LONDON - Prime Minister Stephen Harper has snapped back at critics pressing Ottawa to commit more resources to defence, insisting that Canada is pulling its weight in the NATO military alliance.
A fired-up prime minister says the measure of Canada’s commitment to NATO shouldn’t be measured in dollars but rather its “disproportionate” involvement in the alliance’s military missions.
That includes the lengthy and costly mission in Afghanistan, the air campaign over Libya and the reassurance mission to bolster military presence in Eastern Europe in the face of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its efforts to destabilize Ukraine.
“Canada has not only contributed everything we’ve (been) asked of those missions, we’ve contributed disproportionately,” Harper said Wednesday.
“So don’t tell me how you’re spending, tell me how much you’re actually doing. That is how we will measure how much we spend,” he told a business audience during a question and answer session.
Harper has been accused of double-speak in recent weeks for lashing out with tough talk at Russia President Vladimir Putin’s aggressive military moves in Ukraine, while at the same time cutting the defence budget.
And the issue of defence spending will be on the agenda when leaders of the NATO member nations meet starting Thursday in Wales.
NATO has set a benchmark that its member nations earmark two per cent of their gross domestic product. Canada, with a defence budget just over $18 billion a year, spends just 1 per cent of GDP on the military.
Going into the meeting, leaders have agreed to “compromise language” that countries below the 2 per cent benchmark will “aim to spend more” in future.
Harper said Wednesday that the Conservative government will spend more on defence but the prime minister made plain he won’t be pushed into meeting “arbitrary” spending targets.
“We don’t go out and specify a dollar figure and then figure out how to spend it. We go out and figure out what it is we need to do, and then we attempt to get a budget as frugally as possible to achieve those objectives,” he said.
While defence spending will rise, Harper said it will be dictated by need.
“But we will only be spending where there is need and where there is clearly a will on the part of NATO and other allies to actually act,” he said.