Why Two Percent?

THE HILL TIMES
March 25, 2024
by Robin Collins and Sylvie Lemieux

Canada can engage in diplomatic efforts to end our reliance on nuclear deterrence. This means signaling to all NATO’s members to slow and reverse momentum in supporting a global arms race. Instead, let’s increase overseas development and peacekeeping contributions.

Lester B. Pearson, pictured on May 9, 1962 in Toronto. The rarely-mentioned competing alternative is Pearson’s proposal that States pay 0.7 per cent of their gross national income for overseas development. Photograph Ashley and Crippen/City of Toronto Archives

As global spending on weapons and war reaches its highest level ever—more than US$2.2-trillion, about twice what it was in 2001—NATO allies such as Canada have been called upon to pay up, including reaching the arbitrary two per cent of GDP that the alliance collectively “agreed” to. The clamour among columnists for Canada to step up is deafening, and we think this noise is misleading.

In 2006, NATO’s then-26 members committed themselves to the two per cent to ensure “military readiness,” and to enhance the “perception of the Alliance’s credibility.” This would entail a significant increase for Canada—now at ~1.4 per cent—even while this country is already NATO’s seventh largest provider—out of 31 members—in dollar figures, and 14th in a world of 193 states. Some freeloader!

The United States share (39 per cent) and Chinese share (13 per cent) combined are over half of all the world’s military spending. Russia (at 3.9 per cent) is far behind. This raises many questions. What is the money being spent on? Is increased military spending in perpetuity the best way to commit to global security, or is it intended to maintain a particular power dynamic?

We face a multitude of global crises that require global cooperation. Every dollar spent on weapons escalation will inevitably deprive funding of other important services. Addressing the climate crisis is urgent, and requires immediate attention and huge expenditures. The same goes for pandemic preparedness, international attention to artificial intelligence threats, and increased spending on conflict resolution mechanisms.

But the goal of an arms race is to achieve power superiority over a rival. We need to outspend them and—therefore, logically—they us. Particularly in a multi-polar world, this is a pointless, endless, and dangerous endeavor.

Two per cent for NATO also means cutting back on foreign aid. The rarely-mentioned competing alternative is former Canadian prime minister Lester Pearson’s proposal—which made it into a UN resolution in 1970—that States pay 0.7 per cent of their gross national income for overseas development. That would have the advantage of raising the material wealth of the world’s poorest countries, and simultaneously reducing the weaponizing mechanisms that lead to violent conflict.

We all have seen how nuclear deterrence both failed to impede Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and raised the risk of nuclear war, while conventional weapon inventory is quickly depleted in the bloodbath that is still in progress. NATO’s strategy, however, is substantially based on costing a reliance on “essential” nuclear deterrence for alliance security. This includes new spending earmarked for modernization of nuclear missile inventories held by the United States, the United Kingdom, and France. The U.S. Congressional Budget Office, for example, predicts modernization of U.S. nuclear arsenals alone will reach US$60-billion per year through 2030. While polls show NATO remains popular among many of their citizens, nuclear weapons certainly are not. A strong majority of Canadians—80 per cent—think the world should work to eliminate nuclear weapons, not modernize them.

There is a financial and security relationship between steering away from a global warring framework based on nuclear threats and military superiority, and shifting spending towards cooperative alternatives that help solve our common problems. While conflicts will continue for the foreseeable future, there are better options available to reduce them than the ones we are being badgered to fulfil.

Canada can engage in diplomatic efforts to stifle and end our reliance on nuclear deterrence. This means also signaling to all NATO’s members to slow and reverse momentum in support of a global arms race. Instead, let’s increase overseas development and peacekeeping contributions. NATO members could start by agreeing to cut their military spending to 0.7 per cent and increase foreign aid to two per cent. This is a viable trend all nations and the planet will benefit from.

Robin Collins and Sylvie Lemieux are co-chairpersons of the Canadian Network to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.
They are members of Canadian Pugwash Group.

The Hill Times

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