HALIFAX — The defence secretary of the United Kingdom and his Canadian counterpart kicked off an international security conference in Halifax Friday with reassurances they expect key military alliances will endure as U.S. President-elect Donald Trump prepares to take power.
During the summer, Trump said he wanted changes in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, at one point referring to NATO as "obsolete," and making clear he expects other member states to contribute more towards the alliance's military costs.
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan speaks to reporters at the Halifax International Security Forum on Nov. 18, 2016. (Photo: Darren Calabrese/CP)
However, U.K. Defence Secretary Michael Fallon told reporters attending the International Security Forum in Halifax that it's not unusual for an American president to push for other nations to pitch in more on military spending, and the alliance is already grappling with the issue of who pays the bills for Europe's security.
"There is always uncertainty in the change in American administration. There's nothing new about that," said Fallon outside the main meeting hall.
"Successive American presidents have urged European countries to do more."
He said NATO is reforming itself, and since the military alliance's 2014 Wales summit the decline in defence spending has ended, alongside the preparation of response forces on Europe's eastern flank as Russian President Vladimir Putin has become increasingly aggressive.
Trump's tune could change?
The British politician also expressed confidence in a moderation of Trump's campaign positions.
"I'm sure the new administration will appreciate the importance of international organizations and alliances, including the NATO alliance, to keep the peace in Europe and also internationally."
Canadian Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said he expects to meet with members of an American congressional delegation who are coming to the conference, and is looking forward to meetings with the new U.S. defence secretary when the administration is in place.
Sajjan described Canada's financial contribution to NATO as "quite large," and didn't indicate his government is planning to spend more in the future.
Sajjan defends NATO contribution
He continued to be cautious about commenting on Trump's friendliness towards Putin, and the president-elect's comment that residents of Crimea seemed to prefer living under Russia. Sajjan repeated that he's looking forward to "the right conversation" with the new U.S. secretary of defence.
He said Canada remains committed to supporting training and assistance to Ukraine.
Delegates from 70 countries, including a dozen defence ministers and 30 senior military leaders, are attending the conference — which is billing itself as the first gathering of significant international leaders since the American election.
Peter Van Praagh, president of the forum, said at the opening news conference he expects there will be "frank and difficult" conversations among delegates from many nations about the changed situation that the Trump election victory brings.