Canadians tend to feel secure about our future. We are bordered by three oceans and the United States, the world’s most powerful country and our close ally. We are respected around the world for our generally peaceful and collaborative attitude. And we are rightfully proud of our successful efforts to build an inclusive and open society.
For all these reasons, we feel pretty safe, and that safety leads to our comfort with minimal military spending. At $19 billion, Canada spends about one per cent of our GDP on our military, far below the NATO target of two per cent.
Though we might feel safe today, Canada could be in far more danger than it seems. History has shown that destructive conflict can come out of nowhere, and no nation is ever truly safe. With that in mind, here are some of the reasons Canada must double its military spending.
No, I’m not talking about the US invading Canada under a hypothetical Trump presidency (though who knows with Trump at this point).
What Trump forces us to focus on is how dependent we are on the United States for our defence, and how fragile a situation that puts us in.
NATO countries bordering Russia are learning this the hard way. Small nations such as Estonia fear the possibility of invasion by Russia, and rely on NATO – and specifically the military power of the United States – as a deterrent against Russian aggression.
But with Trump getting cozy with Putin, and questioning the responsibilities that come with NATO, we all have to prepare ourselves for a world where the United States retreats within its borders and turns its back on the world, leaving even its close friends and neighbours to fend for themselves.
Trump also shows that there is a significant portion of the United States that is willing to forgo their obligations to their allies and that holds values very different than most Canadians’.
The racism, xenophobia, and cruelty we have seen in a portion of the American population all run counter to the values we pride ourselves on as Canadians. We can’t be certain America will always share those values with us, and that means we must have the power to defend those values ourselves, on our own terms.
It’s easy to forget how close we are to Russia. We tend to think of Russia as way over to the east, more of a problem for Europe. And while Russia’s population is concentrated in Eastern Europe, their territory extends far into the north, very close to Alaska and not far from Canada. Russia has a far stronger capability to extend their power over their entire territory than we do. And Russia has shown a willingness to aggressively seize territory from other nations.
Consider what Russia did to Ukraine. The idea that Russia would invade Ukraine, take an entire region, and get away with it would have sounded absurd – until it happened.
Russia ruthlessly understands the sad truth that force still dominates the world. Russia had more tanks, more guns, and more soldiers than Ukraine. That means Russia wins. It’s unfair, but it’s true.
Did Russia sign an agreement guaranteeing the territorial integrity of Ukraine? Yes. Did they break that agreement? Yes. Will anyone do anything about it – other than some economic sanctions? No. America signed that same agreement, but was unwilling to use force to actually enforce it.
The reason Russia maintains control of Crimea is very harsh but very simple. Any country that tried to push Russia out of Ukraine would lose thousands of soldiers at minimum and almost certainly be defeated. Russia also has nuclear weapons – and has threatened to use them – which scares off potential confrontation.
Put simply, the ability to kill tons of people serves as an effective way for a country to get what it wants.
If Ukraine had a larger and more advanced military, it is highly unlikely they would have lost Crimea.
In the past, Ukraine also had a massive deterrent to invasion – roughly 2,000 nuclear weapons they inherited when the Soviet Union collapsed. Instead of keeping them, Ukraine was urged by the United States and Russia to give up those weapons.
What did Ukraine get in return? The Budapest Memorandum – a guarantee of their territorial integrity – including Crimea. But what is a memorandum really? It’s a piece of paper. And that piece of paper didn’t seem to do much for Ukraine when Russian tanks started rolling in. Tank beats paper. But nuke beats tank. I bet Russia wouldn’t have ignored 2,000 nuclear weapons.
This isn’t to say that treaties and agreements aren’t important. We need to look for peace whenever possible. But we still live in a world where peace must be backed up by tangible military power.
The previous Canadian administration spoke out loudly against Russia, yet – like many Canadian governments before them – vastly underfunded our military. As a result, Russia didn’t take the words of the former Prime Minister seriously, because there was no military power to back it up.
While words matter in politics and foreign affairs, they are almost worthless when it comes to military issues. We can talk all we want, but if we can’t back it up we may as well be saying nothing at all.
Canada is a tempting invasion target
Imagine a country full of abundant resources – brimming with fresh water, fossil fuels, timber, mining opportunities, and most of all, land. Now, imagine that country has a small population, and a very small military.
From that perspective, you can see how tempting Canada could be as an invasion target. You can be certain that high-level strategists of militarily powerful but resource-poor nations have done some planning – even if just hypothetical so far – in that direction.
At this point you’re probably thinking, “That’s crazy, nobody would want to attack Canada, and even if they did, the world wouldn’t stand for it.”
Under current circumstances, that makes sense. But our ability to predict future events is limited, and the unexpected happens all the time.
When Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated, very few people could predict it would lead to a massive war which would cost millions of lives and devastate an entire continent.
After that war, if you told somebody that the defeated power – Germany – would within 20 years be on the brink of conquering all of Continental Europe – they would have thought you were insane.
By the same token, the idea that Canada could be invaded seems unimaginable. But considering our immense resources, sparse population, and limited ability to defend ourselves, the idea should not, and cannot be dismissed.
If there was a worldwide economic crisis or collapse, and certain countries became desperate enough, a huge target would be painted on our backs.
Again, the people of Crimea didn’t imagine that Russian tanks would be rolling down the streets – until it was happening before their eyes.
