Canada to spend big on defence and rely less on US, after Washington ‘shrugs off burden of leadership’

‘International relationships that had seemed immutable for 70 years are being called into question’

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 June, 2017, 12:54pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 07 June, 2017, 9:01pm

Canada will spend billions of dollars on defence and rely less on the United States, which has “shrugged off the burden of world leadership,” its foreign minister said Tuesday, signaling a major foreign policy shift.

“International relationships that had seemed immutable for 70 years are being called into question,” Chrystia Freeland told lawmakers in a speech outlining how Canada will shoulder a bigger role on the world stage.

As a consequence, Canada will have to develop its own “hard power” military capabilities to support diplomatic and development efforts abroad.

“This is about us standing on our own two feet, having a foreign policy that expresses as an independent and sovereign country what we need to achieve in the world to guarantee our safety and security and also to promote our values,” the top diplomat told reporters following her remarks.

Details are expected in a defence policy announcement Wednesday.

Ottawa has been among Washington’s closest allies. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has sought to coax Trump to embrace his liberal worldview, but with little success.

Freeland stressed Canada’s disappointment with the US decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord.

In two months, she faces a difficult renegotiation with the United States and Mexico of the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta), which US President Donald Trump has lambasted as “the worst trade deal maybe ever signed anywhere.”

Ottawa’s sudden break with Washington comes after German Chancellor Angela Merkel said last month that the United States was no longer a reliable ally, and amid public outrage in Britain over Trump’s tweets seen as critical of London’s Muslim mayor following an attack that killed seven people, including a Canadian woman.

Canada currently spends less than one per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP) on defence, about half the two per cent level demanded by Washington of Nato allies.

In her speech, Freeland stressed that Nato and the alliance’s collective defence principle (Article 5) would remain “at the heart of Canada’s national security policy.”

She also highlighted threats to global stability such as civil wars, poverty, drought and natural disasters that “spawn globally destabilising mass migrations.”

“The dictatorship in North Korea, crimes against humanity in Syria, the monstrous extremists of Daesh and Russian military adventurism and expansionism also all pose clear strategic threats to the liberal democratic world, including Canada,” she said.

Although Canada has relied on the United States as a neighbour with great capabilities, Freeland indicated this was no longer assured.

“Canada’s geography has meant that we have always been able to count on American self-interest to provide a protective umbrella beneath which we have found indirect shelter,” she said.

“If middle powers do not implicate themselves in the furtherance of peace and stability around the world, that will be left to the great powers to settle among themselves. This would not be in Canada’s interest.

“Canadian liberalism is a precious idea,” Freeland added. “It would not long survive in a world dominated by the clash of great powers and their vassals, struggling for supremacy or, at best, an uneasy detente.”