Canada to spend more on defence, Sajjan says, but non-committal on NATO
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OTTAWA — Canada expects to make significant new investments in defence following the forthcoming release of its defence policy review, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said Thursday as he met with NATO leaders in Brussels.
But Sajjan was non-committal about the specific issue of Donald Trump's repeated complaints about NATO members whom the U.S. president has long alleged have failed to pay their fair share of the cost of the alliance.
Sajjan said he spoke with U.S. Defence Secretary James Mattis, a strident spokesman for the Trump administration on the issue of NATO spending who on Wednesday delivered a stern ultimatum to member nations.
"America will meet its responsibilities, but if your nations do not want to see America moderate its commitment to the alliance, each of your capitals needs to show its support for our common defence," Mattis said.
Canada is demonstrating its commitment to NATO by contributing troops and leading a multinational NATO mission in Latvia as part of what is known as Operation Reassurance, Sajjan noted.
"Obviously we did discuss (spending) in terms of the resources required for the impact that we want to have in NATO, and every nation is doing their part towards that," Sajjan said.
He repeatedly mentioned the ongoing defence policy review, which was part of his mandate as defence minister and which is looking at Canadian defence needs for the next 20 years, including NATO commitments and missions.
That means more money, Sajjan said — although he didn't say how much.
"We knew that spending by the previous government was low and the defence policy review allowed us to do a thorough analysis of what was required," he said. "Yes, this will require defence investments."
NATO says member states should aim to spend two per cent of GDP on defence. Canada now spends about one per cent and has long been under pressure from the U.S., including long before the start of the Trump era, to boost spending.
The government is looking at predictable, planned investments, Sajjan said.
"We in Canada need to be able to demonstrate a thorough plan and what type of defence investment is needed, because this is significant money that needs to be invested, but the Canadian taxpayer also requires us to make sure that we are efficient with the money."
As well as the NATO talks and a meeting with a counter-ISIL group led by Mattis, Sajjan also had bilateral meetings with the NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and ministers from Australia, France, Germany, Portugal, Slovenia and the United Kingdom.
He is heading to Germany for the Munich Security Conference, where senior decision-makers from around the world will discuss international security challenges.