Editorial: Canada needs to do more to uphold its NATO pledge

If the West wants to defend its values, Canada is going to have to pick up the slack

Prime Minister Stephen Haper takes part in an economic question and answer session at Mansion House in London, England on Wednesday Sept. 3, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Prime Minister Stephen Haper takes part in an economic question and answer session at Mansion House in London, England on Sept. 3, 2014. (Sean Kilpatrick/CP)

Last Thursday, U.S. President Barack Obama was in the midst of discussing U.S. air strikes against ISIS in Iraq when he made what’s widely been seen as a major foreign-policy gaffe. Referring to the possibility of future attacks on ISIS inside Syria, he called such speculation premature. Why? “We don’t have a strategy,” he said. He then paused for the briefest of moments before adding the qualifier “yet.”

The notion the U.S. President lacks a plan for dealing with the chaos created by ISIS in the Middle East has been seized upon by his political opponents as evidence of his inability to lead an increasingly dangerous and unstable world. Texas Republican Congressman Louis Gohmert sneered that “Barney Fife is in charge.” Such criticism is unfair. Obama certainly does have a strategy. His strategy is to do less. The big question is whether his allies are prepared to do more.

Since winning the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize just a few months after taking office, it often seems as if Obama has spent the rest of his tenure trying to live up to the honour by orchestrating a dramatic narrowing of America’s military presence around the globe. Aside from the temporary surge in Afghanistan in 2009 and various small-unit special forces operations, the world is seeing a lot less of G.I. Joe these days. The reasons are both practical and political: The fiscal-cliff deal in Congress has imposed dramatic cuts on U.S. military spending, which limits operational capabilities, and the American people have grown bone-weary of their role as world cop. A Pew Research Center poll released last week shows more Americans think their country does “too much” to solve world problems rather than “too little.” (Although isolationist sentiment has receded somewhat since the murder of journalist James Foley.) Where once the U.S. was prepared to “bear any burden, meet any hardship, defend any friend” in support of liberty—as president John F. Kennedy declared in his 1961 inaugural address—Obama has put such grandiose and unlimited commitments in abeyance.

It is as a result of this shrinking U.S. global bootprint that 2014 has seen such a sudden spike in international conflagrations. Besides Syria and ISIS, Russian President Vladimir Putin has brazenly invaded Ukraine, China is stretching its legs in the South China Sea, bedlam reigns in Libya, and so on. All this clearly represents a serious threat to global security and Western values. But, given an increasingly disinterested and reclusive U.S., if the Western world wishes to defend its own values, it’s going to have to pick up the slack on its own. Doing so will be neither cheap nor easy, but it is entirely necessary. This week’s NATO summit in Wales seems like a good place to start.

During the peak of the Cold War, U.S. military spending represented approximately half the total defence budgets of all NATO countries. Today, NATO is much bigger, but America’s share is now more than 70 per cent. Some U.S. commentators have taken to suggesting that countries not pulling their weight—all members have pledged to spend at least two per cent of GDP on defence, although only the U.S, Britain, Estonia and Greece do—should be tossed from the organization.

In a sign that some countries may be willing to shoulder a greater burden, British Prime Minister David Cameron last month wrote to his fellow NATO leaders urging a new sense of collective Western commitment, particularly with respect to Ukraine. “It is clear Russia views NATO as an adversary,” he wrote, suggesting NATO return the favour. With respect to military budgets, “I would urge other allies to make the strongest possible commitment to increase their defence spending,” he said.

For Canada, Cameron’s call-out ought to be considered a major embarrassment. While Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird have scolded Putin over his Ukrainian adventures in the sternest possible language, financially strapped Greece is actually doing more to meet its NATO pledge than Canada, which spends a mere one per cent. And the 2014 federal budget actually removed $3.1 billion in capital spending from the defence budget.

It is no longer sufficient for Canada and the rest of the Western alliance to poke holes in the air with our fingers while America does all the hard work to promote international peace and security. As the U.S. recedes from the world stage, it is time for the rest of us to step up and do more.


