U.S. President Donald Trump says Canada is “just slightly delinquent” when it comes to meeting its defence spending commitments to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
As expected, Trudeau and Trump faced questions from reporters on how Canada is not yet shelling out at least two per cent of its gross domestic product on its defence, a target NATO members agreed to pursue in 2014.
According to NATO estimates released last week, Canada is on pace to spend 1.31 per cent of GDP on defence for the second straight year. That puts the country 20th out of the 29 countries in the alliance, where an attack on one nation is considered an attack on them all. The U.S. leads the pack, spending 3.42 per cent of its GDP.
Trump, who has in the past suggested NATO countries be branded “delinquents” and “freeloaders” for not hitting the threshold and expecting the U.S. to do the heavy lifting in the event of a conflict, lauded Canada for substantially “moving up” its domestic defence investments.
“They’ll be OK. I have confidence,” Trump said. “Just slightly delinquent.”
When asked if Canada should have a strategy to hit the two per cent standard, Trump joked about putting Canada on a “payment plan” and pressed Trudeau to reveal, before the cameras, how much Canada is spending relative to GDP.
“What are you at? What is your number?” he asked the prime minister.
Trudeau tried to pivot by referencing the defence policy update his government revealed in 2017, which Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said at the time would amount to a 70 per cent hike over 10 years.
“The number we talk about is 70 per cent increase over these past years… for the coming years… including significant investments in our fighter jets, significant investments in our naval fleets,” Trudeau said. “We are increasing significantly our defence spending from previous governments that cut it.”
But that policy is only expected to see Canada spend 1.4 per cent of GDP by 2024-25.
“OK. Where are you now in terms of your number?” Trump asked again.
Watch the exchange in the video below from NBC News, around the 20:40 mark:
Though Trudeau initially said 1.35, he then rounded the figure up even more to the aspirational target of 1.4 per cent of GDP.
The prime minister also made a point of highlighting how Canada is contributing to the alliance in other big ways by deploying hundreds of Canadian Forces members to Latvia for that country’s protection and by leading a NATO training mission in Iraq.
“Canada has been there for every NATO deployment. We’ve consistently stepped up, sent our troops into harm’s way,” Trudeau said. “There are some countries that, even though they might reach the two per cent [target], don’t step up nearly as much. And I think it’s important to look at what’s actually being done.”
Earlier, the prime minister complimented the “American strength” in pushing countries to step up their military investments.
Though Trump has taken a more aggressive approach with NATO allies, his predecessor also publicly called on Canada to boost its defence spending. In an address to the House of Commons in 2016, Barack Obama directly called on Canada to do more in the face of nations such as Russia violating international rules and norms.
“As your ally and as your friend, let me say that we’ll be more secure when every NATO member, including Canada, contributes its full share to our common security,” Obama said at the time. “Because the Canadian Armed Forces are really good. And if I can borrow a phrase, the world needs more Canada. NATO needs more Canada. We need you. We need you.”
The remark yielded a standing ovation.
With files from The Canadian Press