Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau defends military spending after criticism from Alaska Sen. Sullivan

WASHINGTON — Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau defended his country’s military spending after Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan criticized the nation for not “pulling its weight.”

NATO allies are expected to direct 2% of their GDP to defense, and Canada spent 1.29% in 2022. Sullivan has been a vocal critic of Canada’s military budget and called the country out during a Wednesday confirmation hearing for President Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the North American Aerospace Defense Command, which Canada and the U.S. share.

Sullivan, a Marine Corps reservist and member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, referred to a Wall Street Journal editorial that called Canada’s defense commitment “feeble” and suggested Trudeau should have sat at a “junior table” at the NATO summit this month.

“Americans get frustrated when our allies don’t pull their weight,” Sullivan said. “With regard to NATO, Canada’s not even close to pulling its weight.”

Trudeau defended Canada’s military spending record and outlined its engagement with NORAD and NATO in response to reporters’ questions Thursday about Sullivan’s comments.

“We’ve invested massively in NORAD modernization just earlier this year. We’re continuing to step up in our NATO commitments,” Trudeau said.

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“We’re going to continue to step up in this time of increased concerns around security everywhere around the world,” he said.

This month, the 31 NATO allies pledged to spend “at least” 2% of GDP on the military. Last year, seven member countries directed at least 2% of their GDP to defense spending.

Senior fellow Kathleen McInnis of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, said it would take “significant” investments from Canada to hit the goal. Though Canada has the sixth-largest defense budget in NATO, the parliamentary budget office estimated the country would have to spend between $13 billion and $18 billion in Canadian dollars per year for five years to reach the target.

“As I understand the Canadian debate, it would require either doing some significant deficit spending, or increasing revenues or cutting expenditures on other programs,” McInnis said.

According to a Washington Post report, a leaked secret Pentagon assessment said that Trudeau privately told a NATO official that Canada will not meet the military spending target.

Earlier this month, NATO allies attended an annual summit in Vilnius, Lithuania. There, Trudeau said, Canada pushed for more support for Ukraine and ensuring Sweden has a direct path to membership.

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Sullivan also attended the summit, where he repeatedly called on member nations, Canada in particular, to up their spending. He also led a letter to Biden urging him to press allies to hit the 2% target.

Sullivan has argued that when NATO countries fail to hit their target military spending, it weakens support for the alliance and, by extension, U.S. support for Ukraine.

“This is from a friend of Canada’s, some tough love because this has the potential to undermine American support, not only for Ukraine aid but the longer-term endurance of NATO. When we see that countries that are rich — and Canada is a very rich country — they’re not pulling their weight,” he said in an interview Thursday.

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Riley Rogerson

Riley Rogerson is a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News based in Washington, D.C., and is a fellow with Report for America. Contact her at rrogerson@adn.com.