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Americans: Why do you put up with Canada’s defence spending?

I’ve now had just over 800 people download my first two novels. To my surprise, the majority of my readers indicate they’re from the United States. This being the case, I thought I would write this blog post as an open letter to my American readership. 

And what am I writing to my American readers about? Just this – Why in the name of whatever you believe in do you tolerate countries like Canada spending virtually nothing on its own defence?

Over the past couple of months, I’ve been ripping through James Rosone and Miranda Watson’s Monroe Doctrine series. I’m really enjoying it. It’s a fast-paced, near-future World War III that has a nice balance between West Wing politics and on the ground fighting. It is the very same kind of story that I try to write, though I have several more books to publish before my storytelling skills can come close to that of James and Miranda.

One of the things that tickled me about the Monroe Doctrine is that Rosone has made a deliberate effort to make his story international. Full chapters are dedicated to NATO forces from Germany, the UK, Italy, the Netherlands. Heck, even the Danes make an appearance. I love the United States dearly, and I love stories that feature the US military, but as a non-American, I crave stories that feature other countries. Rosone and Watson (his writing partner and wife) have satisfactorily scratched this itch.

As a Canadian, I’ve listened to each chapter of the Monroe Doctrine hoping the next chapter would feature the exploits of some element of the Canadian Armed Forces (or the CAF as they’re known here in Canada), but alas, as of volume four we’ve not made the cut.

Being perfectly frank, it’s not a surprise that the CAF isn’t featured in Rosone’s novels. They take place in 2024 and by that time Canada will have the military force it has now. Which is to say, not very much of one.

So this got me heading down the following logic train:

• With the events in Ukraine, the world was reminded that World War III is never far away;
• In Rosone’s fictional story, the main baddie is China. In the real world, the greatest threat to western democracies is China;
• To beat China in any conflict, the United States will need help;
• Today’s military equipment is complex, it is hugely expensive and it cannot be produced and fielded quickly;
• Ergo, if the United States is going to defeat China, it will require the help of allies that already have the forces and equipment to compete in a high intensity, tier-one conflict.
• Regretfully, this is not Canada. And by every measure, it’s not even close.

But it wasn’t always this way. Many generations ago, would you believe it if I told you the following: By the end of WWII Canada had the world’s fourth-largest air force and third largest navy. The Canadian Merchant Navy completed over 25,000 voyages across the Atlantic and was a major factor in helping to feed and arm Great Britain during the war’s darkest period. Further, over the course of the war, 130,000 Allied pilots were trained in Canada in the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. On D-Day, 6 June 1944 the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division landed on “Juno” beach in Normandy, in conjunction with US and British forces (five and three divisions respectively). In the months that followed Canada liberated Holland and in doing so, lost no less than 7,600 soldiers in that country. By all measures, these were incredible achievements for a country that was just 11 million people.  

World War II. Seaforth Highlanders of Canada. Probably taken in the Netherlands, May 1945.

The contrast with the military that Canada fields today couldn’t be more stark. It is a sad contrast. The Canadian Army no longer talks about fielding divisions; rather it struggles to field a single battle group. And Royal Canadian Navy and Air Force are little different. Annually, Canada spends a paltry $27 billion on defence. Doing the math, Canada’s defence budget represents only 3% of the United States’ military spending (note: Canada’s population is 10% of the United States).

Why does Canada spend so little on defence?

There are two responses to this question.

First, rather than spending on defence, Canada has elected to invest its taxpayers’ dollars on a number of programs that the United States cannot or will not fund. These include, but are not limited to:

  • A national health care system to which Canada’s federal government makes an annual $46 billion dollar contribution (this is only fed’s contribution to the provinces; in Canada, health care is a provincial responsibility).
  • A new national child care program that has an annual ongoing price tag of $9.2 billion.
  • A generous parental leave program that allows parents to absent themselves from work for up to one year.
  • Starting in 2022, Canada will start to fund a national dental care program that will cover dental costs for families who make under $90,000 annually. The Liberals (the party that currently holds power in Canada) have further committed to funding this new dental program with a national Pharmacare program that together would have an annual $13 billion dollar cost.

Of course, the Canadian federal government spends its money on many other programs and needs, but I’ve listed these specifically because they are programs that many Americans would like to have but can’t. They can’t because they are spending $800 billion of their own dollars defending Canada and dozens of countries the world over.

The second reason Canada spends so little on defence is that the United States has decided that it is in its interest for Canada and countries like Canada to underfund their militaries. Why? Let me explain.

First, as neighbors go, Canada is a pretty chill outfit. The United States has enough on its plate foreign policy-wise without having to hector Canada every few months to spend more money on defence. As long as Canada isn’t a conduit for tens of thousands of illegal immigrants or terrorists by the dozen, the US government is happy to let Canada be Canada. And if its rich social programs are all it takes to keep the folks north of the 49th parallel feeling mellow and compliant, then heck, why not let them fund social programs instead of tanks and fighter jets.

Second, the United States likes to act unilaterally. Or multilaterally, where its partners do what they’re told. When countries like Canada choose not to spend on their defence they are not afforded the opportunity to influence world events. In turn, this allows the United States to pursue its foreign policy objectives in the ways that it wants. So, while United States periodically informs Canada to spend more on its defence, is this what it actually wants?

Here’s things as I see it. Canada, because of its geography, its US-centric culture and economy, its history, and many other considerations, has the potential to influence the US as much as any other country in the world.  

If Canada was an international player with a perspective that carried weight, I would argue that it could play an important, even critical role in helping to support, moderate, or when needed, outright counter the United States’ more adventurous policy decisions.

But the US doesn’t want that. It has enough countries to deal with already. And as a result, it turns a blind eye to Canada’s lackluster defence spending, because the absence of a Canadian opinion that matters makes it easier for United States to conduct itself however it likes. And to be clear, Canada and the United States do have different opinions on a host of issues.    

And that my good American readers is why your country allows my country to spend virtually nothing on its military.

Canada is like a spoiled fatted child who gets what it wants and when the adults begin to discuss serious things, we get a pat on the head and are shuttled out of the room. As a Canadian who cares about making a difference in the broader world, I can assure my American readers this is a frustrating situation. A situation that many other Canadians are also not happy about.     

A post-script. Regarding defence spending levels, what’s above could be applied to at least a dozen other nations in NATO. Spain, the Netherlands, and Germany are just a few.  So Canada is in good company, but it is my view that Canada does and can have an oversized role vis a vis the United States as compared to these other states. Therefore, it is just as, or more important that Canada invests in its military relative to these other states.

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