Sweden and Finland’s welcome to NATO will put additional pressure on Canada to increase its own defense spending and contributions to the military alliance, experts say.
The two Scandinavian countries were formally invited to join the alliance on Wednesday, marking one of the biggest shifts in European security in decades after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine forced Helsinki and Stockholm to abandon their traditions of neutrality.
Once the move is ratified and Sweden and Finland add their well-trained armies to NATO’s ranks, “the question will be why Canada, one of the richest countries in the world … doesn’t improve our ability to protect our sovereignty,” he said. aurel. Braun, professor of political science at the University of Toronto.
“Right now, what we contribute is not enough.”
NATO defense spending target applies to all allies, including Canada: Stoltenberg
Canada has not yet made a public commitment to the alliance’s goal of all members spending at least two percent of its national gross domestic product on defense, which was first agreed in 2014.
New figures released by NATO on Monday predict that Canadian defense spending as a share of GDP this year will fall to 1.27 percent, compared to 1.32 percent last year and 1.42 percent in 2020.
Speaking at a NATO summit in Spain on Wednesday attended by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his foreign and military ministers, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said all countries should view the two percent target as “the floor, not the floor.” the ceiling”, as the world becomes more dangerous due to Russian aggression.
Stoltenberg told reporters he understands the desire to spend taxpayers’ money on health care, education and infrastructure. But he added that he still expects “all allies to comply with the guidelines we have set” for defense spending, “including Canada”.
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Braun agrees that social spending is important, but says Sweden and Finland are proof that countries with strong social safety nets can also meet NATO’s goals. Finland already spends more than two percent of its GDP on defense, while Sweden has publicly vowed to reach the same threshold by 2028.
“So what is Canada waiting for?” he asked.
Canada on Wednesday signed an agreement to upgrade the NATO battlegroup it leads in Latvia to a brigade, doubling the number of troops to between 3,000 and 5,000.
However, the government says it’s too early to confirm whether that will involve deploying additional Canadian troops as part of the upgrade.
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Robert Baines, chairman of the NATO Association of Canada, said the announcement of an upgraded force in Latvia signals Canada’s commitment to the alliance.
“This is a strong message of continued support for NATO, which will help Canada draw attention to the capabilities and contributions the Canadian Forces make to NATO operations and which will help balance the lackluster measure of our low defense spending “, he said. in a statement.
Pressured by Canada’s defense spending, Secretary of State Melanie Joly said on Wednesday that Canadians can be proud of the country’s work within NATO and in the Ukrainian conflict in general, and emphasized the role of diplomacy in responding. on Russia’s aggression.
The parliamentary budget official said in a report this month that the federal government would need to spend an additional $75.3 billion on defense over the next five years if Canada is to meet NATO’s target of two percent of GDP.
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Earlier this year, the federal budget pledged $8 billion in additional defense spending, part of what the government often describes as a 70 percent increase in defense spending, first set out in the 2017 defense policy reset.
Still, questions remain about how much of that $8 billion — if any — will go toward the $4.9 billion worth of upgrades to NORAD radar and surveillance systems announced last week.
General Wayne Eyre, chief of the defense staff, told Global News’ The Western Bloc last week that he doesn’t know where that money for NORAD comes from.
An increase in defense spending with a focus on NORAD is deemed necessary to protect Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic and counter efforts by Russia and China to establish a greater presence in the region.
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Braun says Sweden and Finland can help Canada and the rest of NATO on that front, while also limiting Russian aggression elsewhere.
“These are two Arctic states … which will also prevent Russia from turning the Baltic into a Russian lake,” he said, pointing out that Finland itself shares a border with Russia.
“It completely changes the regional picture.”
The inclusion of Sweden and Finland in NATO will also mean that every member of the Arctic Council – except Russia – will be a member of the military alliance, further weakening Moscow’s influence.
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“One of President Putin’s main messages… was that he was against any further expansion of NATO,” Stoltenberg said Tuesday evening. “He wanted less NATO. Now President Putin is getting more NATO on his borders.”
Braun made a similar argument.
“They were driven to this,” he said, referring to Sweden and Finland.
“It tells us that not only does Russia have agency, that Russia is not a victim, but that Russia has managed to alienate two countries that worked so hard to maintain good relations that Russia has become a rogue state.”
— With files from Global’s Amanda Connolly and the Canadian Press
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