, Canada’s defense spending will have jumped from $18.9 Billion to $32.7 Billion, which will be 1.4% of the GDP – still too little for NATO, but enough to significantly improve its status.
To be fair, in 2016, only five of the 28 members (The UK, the US, Greece, Poland and Estonia) actually reached NATO’s target. To be quite clear, the pressure to increase spending is coming from the US in particular. Donald Trump scolded NATO leaders last month for not committing more funds.
On the other hand, Trump’s unpredictable behaviour on diplomatic matters is a factor in and of itself.
“The fact that our friend and ally has come to question the very worth of its mantle of global leadership, puts into sharper focus the need for the rest of us to set our own clear and sovereign course,” said the minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland.
On Tuesday, while Obama was speaking in Montreal, Freeland presented the new policy to the House of Commons. And just like Obama spoke for an hour and a half about everything wrong with Trump without mentioning him, the Minister clearly depicted Canada’s new defense strategy as a countermeasure to Trump’s unreliability without saying so. This brilliantly written part of her discourse is a perfect example:
“Imagine a Canadian view that says we are safe on our continent, and we have things to do at home, so let’s turn inward. Let’s say Canada first. Here’s why that would be wrong…”
She then went on to argue that Canada is facing many threats on the international front, mentioning climate change, but also, the dictatorship in North Korea, “crimes against humanity in Syria, the monstrous extremists of Daesh, and Russian military adventurism.”
Freeland also warned that relying on the umbrella of protection provided by the US would turn us into a client state.
Foreign and security policy analyst Srdjan Vucetic believes Canada increasing its defense spending is inevitable.
“While the demand for spending precedes Trump-induced uncertainties,” he argued, “the latter amplifies, especially in light of Freeland’s speech on Tuesday.”
Vucetic rather liked hearing Freeland admit “that the world is different now that there are no adults in the White House.”
Selling military spending to the Left
The Liberals aren’t forgetting the votes they got on the left of the spectrum in this rightward shift towards militarism. That’s why they’re packaging it as a soft criticism of the Trump Administration, something that is hard for progressives not to support.
Freeland also talked a fair amount about another popular topic on the left: fighting climate change, taking the opportunity to say that “Canada is deeply disappointed by the decision by the US Federal Government to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate.”
It’s logical that increased military spending will improve Canada’s pull on the diplomatic world which is necessary to influence the fight against climate change. However, the Liberal government has given us no reason to believe that they would ever use it to that effect. Despite talking a big game about the environment, they have done just as much for it as the Conservatives.
It wasn’t the only part of the Minister’s discourse that seemed like a diversion tactic meant to appease the Left.
“Now, it is clearly not our role to impose our values around the world. No one appointed us the world’s policeman,” Freeland assured the House of Commons, preemptively echoing potential critics. The statement is a little bit at odds with the very first paragraph of the official policy document praising Canadian military for “working tirelessly to (…) promote Canadian values and interests abroad” and the fact that her own discourse cares to point out how good and honorable Canadian values are.
While “impose” and “promote” are two distinct concepts, they have a way of blending in this particular context, considering no one actually fears Canada “imposing” its values through some sort of coercive force. All this to say that, as nicely as this statement plays to popular criticism, it is again devoid of actual significance.
The Liberals won the elections by playing up the contrast between them and the Conservatives. Instead of acting on that contrast, it looks like they’ve decided to play up their differences with Trump instead.
* Featured image: Canadian CF-18 via WikiMedia Commons