U.S. senators write to Trudeau, urging Canada to meet NATO spending target

Canada urged to meet target

A bipartisan group of U.S. senators has written a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, urging him to meet the NATO spending target Canada first agreed to in 2014.

All NATO allies renewed the pledge last summer, agreeing to spend at least two per cent of GDP on defence.

Canada is spending well below that, at around 1.33 per cent.

The letter, which is dated Thursday, says Canada is a valued ally and notes its contributions, including leading a multinational battle group in Latvia.

But the senators say the alliance is facing a severe threat landscape and they are calling on all NATO countries to uphold their commitment.

"To build on the success of the past 75 years and secure the transatlantic alliance for the next generation, NATO requires continued investments from each member country," the letter says, noting that allies have also agreed that one-fifth of defence spending should go toward equipment.

Eighteen of the 32 NATO allies are projected to meet the two per cent target by the end of 2024. The letter calls on Canada and other countries that are not meeting the target to "have a plan to reach this benchmark as soon as possible."

Under Canada's new defence policy, the federal government estimates its defence spending will rise to 1.76 per cent of GDP by 2029-30.

"As we approach the 2024 NATO Summit in Washington, D.C., we are concerned and profoundly disappointed that Canada's most recent projection indicated that it will not reach its two per cent commitment this decade," the letter says.

It goes on to say that "Canada will fail to meet its obligations to the alliance, to the detriment of all NATO allies and the free world, without immediate and meaningful action to increase defence spending."

When asked for Trudeau's response to the letter, the Prime Minister's Office referred questions to the Defence Department.

The letter was signed by a group of 23 senators, including Republicans Mitt Romney, Ted Cruz, Joe Manchin and Dan Sullivan, along with Democrats Jeanne Shaheen, Benjamin Cardin, Tammy Duckworth and Tim Kaine.

Sullivan made headlines last summer during confirmation hearings for the new Norad commander, Gen. Gregory Guillot, when he said Canada is "not even close to pulling its weight."

Donald Trump, the front-runner to be the Republican presidential nominee in the November election, has also had harsh words for allies that are not meeting the two per cent target.

Earlier this year, Trump said he had warned allies during his presidency that the U.S. would not protect "delinquent" countries from Russia if they are not spending enough. A critical component of the NATO alliance is its collective defence article, which states that an attack on one member is an attack on all.

The U.S. ambassador in Ottawa, David Cohen, praised the commitments in Canada's defence policy when it was released, saying it "appears to articulate a substantial down payment toward" the NATO target.

The Defence Department's budget was $26.9 billion last year. The defence policy sets out another $8.1 billion in spending over the next five years and a total of $73 billion by 2044.

That money will go toward buying things like long-range missiles, early-warning aircraft and all-terrain vehicles designed for the harsh Arctic climate.

Trudeau and Defence Minister Bill Blair have both said the government expects to spend more than that in the end, however, because the policy also includes plans to buy a new fleet of submarines and other equipment that has not been costed.

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