Roche: Trudeau may not be able to fend off NATO’s ceaseless demands for more money

The booming voices of the militarists claiming peace can only be won through more arms carry a lot of weight.


EDMONTON—You don’t need a crystal ball to predict that the Ottawa Conference on Security and Defence, to be held March 7-8 at the Chateau Laurier, will launch a massive campaign to get the Trudeau government to commit to a date by which it will devote two per cent of GDP to NATO. The Conference on Defence Associations, the conference’s sponsor—heavily financed by the defence industry—is rolling out one high-level speaker after another to demand that Ottawa get in line with the new mantra that Canada is headed for the scrapyards unless we dramatically boost military spending.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau should hold to his stand of fending off NATO’s ceaseless demands for more money, but he may not be able to. The booming voices of the militarists, both inside and outside government, claiming peace can only be won through more arms, carry a lot of weight. Those who argue—as United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres does—that the world desperately needs a return to the peace-building principles of the UN Charter rather than more military spending, cannot be heard in today’s clamour.

“NATO and the world is watching what Canada is doing,” U.S. ambassador to Canada David Cohen proclaimed on the CBC. The U.S. intimidation tactics are in overdrive. This from the country whose $886-billion annual defence budget is larger than that of the next 10 countries combined.

While castigating Canada for staying at 1.38 per cent of GDP, the ambassador conveniently forgot to mention that, in volume terms, Canada is already the 13th-largest military spender in the world, and the sixth largest in NATO. The government plans to spend $553-billion over the next 20 years to buy new weapons systems like fighter jets, armed drones, and warships. But the militarists say this is not enough. NATO cares not about the chronic underfunding of domestic health and housing programs, strained beyond capacity by the annual intake of half a million immigrants a year.

The two per cent target is a great fraud perpetrated on the public by the military-industrial complex, which drives American policy, which, in turn, drives NATO. Peggy Mason, policy adviser to then-prime minister Joe Clark and now the head of the Rideau Institute, says, “It is absurd to peg military spending to a percentage of economic activity, extrapolated into the future. We need to base our funding on our assessment of the threats to security that Canada faces and our determination of the best means, including non-military means, to address them.”

Trudeau deserves credit for at least questioning NATO’s militaristic thinking that puts the welfare of defence contractors ahead of the financial needs of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, a 15-year multi-billion-dollar program to ensure the well-being of the most vulnerable people, and which is itself a prime contribution to global security. So far, Canada has contributed $35.5-billion to the SDGs. I have not observed NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg—or the U.S. ambassador—thanking Canada for that.

NATO’s two per cent intonation is taking over political thought because the world—which, after the end of the Cold War, started moving from the old culture of war to a new culture of peace—is in a state of severe disruption. The ongoing Russia-Ukraine and Israel-Hamas wars have so far produced a state of paralysis in international diplomacy. Those who argue for negotiations to bring about a just peace are shouted down, and aspirations for global cooperation in the name of common security are brushed aside.

The tribal instincts of warfare have been resurrected, in which military might is glorified as the only solution to dictators and autocrats who are springing up on a wave of right-wing populism, which is itself a reaction to the failure of the international system created after the Second World War to build enduring and productive centres of peace. In other words, Western nations have put their faith in NATO’s arms stretch instead of the UN’s diplomatic outreach.

Of course, oppression must be stopped, but feeding the arms merchants is not the way. This has only led to global deadlock. In this new time of world upheaval, NATO should be working with the UN peacebuilding systems, which attempt to implement integrated strategies to end conflict and build conditions for peace.

To look for a larger way out of war is not to appease Russian President Vladimir Putin, who must be condemned for his invasion, or to close our eyes to the killing tactics employed by both the Hamas and Israel, but to recognize that humanity is calling out for survival.

At the core of the two-per-cent argument is the plain truth: NATO’s constant aggrandizement, burgeoning from the original 12 members to 32—which now virtually surround Russia—is a violation of the promises made after the end of the Cold War that NATO would expand “not one inch.” A bigger NATO has undermined the UN’s political and legal authority.

Then-prime minister Pierre Trudeau, Justin’s father, told me personally that NATO’s obsolete policies were one of the biggest thorns he’d had to endure. He at least pushed back. But NATO bullying never stops.

The present Prime Minister Trudeau faces the same system of outmoded thought. There are millions of Canadians who want him to stand up against it.

Former Senator Douglas Roche’s latest book is Keep Hope Alive: Essays for a War-free World.
The Hill Times