When It Comes to NATO, Do Actions Count More Than Budgets?: the Canada Letter

 nytimes.com  7/13/2018 10:13:17 PM   Ian Austen

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was probably relieved, although not pleased, that his German and British counterparts were the targets of President Trump’s wrath before and after this week’s NATO summit meeting in Brussels. As was the case in the aftermath of last month’s Group of 7 meeting in Quebec (when Mr. Trump called the prime minister “weak” and “dishonest”), the president’s brand of diplomacy in Europe provided a mix of bashing the United States’ closest allies, demands, ultimatums and threats — veiled and direct.

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Canadian soldiers during the visit of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to a NATO mission in Latvia on Tuesday.CreditInts Kalnins/Reuters

[Read: NATO Survives Trump, but the Turmoil Is Leaving Scars]

Mr. Trump’s chief complaint about NATO is one that has long been directed at the other members of the alliance by a series of American presidents, including Barack Obama and George W. Bush. My colleagues wrote that his presentation was “a classic Trump performance — bluster, confrontation and demands followed by a unilateral declaration of victory.” The United States has long argued that other NATO members, including Canada, are taking advantage of it by not paying their fair share of the alliance’s military budget. The Times’s Washington bureau fact-check of Mr. Trump’s claims about the alliance’s finances found that, at best, they’re misleading.

But there’s no question that Canada is among many countries that do not meet NATO’s guideline to spend the equivalent of 2 percent of their gross domestic product on their military. Mr. Trump not only demanded that those countries immediately achieve that goal, which alliance members have pledged to reach by 2024, he also increased his demand, saying that the target should be 4 percent.

(I found this conversation on the “The (Misunderstood) Story of NATO” between David E. Sanger, a national security correspondent for The New York Times, and Michael Barbaro on the Times podcast “The Daily” particularly helpful for putting all things NATO into context.)

After the NATO meetings, Mr. Trump said that he pushed the other members into agreeing to quickly meet the 2 percent level, a claim rebutted by Mr. Trudeau and other leaders.

Depending on who’s counting, Canada’s spending is just above 1.2 percent or just below 1.4 percent, or roughly 25 billion Canadian dollars this year. By way of comparison, about 3.6 percent of G.D.P. goes toward education.

But does that spending target matter?

“I have issues with that percentage of G.D.P. approach,” Elinor Sloan, a professor of political science at Carleton University and a former analyst at the Department of National Defense in Ottawa. “It does nothing to measure military contributions and capability.”

Greece, she noted, is a member in good standing of the 2-percent club. But it contributes almost nothing to NATO missions and it has a military with modest capabilities.

President Dalia Grybauskaite of Lithuania, Prime Minister Trudeau, President Andrzej Duda of Poland and other leaders arrived at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Wednesday.CreditSean Gallup/Getty Images

Before the meeting, Mr. Trudeau stopped by Latvia, signaling that what countries actually do for NATO is what counts. While there, he announced that Canada would extend its NATO mission in that country by another four years and increase the number of troops it has stationed there to 540 from 455 to discourage any Russian incursion. Then while in Brussels, Mr. Trudeau said that up to 250 Canadian troops and four military helicopters would lead a new NATO training mission this fall for security forces in Iraq.

Those announcements followed a commitment by Canada to send 250 troops to support a dangerous and often deadly United Nations peacekeeping mission in strife-torn Mali.

Mr. Trudeau, famed for selfies, doesn’t share the fondness of Stephen Harper, his Conservative predecessor, for formal photo opportunities with Canadian troops. But Professor Sloan said that his government had not followed the mold set by many Liberal governments, particularly the ones led by his father, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, and then Jean Chrétien, of cutting back military spending. She also credits the current government for laying out a detailed, long-term plan for Canada’s armed forces, something Mr. Harper never offered.

Many of the programs and expenditures for that plan are way down the road. With no obvious, direct military threat facing Canada, Professor Sloan said she did not believe that Canadians would back a significant increase in the armed forces’ budget today. But as climate change continues to thaw out the Arctic, opening its passageways to foreign ships and creating the potential for conflict, she said that might change.

“As we become less geographically isolated, only then will our interest in military spending increase,” she told me.

A protest against President Trump on Friday in central London after the NATO summit meeting.CreditSimon Dawson/Reuters

The Times’s Reader Center asked and you leapt at the chance to respond. As you have with comments on Times articles and emails to this newsletter, more than 2,000 of you told us about how you plan to respond to American tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum and Mr. Trump’s “America First” approach in general.

Boycotts, bafflement, anger, disappointment and frustration were all to be found in your replies, along with a handful of comments supporting Mr. Trump’s approach.

By the way, make sure that you check out this visual story that vividly illustrated the explosion of the Trump trade war.

Angry About Tariffs and Insults, Canadians Vow to Boycott U.S. Goods and Travel

How Trump’s Trade War Went From 18 Products to 10,000

Trans Canada

—In most of the world right now, dreams of quick investment riches usually focus on blockchain technology. But here in Canada, the impending legalization of marijuana is the stuff of get-rich-quick dreams (and too many puns in news articles, but that’s another matter). For a look inside one of the many companies planning to be part of what it hopes will be a multibillion dollar industry, I went to a factory that once made Nescafé and Nestlé Quik but where marijuana now blooms.

—About five years ago in a Vancouver Starbucks, Sun Yian founded Istuary, a tech company. Its growth was explosive. By last year it had 24 offices around the world and about 1,500 employees. The government of Canada hailed it as an example of business ties with China. Istuary is now no more, and its former employees are owed millions of dollars in unpaid wages. Dan Levin’s deeply reported story about the debacle looks not only at what went wrong but also at the morally questionable work performed by the company.

—Do you know what a “stan” is? Even though the word has been around for a while, I didn’t until reading this intense article by Joe Coscarelli, my colleague who reports on pop music, about how a mildly critical Twitter message about the rapper Nicki Minaj turned a Toronto woman’s life upside down.

—The current trade and political tension between Canada and the United States gave added significance to claims by Canadian lobstermen that they have been challenged by the United States Border Patrol while clearly in Canadian waters. But it may have more to do with the fierce world of fishing competition than rising trade tensions.

— The Ottawa-born Sandra Oh became the first woman of Asian descent to be nominated for an Emmy as best lead actress in a drama series. Ms. Oh spoke with The Times about why that took so long as well has her performance as Eve Polastri, a British intelligence officer, in the BBC America series “Killing Eve.”

—Despite the recent softening in Vancouver’s high-end real estate market, the International Real Estate column was told by the head of the local real estate association that while $1.6 million was the benchmark price for a detached home in much of Vancouver, in the more exclusive West Vancouver district, “that buys you nothing.”

A native of Windsor, Ontario, Ian Austen was educated in Toronto, lives in Ottawa and has reported about Canada for The New York Times for the past 15 years. Follow him on Twitter at @ianrausten.

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