How long will Canada remain a “defence freeloader”?

By Lt. General (Retired) Louis Cuppens

As preparations continue for the forthcoming NATO summit in London, Canada once again is considered as a “defence freeloader”.  Of the 29 NATO members who share in the costs of “collective security – one of the founding pillars” – only 7 nations have met or exceed the 2% of GDP defence expenditure target that NATO nations have committed to. Historically, Canada has never met the agreed target.

This year’s projection is that we will meet only 1.3% and, looking at our defence spending as outlined in our Nation’s 2017 Defence Policy (Strong, Secured, Engaged), it would appear that there are no plans in the future to achieve the 2% goal that was agreed upon by our diplomats.

The USA carries most of the Defence burden of NATO at 3.4% and US defence officials are calling out other NATO nations for not meeting their agreed expenditure targets and this includes Canada. How long will Canada remain a “Defence Freeloader”?

Ongoing problems with defence procurement are not helping Canada meet the targets. While the fixed wing search and rescue aircraft delivery, promised for decades, is now finally a reality, it is but one example of how our defence procurement is far from timely. Another is the fighter replacement programme – long touted as urgent, it is not even at contract stage. What about replenishment vessels for the Royal Canadian Navy? What about the funds to modernize/replace the North Warning system that we share with the USA? No mention of this is found in the Defence Policy.

Personnel strengths of the Armed Forces are considered too small for a country our size. Concurrent operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Mali, and domestic operations have over-tasked the Canadian Army to the point that “operational pauses” had to be imposed to allow for a recovery period.

Given the publicity concerning support to veterans – particularly the PM’s comments that veterans are asking for more than the nation can afford – one wonders how recruitment and retention are progressing.

National Defence and Security is a multi-faceted dimension, but coordination among government departments was notably absent during the formulation of the 2017 plan, thus ensuring Canada will continue as a “Defence Freeloader” for years to come.

Published on Front Line Defence on November 12, 2019.