The Canadian North is valuable…and vulnerable
We call ourselves the True North, Strong and Free. But, though the Canadian North may be free, it is not strong. It is sparsely defended, and strategic locations have been sold out by our leaders. Consider the Port of Churchill. I recently called for the port to be nationalized, both to protect the jobs of the people of Churchill, and to secure it for Canada.
The Port of Churchill is an immensely important strategic location. If we are unable to defend it, and if we are unable to project power in the region, the north is ours in name only. Despite its importance, our leaders sold the Port of Churchill to an American company – which subsequently betrayed the workers and people of Churchill. It should never have been sold in the first place.
If we want to keep the north free, we have to keep it strong. That means we must have a more powerful military, including strong icebreaker ships and an air force capable of covering the entire territory and deterring any aggressive actions from potential enemies – including intercepting enemy long-range bombers capable of carrying nuclear weapons.
With Russia rapidly expanding their military power and making ambitious claims over northern regions, time is running out for Canada to protect its territory and keep it in our hands.
Canada must not be left at the mercy of an unstable and dangerous world
If the Prime Minister got a call today and was told that Canada was under attack, all he could really do is ask the US to save us. If – for whatever reason – the US said no, we would be left nearly defenceless.
Consider also what would happen if an unstable US President in a chaotic world crisis decided to take part of Canada, or use military force as a threat to gain total access to our resources. At the very least, having a larger and more well-equipped military would give pause to any thoughts of invasion, or threat of invasion, as we could guarantee a messy, brutal, and painful conflict. The prospect of a long and painful war tends to make negotiation and compromise much more appealing.
As it stands today, the US would be able to take over Canada without much trouble, which leaves us vulnerable to an unstable or aggressive US administration. I’m not talking about Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton. We can be pretty confident in both of them. But if Trump wins the election or America continues to become more politically divided and angry as a country, the threat of instability will rise, and the threat to Canada will rise as well.
The Republican candidate for president, Donald Trump, has openly mused about using nuclear weapons in Europe, and even refused to rule out using them against America’s allies. We cannot be guaranteed that the United States will remain a stable and dependable ally.
At the present time, Canada is incredibly vulnerable, and almost completely reliant on the actions of other nations, other leaders, and other armies. We are nearly helpless in a dangerous world.
This is not a criticism of the members of the Canadian Forces. As we have seen throughout history, and most recently in Afghanistan, the Canadian Forces have performed with immense skill and courage. Pound for pound, Canada has the best soldiers, air force, and naval personnel in the world.
The problem is that successive governments of all political stripes have systematically underfunded our armed forces, which has left Canada in a dangerously vulnerable position.
For any wealthy, advanced first-world nation to be so reliant on another power the way we are on the United States is unacceptable.
Canada can easily afford to double its military spending
Increasing our military spending to $40 billion would only bring us to the level NATO requests of all members. We would still be below the world average of 2.9% of GDP spent on the military (as calculated by the World Bank). We would also be far behind nations such as Russia (5.0%), Israel (5.4%), and the United States (3.3%).
What about the cost? Yes, an additional $20 billion sounds like a lot, but our total GDP is roughly $1.8 trillion. We can easily sustain an additional $20 billion in military spending without having to cut anything or even raise any further taxes. It is certainly an affordable and reasonable investment.
This investment would give us the opportunity to invest in a missile-defence program, strengthen our air force, expand our army, and build a navy more able to protect our vast shores. And it would better protect those who serve.
We must understand that those who serve Canada in our military and put their lives on the line for all of us, deserve the best equipment and the most advanced technology possible. Asking them to do more with less is unfair, and puts lives needlessly at risk. Increasing our military spending will help give them the tools they need.
There would also be strong economic benefits if investment was directed towards building up our domestic military manufacturing and technology industries, which would create thousands of well-paying jobs and potentially create technological advances that would help move our entire society forward.
Canada must hope for the best and prepare for the worst
It’s not fun to think about war and conflict. Here in Canada it’s easy to forget how lucky we are to live in an inclusive, safe, and peaceful country. And it’s easy to forget how lucky we are to live in a vast country filled with valuable resources. We are blessed, but with those blessings come increasing dangers.
Canadian values and principles are still a rare beacon of hope in a divided world. We stand up for the rights of LGBTQ people, we have been the most successful country in the world at welcoming immigrants, and we are unequivocal in our support for gender equality.
These values are still endangered in much of the world. There are powerful nations who are the opposite of our open and accepting culture. And many of those countries have powerful militaries – much more powerful than us.
Canada is a beautiful place full of amazing people. It must be defended and kept safe. The stronger our defence, the less likely we are to face war on our own territory, and the less likely we are to have the threat of war used to forcibly extract our resources and erode our sovereignty.
As it stands today, our country is vulnerable to attack. Whether through the actions of Russia, a potential worldwide economic crisis, an unstable American president, or a completely unexpected threat, Canada faces increasing dangers.
As worldwide uncertainty rises, the last thing we can afford is to be naive. We must hope for the best, while preparing for the worst.
We must not put our country at risk through underfunding our military. By doubling our military spending, we can help ensure our present and future security, giving our country the chance to achieve its full potential on our own terms.
That is well worth the cost.
This article by Spencer Fernando was originally published at MyToba.ca – Manitoba’s Home Page
Read more about Canada’s Military Spending and National Defence
John Robson: Canada seeks peace on the cheap – National Post
Canada risks global irrelevance with smaller military – Globe and Mail