Rivers: 'Canada’s position on military spending is untenable.'

Rivers 100x100By Ray Rivers

July 13th, 2018



“What good is NATO if Germany is paying Russia billions of dollars for gas and energy?” (Donald Trump July 11, 2018)

It’s not often that the US president is right but Trump’s argument here is pretty solid. His European bloc allies are still living in the ’90’s when Russia was (maybe) one of the good guys. So when Russia was invading Ukraine, France and Germany, the two strongest mainland powers just watched in dismay. Only after a Malaysian air flight carrying some two hundred European civilians was blown out of the sky by a Russian missile did they impose some economic sanctions on the aggressor.

Putin and trump

Does anyone trust either of them?

Perhaps the US president is just trash talking Russia to quash criticism of his summit next week with Mr. Putin. But to his point, even after Russia invaded Georgia Germany was still training Russian soldiers, and the French were building two of the largest helicopter carriers ever for Mr. Putin. Still, Germany’s leader, Merkel, claims she doesn’t need any lectures on the evils of Russian occupation, having been raised in East Germany.

The other shoe Trump dropped on his breeze through Brussels was about the disproportional commitment to national defence by his NATO partners. Canada’s position on military spending is untenable. We did agree to commit more money into our military, we need to bite the bullet. And yes, so long as the US military can be relied upon to respond to any violation of our sovereignty under NATO, Mr. Trudeau can be smug about our need to spend more on our own defence.

And it’s not that Canada shouldn’t be enhancing its defensive capabilities, certainly when it comes to that sparsely populated part of our geography facing the Russian bear. Defence of our interests in the north will become more critical as the ice continues to recede with climate change, facilitating greater international navigation. And the best argument for meeting our 2% commitment may be to get the Donald off our back.

The PM boasting about how we’ve had a role in every NATO mission doesn’t buy him any credit with the US president. And seriously, one has to ask about the merit of some these NATO adventures the US has pushed us into. What does Afghanistan have to do with the defence of the North Atlantic? And if NATO is supposed to be strictly defensive, what were we all doing bombing Gaddafi in Libya?

Russian ice breaker North pole

Russian ice breaker at the North pole.

Has NATO so outlived its original purpose – its usefulness and rationale – that it has to go looking for fights? Perhaps Trump is right – it’s time to pack it in. Why did NATO bomb Serbia in response to its military aggression in Bosnia, but not Russia for its aggression in Ukraine?

To be clear the US maintains a large military establishment with bases and troops in many places, largely of its own volition and mostly to defend its own interests. A Russian annexation of much of western Europe, for example, would weaken US economic and political influence even more so than when the Soviet Union controlled only eastern Europe – the cold war. And that would hurt the US more than any kind of America First would ever compensate for.

So it’s all about managing potential strategic threats to America. And Trump either doesn’t get that or is talking through his fake hairdo when he makes the argument that America is defending Europe and Canada. America is only, after all, defending America. But America’s boss is less than happy with its partners. Perhaps that is because their governments are largely run by weak democratic leaders in his eyes, unlike his tyrannical heroes running China and Russia.

America First in all things but starting with trade. There must be enough economists in the US who if stacked end-to-end would reach to the moon. And they are all of one mind except for the man advising the president on trade. The US economy would only be smaller without trade and immigration, After all the dust has settled on all the tariffs and other trade and immigration barriers, US GDP and the US standard of living will be lower, not higher.

Work being done on tanks at the General Dynamics Land Systems Joint Systems Manufacturing Center in Lima, Ohio. NOT BLADE PHOTO handout from General Dynamics

It takes some Canadian steel to manufacture these tanks in Lima, Ohio.

But Trump doesn’t need to hear from the elitists. You need steel for tanks and aluminum for jet fighters. And in Trump’s world America will never be secure until and unless it controls every aspect of its economy and doesn’t have to rely on trade with the rest of the world. That is also his point about Germany and Russian gas.

But cutting trade and possibly military relations with America’s closest neighbours will only push Canada into a closer relationship with Europe. It’s just across the pond so why wouldn’t Canadian snowbirds think about moving their winter homes to Spain and southern Italy, instead of a Florida soon to be under water anyway.

As for Trump’s musing about leaving NATO? How comfortable would the next American president be with a nuclear armed (non-US) NATO sitting on her Canadian border? Trump sure says some of the darnedest things.

Rivers hand to faceRay Rivers writes regularly on both federal and provincial politics, applying his more than 25 years as a federal bureaucrat to his thinking.  Rivers was once a candidate for provincial office in Burlington.  He was the founder of the Burlington citizen committee on sustainability at a time when climate warming was a hotly debated subject.     Tweet @rayzrivers

Background links:

Trump and Germany –     Trump and NATO –     NATO Spending

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7 comments to Rivers: ‘Canada’s position on military spending is untenable.’

