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With Trump presidency looming, General Vance defends Canada’s contributions to NATO

By Marco Vigliotti      

Other NATO nations aren't putting in the 'same level of effort that Canada is.'

Gen. Jonathan Vance, chief of defence staff, told members of the House Defence Committee on Tuesday that Canadian contributions to NATO are 'unequivocally valued' by allies. The Hill Times photograph by Marco Vigliotti

Canada’s top general on Tuesday dismissed criticism from the likes of U.S. president-elect Donald Trump that North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies that were not spending the suggested two per cent of gross domestic product on national defence were skirting international obligations, saying Canada makes immense contributions to the transcontinental coalition that cannot be strictly measured by dollar figures.

“I think there is, sometimes, an over-reliance on strictly a numeric figure. I would just caution, from a military perspective, that the metric is not the only metric that can be used—it can provide a very skewed and perhaps incorrect view of the value of a country in an alliance,” Gen. Jonathan Vance told the House Defence Committee, which he appeared before to brief members on his work.

“To take a figure and somehow parlay that into the only metric that you use to determine your worth in an alliance, I think, is shallow and false.”

Mr. Vance made the comments in response to a question from Liberal MP Jean Rioux (Saint Jean, Que.) about whether he believed Canada should be spending two per cent of its GDP on defence, as agreed upon by NATO members in 2014 to ensure participating countries were paying their fair share.

He said that while he supports increasing defence spending, like every chief of defence of staff would, it’s ultimately a decision that rests with the country’s political leadership.

Mr. Trump repeatedly argued on the campaign trail that the United States was shouldering too much of the responsibility of funding the ocean-spanning security alliance, and, in turn, defending Europe.

“We pay so much, disproportionately more for NATO. We are getting ripped off by every country in NATO, where they pay virtually nothing, most of them. And we’re paying the majority of the costs,” he said in a radio interview.

He also alleged that the United States pays approximately 73 per cent of the cost of the alliance, calling it a lot of money to “protect other people,” despite declaring that he’s “all for NATO.”

Statistics from NATO show that the country actually covers 22 per cent of its common funding budget, though total U.S. defence spending—considerably hiked after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001—effectively “represents 73 per cent of the defence spending of the alliance as a whole,” according to a statement on the group’s website.

It’s a number that dwarfs what Canada spends on defence, which falls below the level agreed upon by fellow alliance members.

In July, NATO reported that Canadian defence spending dropped to 0.98 per cent of GDP, less than half the suggested two per cent floor, the Canadian Press reported. NATO estimates spending will increase slightly to 0.99 per cent this year, though that would still see Canada rank 23rd out of 28 members.

Canada is responsible for roughly 6.7 per cent of the common funding budget, according to NATO statistics. Germany is the second biggest contributor after the United States at 14.7 per cent, and is followed by France, 10.6 per cent, and the United Kingdom, 9.8 per cent.

But while Canada may spend less on its military than other NATO partners, it has assumed a prominent place in the alliance’s latest mission.

The Liberals announced in the summer that Canada would join Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States in leading the 4,000-strong NATO force in Eastern Europe, which is largely seen as effort to blunt Russian advances in the region. Canada is leading the group that will be deployed to Latvia.

Mr. Vance cited the leadership role shouldered by Canada in Eastern Europe as a testament to the country’s commitment to the alliance, and to highlight the contributions the country makes that are not captured when fixating strictly on spending totals.

“Canada has a proud history of deploying, and supporting NATO,” he said.

“At the budget level that we are at, we’re unequivocally valued as a partner, and I think will continue to be so.”

Mr. Vance added that there are “lots of nations” spending two per cent of their GDP defence that are “not doing the same level of effort that Canada is.”

Although criticizing allies for not doing their part to help support American defence efforts was a constant theme on the stump, it remains difficult to divine whether Mr. Trump will match his controversial rhetoric with action once he assumes office.

In fact, he seems to have, at times, strayed away from some of his more proactive statements on defence in recent months.

While Mr. Trump repeatedly characterized NATO as obsolete on the campaign trail, he told the New York Times in July that he would preserve the alliance, and that only “fools and haters” would suggest he wouldn’t step up to protect the country’s allies.

“I would prefer that we be able to continue, but if we are not going to be reasonably reimbursed for the tremendous cost of protecting these massive nations with tremendous wealth…then yes, I would be absolutely prepared to tell those countries, ‘Congratulations, you will be defending yourself,'” he told the newspaper.

mvigliotti@hilltimes.com

The Hill Times 

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