Trudeau responds to US senators’ concerns about defense spending

Stopping short of offering the assurance U.S. senators are seeking, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government is aware there is more work to do for Canada to meet NATO’s defense spending target.

Responding to a rare bipartisan letter sent by nearly two dozen US senators demanding that Canada live up to the NATO commitment, the prime minister said: “We recognize there is more to do and we will be there to do it.”

“Because we are the ones taking Canada’s defense needs seriously and making sure the women and men of our Armed Forces have the right equipment,” Trudeau continued, speaking at an event in Nova Scotia.

“Not only to deliver what their fellow Canadians expect of them, but also what our allies around the world are counting on us to do.”

On Thursday, as CNN reported, 23 US senators – both Democrats and Republicans – wrote to Trudeau imploring him to honor Canada’s commitment to spend two per cent of its GDP on defence.

Canada has long been described as a nation that doesn’t pull its weight when it comes to supporting the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Now, with the 75th anniversary of the 32-member military alliance on the horizon, pressure appears to be building again for Canada to step up and join the 18 countries that are on track to meet the spending target by the end of year.

The senators, including Republicans Mitt Romney and Ted Cruz, as well as Democrats Tim Kaine and Tammy Duckworth, said they decided to write to Canada as it appears to be one of the only lagging nations that has not yet presented a plan to reach the two percent. .

“As we approach the 2024 NATO Summit in Washington, DC, we are concerned and deeply disappointed that Canada’s most recent projection indicates that it will not meet its two per cent commitment this decade,” the statement reads. the letter.

“In 2029, Canada’s defense spending is estimated to rise to just 1.7 per cent, five years after the agreed-upon 2024 deadline and still below the spending baseline.”

Trudeau said Friday that in conversations with his American colleagues, Canada’s investments in improving fighter aircraft capabilities, modernizing NORAD and securing the Arctic have been “extremely well received by Americans and allies around the world.

He also highlighted that before coming to power in 2015, defense spending under former Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper had fallen below one per cent for the first time.

“Not only have we started investing in our military, we have actually doubled military investments in recent years. We are now on track to reach more than 1.7 per cent of GDP, which is a record for Canada, and we have not yet finished,” Trudeau said.

Last month, Canada unveiled an updated defense policy that includes plans to spend $73 billion over 20 years to renew the country’s military capabilities, but still falls short of NATO’s target.

Concerns have been raised about what it could mean if Canada misses that spending target and Donald Trump returns to the White House.

“There is a growing recognition that there is a high risk that the next president will be President Trump. And any senator who sees NATO as a very important alliance… would like to eliminate as many excuses as they can, I think , for President Trump to take some significant actions that they believe would be detrimental to NATO,” former Chief of the Defense Staff Tom Lawson said Thursday on CTV News’ Power Play program.

“Like withdrawing completely or, more likely, declaring some kind of two-tier NATO where those who don’t pay won’t really be protected if they are attacked.”

With files from CTV News’ Jeremie Charron