2% of GDP for more wars? (Open letter 2023-05-06)

English version of  « 02 % du PIB pour encore plus de guerres?« , Le Devoir du 6 mai 2023). Translation by John Detre.


In recent weeks, domestic and international pressure has been mounting for Canada to significantly increase its military spending and meet NATO’s minimum threshold of 2% of GDP. It is argued that our security and the preservation of our values depend on it. Do they really?

According to the Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO), “nominal Canadian defence spending grew by 67% between 2014 and 2021”. As a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP), it rose from 1.0% to 1.4%. But even as the war in Ukraine was prompting new calls to boost military expenditures, a Leger poll conducted April 8-10, 2022, found that only 34% of Canadians wanted increased military spending; close to half said it was high enough and 18% said it was too high. On June 9, 2022, the PBO estimated that military spending would climb to $51 billion in 2026-2027, or 1.59% of GDP. However, to reach the 2% target, Canada would have to spend an additional $75.3 billion over 5 years.

With public opinion running against this kind of military outlay and little in the way of new concrete commitments in the 2023 budget, the hawks have recently turned up the pressure. On March 23, 2023, the Globe and Mail editorial board called Canada’s military spending “indefensible.” Then on April 16, 2023, 62 former ministers, senators, ambassadors, chiefs of staff and other officials – most with close ties to the Conference of Defence Associations – published a broadside entitled “Canada’s National Security and Defence in Peril.”

Three days after that, the Washington Post fired off its own salvo based on a secret Pentagon document that said Prime Minister Trudeau had privately admitted to NATO that Canada would never meet the 2% target.

Is it about self-defence?

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), global military spending hit a record US$2.24 trillion in 2022, up 19% in real terms since 2013. As always, the United States led the way with 39% of global spending, more than the next 12 countries combined, including China, which was second with 13% of global spending. Does NATO, which accounted for 55% of global spending, really need still more weapons to defend itself?

In Canada’s case, replacing our jet fighters and our naval fleet – which serve much more to wage war on other countries than to protect ourselves – won’t be enough to reach the 2% threshold. The U.S., the driving force in NATO, wants more: for Canada’s armed forces to be capable of larger and more numerous deployments on NATO’s eastern front, in the Indo-Pacific region, in Haiti and elsewhere. Is this what is meant by defending Canada?

The goal: Preserving U.S. hegemony

Since the collapse of the USSR 30 years ago, we have moved from a unipolar world dominated by the United States to a world of strategic competition between great powers. In this new environment, appeals to security, democracy and a rules-based world order are a pretext for a massive military build-up by the Western bloc, orchestrated by the United States in a bid to preserve its global hegemony against China, first and foremost, and secondarily against Russia and any country (Brazil, India, South Africa, Venezuela, Iran, Cuba, etc.) that doesn’t want to play by US rules.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine did much to spur this almost unconditional closing of Western ranks around the United States. Swedish and Finnish neutrality is no more. French and German hankerings for European autonomy are a thing of the past. And as the West has been coalescing, so has the Sino-Russian partnership grown closer.

In the past few months, the Western bloc has also continued to consolidate in the Indo-Pacific region. The United States has beefed up its defence agreements with Japan, Australia, South Korea and the Philippines. Japan will double its military spending by 2027. Australia has overhauled its defence policy to prepare for “potential threats arising from major power competition, including the prospect of conflict.”

Meanwhile, back in Canada

Hiking Canada’s military spending to “meet our commitments to our NATO allies” will not guarantee security for Canadians. It will only increase Canada’s ability to join U.S.-led campaigns to smash other countries, as it did in Iraq in 1991, and in Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq again, Libya and Syria.

But our country’s economic and political elites sealed their deal long ago: maintain maximum access to the U.S. market and the security of Canada’s foreign investments under the umbrella of the 800 or so U.S. military bases around the world, in exchange for the total subordination of Canadian foreign policy to that of the United States. Today the federal political parties, all of which have bought into this deal, are vying with each other to demonize Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping, and to express outrage over Chinese balloons in our skies, Chinese police stations, and a donation to two universities and a foundation.

The current headlong rush towards militarism is diametrically opposed to the goals we should be pursuing: collective security for all the world’s peoples, meeting their basic needs, supporting their emancipation, establishing an international order truly based on law and justice, fighting global warming and eliminating nuclear weapons.

On behalf of Collectif Échec à la guerre,

Jean Baillargeon, Judith Berlyn, Martine Eloy, Mouloud Idir-Djerroud, Raymond Legault and Suzanne Loiselle