NATO summit: After Harper's tough talk on Russia, what can Canada contribute?
When he arrives in Wales for this week’s NATO summit, Prime Minister Stephen Harper will bring with him a reputation for being one of the more vocal leaders in support of Ukraine.
But as the 28-country alliance begins to move toward action, will Canada -- with one of the lowest-funded militaries per GDP in the organization -- have any sort of bite to back up the bark?
In 2015, Canada’s military budget is set to shrink to $2.7 billion below what it was 2011. The dip in funding is one that might not be popular at the conference, as pressure to ramp up defence spending is expected to mount.
The Harper government spends about 1 per cent of Canada’s GDP on its defence budget, while NATO asks its members to spend double that amount.
With Canada having one of the lowest spending ratios amongst NATO countries, Steve Saideman, Paterson Chair in International Affairs, said eyes are on Harper to back up his rhetoric.
“He’s been out in front of pretty much everybody in terms of being strident against what the Russians have been doing in Ukraine, so pretty much the least (Canada’s military) can do is show up,” Saideman said on CTV’s Power Play.
Canada already has planes over the Baltics and soldiers doing military exercises, he said. He also predicted NATO will announce continuous or permanent basing of troops in the area, and that Canada will have to step up its contribution to that force.
“Right now we have a company, which is about 100 soldiers, which is pretty small,” he said. “What the talk has been about is 600, which is a basic unit that you go with to be a part of a larger NATO force.”
Saideman said 4,000 total NATO troops could be sent, with Canada being “present and significant but not being an overwhelming partner.”
Though the creation of a rapid-response unit to contend with Russian aggression plays to Canada’s strengths, he said.
“Even though there’s going to be a lot of criticism of Canada not spending enough (on its military budget), when it comes to doing things, Canada can actually do things quickly -- it’s actually one of the few things Canada can do really well.”
Overall, he said the goal would be to create a military presence to act as a “tripwire” if Russia tried to attack a NATO state. Having forces already in the area would be one way to back up Harper’s tough talk.
“The threats that NATO makes, or the promise that NATO makes, to defend some place, becomes a lot more realistic when the first casualties would be American and Canadian and Dutch and British and so on.”