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U.S. ambassador to NATO accuses Canada of 'lack of commitment' to defence spending pledge

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Canada is the only NATO member without a plan or a timeline to reach the alliance’s target of spending two per cent of GDP on defence, according to the U.S. ambassador to NATO.

Julianne Smith told CTV's Question Period host Vassy Kapelos in an interview airing Sunday that she “absolutely” expects Canada to reach the spending goal, and that the lack of a plan or timeline to do so “lacks the commitment” allies want to see.

NATO members signed on more than a decade ago to each spend at least two per cent of their GDP on defence.

Last summer, at the alliance’s annual gathering, members increased that commitment to have the two per cent become a minimum requirement.

And earlier this month, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced that of the alliance’s 31 members, 18 will reach or exceed the defence spending target this year. That’s up from 11 countries last year.

“Over the last 10 years, we've moved from three countries meeting that target to 18, with more to come, and those that aren't meeting it right now have a plan to get there, except for Canada,” Smith said.

“So we very much want our friends in Canada to keep moving towards the two per cent target,” she added. “But most importantly, we want them to lay out a plan to get there.”

Smith added it’s important to recognize that “collective security is not free,” and it requires everyone to “make tough choices.”

Smith’s comments echo those made by Stoltenberg on CTV News Channel’s Power Play earlier this week that the alliance expects Canada to lay out a timeline by which it will meet the defence spending target.

"I expect Canada to deliver on the pledge to invest two per cent of GDP on defence, because this is a promise we all made,” Stoltenberg said on Tuesday.

“Canada is a big economy, (and) a member of the G7. Canada is the second largest country in the world with a vast coastline, so Atlantic, Arctic and Pacific,” he added. “So it really matters what Canada does."

During a press conference on Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responded to Stoltenberg’s comments, saying Canada will "continue to put forward our budgets and our proposals at the appropriate time."

"We will continue to be there to step up with our NATO partners," he said, without specifying whether the federal government has a timeline in mind to meet the spending promise. “We will be there to continue to make sure that the women and men of the Canadian Armed Forces have the equipment they need, and that our allies can count on us to continue to be there.”

When asked by Kapelos whether and why setting a date by which Canada plans to reach the two per cent target is important, Smith said a timeline “shows intent.”

“And it shows that the government has a real plan, and it shows a commitment to the pledge that we all made in 2014,” she said. “Every other member of the alliance has said we will meet it by 2024 or a few years later, but just saying in more broad terms that you're working towards it, I think lacks the commitment that we want to see on the part of our friends in Canada.”

The federal government, meanwhile, has pointed to fiscal constraints and a need to scale back spending in many areas in order to reduce the country’s deficit.

When pressed on that argument, Smith said while she appreciates it “isn’t easy,” and she recognizes Canada recent spending announcements — including increasing funding for Norad, plans to purchase F-35 fighter jets, and an increased presence in Latvia — “inching just above 1.3 per cent is a long way from two per cent.”

“Every single member of this alliance has its own domestic politics,” Smith said. “It has its own history. It has its own complicated relationship between the finance minister and the defence minister. We all face unique challenges in this area of defence spending.”

“The world has become an increasingly dangerous place,” she also said. “So we'd like to see some intent. We'd like to see that planning to eventually get to two per cent.”

With files from CTV’s Question Period Senior Producer Stephanie Ha

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