Britain’s defence secretary said Thursday that he wants NATO leaders to consider fast-tracking Ukraine’s membership in the military alliance when they meet next month in Vilnius, Lithuania.
Ben Wallace met with Canadian Defence Minister Anita Anand as she visited London, where the pair talked about priorities for the upcoming NATO leaders’ summit on July 11 and 12.
Wallace said he believes the 31 member countries should consider allowing Ukraine to skip the membership action plan portion of the accession process.
“Sweden and Finland didn’t have any of that and I think that opens a very fair question about, should at Vilnius we just skip that and say that, subject to other conditions, Ukraine should be able to come in and join,” he said.
“After all, they’re going to have the most experienced land forces in Europe, and probably one of the most heavily armed countries in Europe.”
Anand said that Canada supports Ukraine joining NATO “when the conditions are right.”
“This is an increasingly important issue,” she said. “Right now, Ukraine needs to win this war.”
NATO members still have not agreed on whether to allow Sweden to join the alliance, which is something Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said earlier this week he hopes will be settled before the summit begins.
Fearing they might be targeted by Moscow after Russia invaded Ukraine last year, Sweden and Finland abandoned their traditional positions of military non-alignment to seek protection under NATO’s security umbrella. Finland became a member in April.
Joining requires unanimous consent from all members, and Turkey has accused Sweden of being too lenient toward groups that Ankara says pose a security threat, including militant Kurdish groups and people associated with a 2016 coup attempt.
Hungary is also delaying its approval of Sweden’s candidacy but has never clearly stated publicly what its concerns are. NATO officials expect that it will follow suit once Turkey lifts its objections.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Wednesday he has called a meeting of senior officials from Turkey, Sweden and Finland on July 6 to try to overcome those objections.
Hungarian lawmakers, meanwhile, said a long-delayed vote in parliament on ratifying Sweden’s NATO accession bid would not happen until the autumn legislative session. That would almost certainly mean the Nordic nation will not join in time for the summit.
Wallace also came to Canada’s defence over its failure to meet the NATO commitment of spending two per cent of its GDP on defence, saying it’s important that countries are spending more.
“The first battle is the cultural shift, that defence is no longer some discretionary spend stuck on the side of government, that it is in fact a core part of our job,” Wallace said.
The U.K. spends more than two per cent already. Canada has increased spending in recent years but has no plans as of yet to reach the target it agreed to.
Wallace pointed out that meaningful growth in defence takes time.
“You can’t buy a warship in a year, you can’t recruit and train another brigade in a year, it takes time,” he said.
“Of course I will say to my friends in Canada, and in France, and in Germany, and in Denmark, and in all those other countries that are not at two per cent, ‘You should try and get there.’”
Anand had planned to visit Canadian troops in the United Kingdom who are training Ukrainian recruits, but the trip was cancelled due to poor weather.