OTTAWA -- The world needs to calm down when it comes to fears about Russia as a military threat, former prime minister Brian Mulroney says.

Russia's economic heft is much smaller than that of the United States or the West's overall, suggesting its military wouldn't be able to compete, Mulroney said in an interview with Evan Solomon, host of CTV's Question Period.

"My message to all of us with regard to Russia is take a valium," Mulroney said in an interview to air Sunday morning.

"We have an economy in Canada, with 36 million people, of roughly $2 trillion a year. The Russians have an economy with 135 or 140 million people of about two and a half trillion dollars."

Mulroney says Russia's economy means it can't overtake the West.

"I have no fear whatsoever of Russia as a military threat. How can you have an economy that size and threaten an economy of almost $20 trillion in the United States?"

Where Russian President Vladimir Putin is "very important" is in his control of nuclear weapons, Mulroney said. That's where he believes Canada should focus its diplomatic efforts.

"That is an area where, from [former prime minister Lester B.] Pearson on, Canada played a constructive role -- really from the sidelines, but a constructive role," Mulroney said.

NATO 'slackers'

The former prime minister, who governed from 1984 to 1993, says U.S. President Donald Trump was "100 per cent right" when he pressed hard for America's NATO counterparts to increase their defence spending. NATO's member countries agreed each should aim to spend two per cent of their GDP on their defence budgets.

"The last time Canada met its obligations, signed, sealed and delivered obligations, the last time, was when I was prime minister," Mulroney said.

"And it's gone all the way down, to less than one per cent. We're one of the slackers in NATO and we are in other areas as well."

Mulroney also called on the government to increase its international development funding, which hasn't seen any additional money since the Liberals took office in 2015.

"There's no way that Canada can replace the United States with its force internationally. It's not going to happen. What Canada can do is continue to play a very constructive role, provided we increase our commitments to foreign aid and we increase our commitments as they pledge to do to defence. Without that, you're just wasting your time," he said.