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No sign Canada has a plan to reach NATO defence spending target: U.S. NATO ambassador

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The U.S. ambassador to NATO says despite the Canadian government claiming to “take the pledge very seriously,” she has seen no indication that Canada has a plan to reach the NATO spending target of two per cent of GDP on defence. 

In an exclusive interview on CTV’s Question Period airing Sunday, Julianne Smith told host Vassy Kapelos every member of the NATO alliance needs to “do its fair share,” which is required for collective “deterrence and defence” in the face of increasing global threats.

“I think (Canada) had, when they signed on to it, every intention, obviously, of eventually meeting the commitment,” Smith said. “The question, though, again, across the alliance is, when will we see an actual plan to reach that two per cent target, and have clarity on how Canada's going to get there?”

“I have not had any instance where any Canadian official has told me they will not get there,” she added. “But I don't have any sign that there is a plan in place to get to that two per cent mark.”

There have long been calls for Canada to meet the two per cent target, including from Smith herself, who also told Kapelos in an interview on CTV’s Question Period in February that Canada was the only one of 31 member countries without a plan to reach it.

Last week, a bipartisan group of United States senators wrote a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, stating they are “concerned and profoundly disappointed that Canada’s most recent projection indicated that it will not reach its two per cent commitment this decade.”

The letter from the U.S. Senate NATO Observer Group also states Canada’s failure to reach the two per cent goal — which NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg asserted last year should be a floor and not a ceiling — is “to the detriment of all NATO allies and the free world.”

The federal government, meanwhile, released its long-awaited defence policy review last month, which charts a path to reach 1.76 per cent of GDP on defence spending by 2030, but with no target date to hit two per cent.

“I do want to acknowledge that Canada has made significant increases over the last couple of years,” Smith said. “And we are deeply appreciative of those increases, particularly because they are challenging in the current political climate that we all find ourselves in, (and) there are competing priorities, no doubt.

“But given the state of the global security environment, the challenges and the very real threats that the alliance faces today, it is imperative that every member meet the two per cent pledge,” she also said, adding that members recommitted to the goal last year, and agreed it would become a minimum requirement. 

Smith also said Canada’s failure to either meet the target, or set a date by which it plans to, negatively impacts the alliance’s “burden-sharing” message among members.

“But would there be any sort of penalty? Absolutely not,” Smith said, when asked whether Canada will could face consequences without charting a path to two per cent. “But I think the fundamental goal here is for all 32 nations to lock arms and stand together on this pledge that we made 10 years ago.”

“We want Canada to be part of that message,” she also said. “We want to have Canada there, locking arms with us.”

Smith said the position of the United States, and of U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration, is “pretty clear.” While it appreciates Canada’s efforts to increase its defence spending and actively engage with the alliance, particularly when it comes to support for Ukraine and work in Latvia, the expectation that any NATO members who do not meet the two per cent would at least have a plan to. 

“We were pleased to see that Canada is making a pledge to get to 1.7 per cent by the end of the decade, but what we need is for the Canadian government to issue some sort of plan to get to two per cent,” she said.

In response to the U.S. senators’ letter, Trudeau stopped short of offering the assurance American signatories want, but said his government is aware there's "more to do" in order to see Canada meet NATO's defence spending target.

"Because we are the ones who are taking seriously Canada's defence needs, and making sure the women and men of our Armed Forces have the right equipment," Trudeau added, speaking at an event in Nova Scotia. "Not just to fulfil what their fellow Canadians expect of them, but what our allies around the world are counting on us to do."

With files from CTVNews.ca’s Senior Digital Parliamentary Reporter Rachel Aiello

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