Fearful of invoking the ire of the orange-haired bully, many a Canadian defence pundit has urged the Liberals to more than double defence budget
Ever since Donald Trump was elected president, the Canadian defence community has been in a self-flagellating flap.
The tough-talking Trump promised during his campaign to crack down on NATO member states that aren’t paying their fair share for defence. His arbitrary yardstick is NATO’s own goal: countries should spend 2 per cent of their gross domestic product (GDP) on weapons and soldiers.
Canada spends a little less than 1 per cent of GDP on national defence, which could put us squarely in the Donald’s sights as a delinquent freeloader unworthy of U.S. protection and a drain on the alliance.
Fearful of invoking the ire of our closest ally and the only nation with which we share a border, many a Canadian defence pundit has urged the Trudeau government to rapidly increase our defence spending to reach this 2 per cent goal.
A whole choir of them are singing from the same song sheet, but lead soloist David Perry of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute is perhaps the most strident among them. Like a pet-shop parrot, Perry repeats “2 per cent of GDP” to anyone and everyone who will listen.
Such an increase would mean that the Liberal government would need to find another $20 billion per year in tax revenue, massively increase our current deficit or cut services from other departments. That would be one hell of a big pill for Canadians to swallow.
Perry and the Colonel Blimp brigade argue that we need to meet Trump’s “2 per cent of GDP” objective, if only to keep the orange-haired bully boy appeased.
The problem is that when it comes to spending money on defence, Trump will never be satisfied.
Just last week, he complained that Saudi Arabia isn’t paying its fair share for collective defence in the Middle East.
“Frankly, Saudi Arabia has not treated us fairly, because we are losing a tremendous amount of money defending Saudi Arabia,” Trump told reporters, echoing his claim during the campaign that the U.S. is “losing its shirt” protecting that country.
This sounds plausible to a lay audience in North America ready to believe that poor old U.S. GI Joes and Janes are holding the bad guys at bay while fat-cat Saudis count their oil profits.
The reality is that Saudi Arabia has the third-largest defence budget in the world, behind only the U.S. and China.
In terms of defence spending per capita, Saudi Arabia ranks number one, and its defence spending as a percentage of GDP is by far the highest in the world at a staggering 10 per cent.
Its estimated $88 billion (U.S.) annual defence budget isn’t squandered on excessive salaries and fancy uniforms. The Saudis have approximately 688,000 active military personnel in their armed forces, including reservists.
The Saudi army has nearly 1,200 main battle tanks, and the air force employs more than 300 front-line fighter jets. By comparison, Canada operates 80 main battle tanks and 80 CF-18 fighters.
In 2011, Saudi forces entered Bahrain to prop up the Sunni Muslim monarchy against a popular uprising by the Shiite majority. Some 1,500 Saudi troops remain in Bahrain.
There are nearly 10,000 Saudi troops in neighbouring Yemen assisting the deposed Sunni regime’s attempt to overthrow the new Shiite government in Sana’a.
Canadian pundits should realize from Trump’s latest rant against these Saudi freeloaders that it matters not how much you spend nor how many soldiers you put in harm’s way. You can still be a freeloader in the Donald’s eyes.
Canada has the best military in the world and is contributing to a number of costly international interventions. That should mean a lot more to our U.S. neighbour than spending an arbitrary percentage of our GDP.
Scott Taylor is a former Canadian infantry soldier and founder of Esprit De Corps Magazine.
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