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Uzelman: Canada’s defense is ‘woefully inadequate’ - PM renounces NATO spending target

A column by Bruce Uzelman

~BW Uzelman

The Washington Post reported that PM Justin Trudeau told NATO officials privately that Canada will never meet the alliance’s defense spending target of 2% of GDP. The source was a leaked Pentagon classified report. It seems the report is correct. Trudeau did not deny saying it. When asked about the report, he responded only with a platitude, “I continue to say, and I will always say, that Canada is a reliable partner to NATO, [a] reliable partner around the world.”

The Post relays the content of the classified report. The report says that Canada’s widespread military deficiencies are damaging ties with security partners and allies. It adds that various allies are disappointed with Canada’s failure to provide forces to manage the chaos in Haiti, to provide assistance to the earthquake victims in Turkey and to increase personnel in Latvia as pledged. The report says the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) concluded it could not conduct a major operation, and sustain the leadership of the battle group in Latvia and the provision of military aid to the Ukraine.

Retired Canadian Lt.-Gen. Andrew Leslie, on CBC, confirmed our allies are dissatisfied, “There is absolutely no doubt that the United States is getting increasingly irritated with our slow and reluctant ways of spending money on defense capability.” Kerry Buck, a former Canadian Ambassador to NATO, according to the Post, said that, Canadian officials “are fully aware” of the impact that defense shortfalls have “on Canada’s international reputation and our reputation with our US partners.”

The Pentagon report’s analysis is credible. It notes there are problems with readiness, personnel and procurement in the CAF. Military commentators have made very similar criticisms. Leslie stated, “Readiness is a function of available people, equipment and money, and quite frankly the Canadian Forces don’t have the money or the people right now to do what they need to do.”

The report says almost all of Canada’s 78 Leopard Tanks require maintenance and lack spare parts, and the response of Canadian CF-18’s to the unidentified object over the Yukon was delayed, so US forces shot it down. This, too, is credible. While allies donated ten or more tanks to the Ukraine, Canada initially managed just three, and the CAF has admitted the CF-18’s were delayed. Lastly, the report states the CAF only has 50% of the pilots needed, while Leslie has referenced a shortage of 10,000 personnel.

A few days before the Post revealed the Pentagon report, the Conference of Defense Associations Institute released an open letter on defense policy. Signing the letter were 63 prominent and respected Canadians, including five former defense ministers, nine former chiefs of defense staff, four former ambassadors, three former top security officials and a former chief justice of the Supreme Court.

The signatories delivered a sobering message. The CDAI letter says Canada must be ready to use “national power including military force to deter adversaries and protect our territory ….” But years of cost-cutting and deferred investments, it reads, mean our defense capabilities have “atrophied” and are “outdated and woefully inadequate” to protect our land and maritime areas. The letter says, in the current security environment, the replacement of CF-18 fighters and the upgrade of NORAD are not enough. It appeals to the government to upgrade procurement and to commit to 2% of GDP as a floor for military spending.

Russia, a year ago, brutally invaded the Ukraine, ignoring international law and the laws of war. It continues to target civilians with shelling, bombs and missiles, and to remove them illegally from their country. China aggressively targets Canadian citizens of Chinese ethnicity within Canada, and does the same in many other countries. China threatens to invade Tiawan, and harasses the militaries of allied nations in the Strait of Tiawan.

Russia is an Arctic nation. It is, in fact, our Arctic neighbour. Both Russia and China have ships and submarines capable of operating in the Arctic. Canada has few Arctic-capable vessels, and has struggled for decades to operate our submarines anywhere, let alone in the Arctic. The US has been pressuring Canada to upgrade NORAD and northern defense. Canada has finally agreed to the upgrade, but may delay actually doing anything for years. Our air force, navy and army, now and in the immediate future, will be waiting for the arrival of modern equipment and the spare parts to maintain it.

How does PM Trudeau respond to the crisis in our military? He spouts nonsense about Canada being a reliable partner to NATO. We do not have the ships, submarines and fighter jets necessary to be a reliable partner. Nor do we have sufficient personnel to operate them. We cannot even defend our own northern territory. Members of the armed forces deserve better. Canada needs better.


Bruce W Uzelman

I grew up in Paradise Hill, a village in Northwestern Saskatchewan. I come from a large family. My parents instilled good values, but yet afforded us, my seven siblings and I, much freedom to do the things we wished to do. I spent my early years exploring the hills and forests and fields surrounding the village, a great way to come of age.

I attended the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon. I considered studying journalism at one point, but did not ultimately pursue that. However, I obtained a Bachelor of Arts, Advanced with majors in Economics and Political Science in 1982.


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