Centre for International and Defence Policy

Centre for International and Defence Policy
Centre for International and Defence Policy

“Priorities for Canada's National Defence go beyond just spending more”

Rahul Vaidyanath, Epoch Times,
11 December 2019 (link to the complete article)

Canada benefits immensely from the protection of the United States, which is asking it, in no uncertain terms, to spend more on national defence and security. 

Two of Canada’s major priorities include fixing its military procurement processes and upgrading North American Air Defence Command (Norad). As a country that relies heavily on military alliances, these would, in turn, make Canada a stronger partner for its allies—especially the United States.

Former vice-chief of defence staff Guy R. Thibault, a retired lieutenant-general, says that Canadians greatly appreciate their armed forces and their involvement in the world as peacekeepers. Canadians want their armed forces to be well equipped to carry out their missions, but when it comes to where they think the government should rank defence spending among other priorities, “We’re somewhere down [around the level of] the national ballet or the arts,” Thibault said in an interview.

National defence and security typically aren’t in the public consciousness unless an event like the Afghanistan mission, 9/11, or the Persian Gulf War in 1990–91 is at hand. Canadians generally don’t appreciate why they need to spend on defence given the relative security they enjoy due to geography.

An Ipsos poll published on Dec. 3 suggested that Canadians’ support for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is the third-highest out of 11 key member states surveyed—55 percent of Canadians are in favour of the alliance. But this was hardly evident during the federal election campaigns in the fall.

“During the elections, the subject of national defence was swept under the carpet. This was a missed opportunity to have frank and honest conversation that could generate consensus on the way forward across party lines,” said the Conference of Defence Associations (CDA) Institute in an Oct. 28 statement.

During NATO’s 70th anniversary gathering in London on Dec. 3, U.S. President Donald Trump chided Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for not spending anywhere near the alliance’s defence spending target of 2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).

Canada currently spends an estimated 1.31 percent of GDP and has a fleet of aging equipment. There are plenty of holes to plug with additional funds.


The aging North American air defence system and the unique Canada-U.S. bilateral relationship will require Canada to pony up.

“There is no money set aside for the modernization of Norad, and I think this is one of the big areas that they [the government] need to get a grip on,” Thibault said. “The systems that we have for North American air defence are largely becoming obsolete and need to be completely upgraded.”

Other challenges not strictly related to National Defence include cyber threats, which is becoming a bigger concern for NATO. National Defence also has to compete for funding with agencies like CSIS and the RCMP. 

When money for emergencies is needed, National Defence tends to be the victim, as it’s the largest discretionary expense in the federal budget ... .

NATO is Canada’s most important multilateral force multiplier, says Christian Leuprecht, a political science professor at the Royal Military College of Canada, with a cross-appointment to the Department of Political Studies and the School of Policy Studies at Queen’s University.

Dr. Leuprecht says: 

      without the NATO alliance, Canada would be a medium-sized country in the middle of nowhere with relatively little ability to assert its interests around the world.

“Without the alliance, Canada would be a medium-sized country in the middle of nowhere with relatively little ability to assert its interests around the world,” Leuprecht said in an interview. 

He adds that Taiwan might be a good comparison for what Canada’s situation would be like—minus an extremely large, belligerent neighbour.

“Canada is a pretty well-liked flavour within NATO because they can be relied upon. People know they’re going to participate,” Leuprecht said.