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'I expect more': NATO head on Canada's need to increase defence spending

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NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg says he expects more from Canada when it comes to defence spending.

During a trip to Ottawa this week, Stoltenberg told CTV’s Question Period host Vassy Kapelos — in an exclusive broadcast interview airing Sunday — every member of the alliance needs to have a plan to meet the group’s defence spending target.

"We live in a more dangerous world, and therefore we need to invest more in our defence and our security," he said. "I welcome the increase you have seen in Canada over the last years, but I expect more."

A new report from NATO shows a record number of member countries, more than two thirds of the alliance, will reach the agreed-upon target of spending two per cent of the country’s GDP on defence this year.

Canada is not among them, and according to NATO officials, is the only member of the alliance without a charted path or timeline by which it will meet the spending goal.

The federal government's long awaited defence policy review, released in April, lays out a plan to reach 1.76 per cent of GDP on defence by 2030, but there's still no target date to hit two per cent.

This week, Defence Minister Bill Blair insisted Canada is making significant increases to the nation's defence budget, and he believes the target is within reach, but he didn’t set a deadline.

"I believe very strongly that that brings us inevitably to the attainment of our two per cent, and we'll be able to articulate that to our NATO colleagues," Blair told reporters on Parliament Hill on Wednesday.

"There are challenges in defence," he also said. "First of all, the two per cent commitment is a challenge for Canada to reach. We’re going to reach it. Spending that money well so that we can reassure Canadians that we’re getting good public value for every dollar that they invest in defence is also my responsibility."

Stoltenberg said that while he commends Canada for its important contributions to NATO — including its leadership on the NATO mission in Latvia and commitments to increasing defence spending — the two per cent target is an important show of burden sharing, especially in an increasingly insecure world.

"When the Cold War ended, all allies reduced defence spending significantly," he said. "But now when tensions are going up, and we see a new full-fledged war in Europe, we see more global great power rivalry, then it is important that we again invest."

"We have agreed together in NATO to invest more, and therefore expect all allies to either be there, or at least have a credible plan to be there soon," Stoltenberg added.

When pressed on whether the spending goal could be considered arbitrary when factoring in Canada’s other contributions to the alliance, Stoltenberg said a member’s "output" toward "NATO capability targets" is also part of the equation.

"I have been a politician for many years, I know it's difficult to allocate money for defence, because most politicians of course prefer to spend money on health, on education, on infrastructure," he said.

"I fully understand that," he continued. "But if we're not able to preserve peace, to have credible deterrence, then we missed the most important thing of all, and that is peace."

"Without peace, we will not succeed in addressing all the other important issues: climate change, health, prosperity," he said. "So peace is a precondition for everything else."

Stoltenberg's visit to Canada came just weeks before members of the alliance are set to meet for their annual summit July 9 to 11, to celebrate the group's 75th anniversary.

You can watch Stoltenberg’s full interview on CTV’s Question Period Sunday at 11 a.m. ET. 

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