Editorial: Canada needs to do more to uphold its NATO pledge

  1. Stop trying to force ‘our values’ on other countries….that’s how the US gets into trouble in the first place. We don’t need to follow them.

    We HAVE a ‘world cop’….it’s called the UN. There were plans to revamp it so it was effective years ago, but somehow we can’t stop playing soldier ourselves. Give it NATO as a UN military, open it up, and get out of the way.

    We aren’t going to war over Ukraine. Harper is just ragging the puck.

    • When it comes to prevention of war and security of nations, the UN is hopeless; if it’s a world Kop, it’s a Keystone.

      If we are to be a member of NATO then we need to do our share. Maybe there are corners of the world we should leave to sort themselves out. But if we are to have allies who will be at our back should the need arise, then we too have to have their backs.

      As to the Ukraine, if you think Putin will stop there if he’s allowed to get away with it…

      • Now tell us about the US….. and Afghanistan, and Iraq and Libya and Syria and Egypt etc…and how much we protested.

        NATO has been a lost cause since 1989….and the Crimea belongs to Russia.

        • “….and the Crimea belongs to Russia.”

          Well, it does now – as long as we ignore little things like the rule of law and international boundaries.

          As for the US… under Dubya, they became a rogue nation. Obama has been trying to extricate them from that mess. And some of us did protest.

          I may not agree with much of the US’ past behaviour – but even if I did, that doesn’t excuse Russia. Nor does it wipe out our obligations to our allies.

          • The Crimea has belonged to Russia since the time of Catherine the Great.

            Khrushchev didn’t foresee the end of the USSR so let Ukraine take it.

            Russia however has continued to rent Sevastopol….it is the only warm water port that Russia has. They won’t give it up.

            Russia is the best ally we’ve ever had.

            You know all this Bram….you’re just being daft again.

      • Canada was never a conquering nation, always a nation builder, and we have never conquered any nations, it’s just the last 8 years or so, we seem to have lost our way, Hmm, wonder why?

  2. This is what happens when you run a government based on an economy that is struggling to get back on its feet, you end up shooting your load in bullhorn politics, and then try to go to war on the cheap. Harper is in way over his head. Time for change in government in Ottawa.

  3. It seems not even the kind of moral argument yo make in this article can dissuade Harper that nothing must get in the way, or is more important than his reelection in ’15. How much more evidence do we need that the Tories are willing to sacrifice anyone, anything – from pesky CC scientists to veterans to MMIW inquiries – in order to present a false picture of the nations finances so that we have no choice but to reelect them in ’15? I’m amazed that editorial bodies like this one seem so far to be unable or unwilling to join up the dots. Yes it’s a good thing to get the nations books in order and balanced. But any price, and merely so one sitting PM can say: “voila Canada! Got ta luv me now eh!” come E day?

  4. Little by little, Canada tires of Harper’s antics – you can feel it in the air

  5. This is BS. Canada did more than pull its weight in NATO in Afghanistan, compared to our European wussie allies, and we have the dead and maimed Canadian bodies to prove it.

    Next to the Americans, Canada took on the most difficult NATO assignment in Afghanistan.

    It is self-serving for the Brits and the Americans to ask us to spend more since they are the major arms suppliers and their economies would be the beneficiaries, not the Baltic members of NATO and Poland.

    And the Americans and Brits are completely unable at controlling the costs of the hardware they are trying to sell us.

    Just look at the F-35 boondoggle. Canada is more than willing to buy, but the costs have skyrocketed and the plane can’t stay airworthy.

    Look at the Sikorsky helicopter fiasco. A American military supplier totally unable to live up to its commitments.

    It was the correct thing for Canada to cut back on procurement until we find a way to control the costs from the out of control arms merchants.

    The only reason our current military spending is so low is because the American and Brit suppliers have been unable to control costs.

    • Evidence for most of that apologist bilge is lacking as usual I see. Boy you sure like that Tory koi laid …Mmmmmm…yummy!

  6. What DO Canadians expect from the same person who signs treaties and legislation he has NO intention of honouring?

    • “Demagogue: one who preaches doctrines he knows to be untrue to men he knows to be idiots.”

      H. L. Mencken

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