Donald Trump’s election victory will put pressure on the Liberal government to boost defence spending and rethink participation in the U.S. missile defence shield, and could affect some of its high-profile missions such as in eastern Europe.
Department of National Defence officials in Ottawa are working on an analysis of what a Trump presidency will mean. But Trump has already provided a preview of the direction he plans to take.
He has promised to boost the size of the U.S. military and significantly increase the number of warships in America’s arsenal. He has talked about improving missile defence, focusing on outfitting naval ships with such a capability.
In addition, Trump has warned that NATO nations he sees as “free riders” will have to share more of the financial burden on the security front. Although he didn’t specifically name Canada, defence analysts expect Washington will send a message in the future that more money and equipment are needed.
|CF-18 fighter jets sit on the tarmac at the NATO airbase at the NATO Baltic Air Policing mission in Lithuania in 2014.|
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“Canada is going to come under some pressure to bump up its defence spending,” said analyst Martin Shadwick, who teaches strategic studies at York University in Toronto. “Trump is also talking about a type of Fortress America so that could affect our own border security policies.”
NATO members had signed a declaration in Wales two years ago agreeing to increase defence spending to two per cent of gross domestic product within a decade.
NATO says Canada spent just one per cent of GDP on defence last year, the smallest amount since before the Second World War. While most other NATO members have also failed to fulfil their commitment, Canada is currently in the bottom third in terms of defence spending as a percentage of GDP.
Steve Staples, vice president of the Rideau Institute in Ottawa, said Trump’s victory could have a significant impact on Canada’s defence policy. Trump is promoting protectionist trade policies and tighter border security. Similar to the presidency of George W. Bush, Canada may have to make security concessions if it wants to keep the border open for trade, Staples said.
“There will be intense pressure to boost spending on the military, to buy new equipment, preferably from the Americans,” said Staples. “Canadian defence policy makers are going to have little room to manoeuvre with this president.”
In an interview shortly after Trump complained in April about NATO free riders, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan defended Canada’s level of defence spending. He questioned NATO’s figures and told the Ottawa Citizen that depending on what formula is used, Canada’s contribution could be seen to be as high as 1.5 per cent of GDP.
At the same time, Sajjan said what’s important is that Canada is contributing to a large number of military operations that directly and indirectly benefit NATO. That includes sending troops to Ukraine and Poland and deploying a frigate to the Black Sea.
But will Canada’s presence in eastern Europe — aimed at supporting NATO’s efforts against what it terms Russian aggression — leave much of an impression on Trump?
Trump has said he wants to form a new relationship with Russia and promised he would meet the country’s president, Vladimir Putin, before his inauguration. Trump has also suggested there needs to be increased co-operation with Russia in the battle against Islamic extremists in Iraq and elsewhere.
“We may see a big shift in tone on Russia,” said Staples. “In some ways Trump’s future policy is a blank page. As he has said, he doesn’t owe anything to anybody.”
In addition, both Staples and Shadwick see a Trump administration wanting Canadian participation in missile defence.
Some Liberals have already signaled their desire to take part in America’s missile shield and any pressure from a Trump administration may be enough to seal Canada’s participation.
Shadwick, however, pointed out that Trump is interested in focusing on a missile defence system outfitted on naval vessels, something Canada’s navy is also examining.