  • D.Duck

    Rivers: ‘Canada’s position on military spending is untenable.’

    “As for defence spending, I don’t know what the perfect amount is but I know that our government (then Stephen Harper) had agreed to a 2% benchmark. Once you start falling down on your commitments you lose credibility.”

    The above paragraph was well said. The reasons behind NATO are geopolitical for Russia and Europe. For the USA, they are mostly self-serving economical reasons more than Europe’s self-preserving reasons.

  • Collin

    Ray, thanks for your replies. I still don’t buy Trump’s bombast though.

    If Russia plans to use Germany as a distribution point for its gas to the rest of Europe, it would hardly be in its interests to shut off the supply. And the article you cited does admit that Germany may not need all of the gas. Europe also has alternative sources of supply.

    Canada is raising its defense spending; maybe not as fast or as much as Trump wants, but we are honouring Harper’s commitment. Since when does a foreign power dictate our spending on anything anyway?

    China realizes, I think, that selling all its US debt at once would not be in its best interests. That wouldn’t prevent it from using the debt as leverage, however. Even a small sale, in the right circumstances, could cause chaos in our financial markets that would probably outweigh anything the Russians could do to Germany.

    And again, how much do we think we need to outspend Russia by on defense?

  • I think discussions of Trump, and his potential motives, are proceeding without much analysis of foundations. Just as Reagan was a grandfatherly marionette and G.W.Bush was an imaginary beer buddy, Trump is the fictional American success story. Each of these characters served as attention magnets while the real, established power players in the Republican Party quietly pursued their agenda, an agenda which would not survive the light of day were it not for the Distractor-in-Chief in the Offal Office. Anyone serious about divining the currents and eddies in modern Republican politics should begin at the beginning: the rise of Fascism under Mussolini. Study it, consider it, and then re-examine the developments of the past 35 + years. Throughout the campaign Trump was a caricature of Mussolini, complete with mannerisms. Study Mussolini and you will understand Trump and the Black Shirts who “lost” the primary debates to him so he could occupy center ring.

  • Gary

    Offloading $1.2 trillion in debt is not an easy task without shooting oneself in the foot while trying to do it. The old adage is that if I owe you $100, that is my problem, but if I owe you a million dollars, that is your problem.

  • Ray Rivers

    Collin – Here is some minimum of research that may help understand why Trump made this an issue…


    There is no question America would like to ship more LNG to Europe – and Congress may have that in that back of their minds as they consider sanctioning the pipeline – but there is a much larger geo-political issue at stake. And on that Trump’s point is valid.

  • Ray Rivers

    Collin – thanks for your comments – those are worthy discussion points and I admit I had considered US debt held by China, but left it out. If China unloads all that US debt and the US dollar falls, it would just improve the US competitive position and US exports would expand negating the need for some of the tariffs.

    But that is markedly different than what Germany is doing with Russian gas. If we look at eastern Europe the pattern is that Russia builds the infrastructure and sets an attractive price until it corners the market. The importing nation becomes virtually locked-in dependent on Russia and then the Russians jack up the price. That is exactly what they have done with Poland and Ukraine (which no longer use Russian gas). It’s simple monopoly economics.

    As for defence spending, I don’t know what the perfect amount is but I know that our government (then Stephen Harper) had agreed to a 2% benchmark. Once you start falling down on your commitments you lose credibility. My point is that we should do what we committed to.

  • Collin

    Shouldn’t Trump be worried about the roughly $1.2 trillion of US government debt China holds — about 20% of total US government debt — rather than where another country gets its energy from? Seems to me the Chinese have a bigger chokehold on the US economy than Russia has on Germany’s.

    Look back to last January. Even a hint that China would sell some of its US Treasury holdings cause the US dollar to drop and bond yields to climb. If it ever really happened, the bond market would collapse and the US dollar would be in freefall. Germany could always find another energy source; the US is totally dependent on China to fund its debt.

    Is NATO really not spending enough on military? Well, as of now, it spends about 16 times more on military than Russia does. How much more do we want to spend? What’s the limit? 25 times more than Russia? 50? When will it be enough?

    Behind Trump’s bombast could be the simple desire to sell US military equipment. He even hinted as much over the last few days when he offered to help countries buy US military exports if they couldn’t afford them.

    Too bad Mr. Rivers got taken in by Trump’s pack of lies. A minimum of research would, as usual, have show Trump as the emperor with no clothes. But I guess that’s what Trump is all about — knee-jerk reactions that leave the truth far behind. Too many of our American friends bought his BS. What a shame that some Canadians, who should know better, have fallen for the snake oil he’s selling.