AMAC Exclusive – By Ben Solis
After four years in which President Donald Trump aggressively called American allies to account for failing to meet their defense spending commitments, Joe Biden has once again allowed funding to lag, leaving U.S. taxpayers on the hook to make up the difference. Two of the worst offenders are Canada and Germany.
Canada’s defense shortcomings are particularly alarming given the country’s status as a de facto buffer for the United States to the north. The arctic has become a region of concern for U.S. military leaders in recent years, with Russia continuing to build up its fleet of icebreaker ships.
China and Russia have both made significant advancements in hypersonic missile technology which render most Western radar installations obsolete. The threat of Chinese and Russian submarines lurking beneath the polar ice armed with missiles that can travel more than seven times the speed of sound and are undetectable by radar is now very real.
As a result, there has been major urgency behind a push to upgrade the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), a joint U.S.-Canadian defense agency charged with providing early warnings of airborne attacks.
According to one of the prime Canadian visionaries behind NORAD, General Charles Foulkes, the program “successfully processed intelligence information from all sources, managed anti-bomber defense, and was an indispensable channel for planning.” In the early years of the project, which began in 1958, Canada’s “pine tree radars,” spread from the Barter Islands in the west to Cape Dyer in the east, were integrated into the permanent radar network that the United States military had been building since the end of World War II.
As an outgrowth of this cooperation, President Ronald Reagan and Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney also established the first segments of the North Warning System in 1987. Comprised of 44 radars stretching along the Arctic from Alaska to the eastern shores of Canada, the North Warning System proved one of Reagan’s most forward-thinking military investments.
But today both the North Warning System and NORAD’s radar network, last updated in the 1990s, are seriously outdated. NORAD Commander General Glen VanHerck has warned that defense of the homeland in the future must look “vastly different” than it does today in order to stay ahead of advancements by Russia and China.
VanHerck also told the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this year that the United States and Canada “are not organized, trained, or equipped to respond in the Arctic.” Another witness at the same hearing compared the polar regions to “a dark area on the map” in terms of radar capabilities. U.S. defense analysts have advised that, in order to respond to the deterioration of defense capabilities in the region, major investments are needed in fields like artificial intelligence and missile interceptor technologies.
Canada’s military leaders have offered similar warnings. In April, former senior Canadian military, security, and intelligence officials and experts said in an open letter that “years of restraint, cost cutting, downsizing and deferred investment have meant that Canada’s defense capabilities have atrophied.”
Reversing this alarming decline will require a heavy financial investment – one that it currently does not appear as if Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is willing to make. Although Trudeau announced $4.9 billion to upgrade the country’s continental defense last year, he later walked back the promise. In doing so, Trudeau appeared to follow in the footsteps of his father, Pierre Trudeau, who as Canada’s 15th prime minister also opposed spending to modernize defense systems.
Leaked Pentagon documents earlier this year also revealed that Trudeau secretly told his NATO allies that Canada will never meet the treaty’s required two percent defense spending target. Currently, Canada spends just 1.4 percent of its GDP on defense, including pensions for retired military members. However, just this year, Canada, which is the world’s ninth-largest economy, pledged $30 billion – more than it needed to fill the gap in the annual defense budget – as subsidies to two carmakers for electric vehicle battery plants.
Unsurprisingly, Alaska Senator Dan Sullivan has called Canada “a military free-rider in NATO.”
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz seems to have followed Trudeau’s lead since Biden took office and once again made Germany into a NATO laggard.
Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year, Scholz initially promised a Zeitenwende, or a major overhaul in Germany’s security policy. This included the signing of a legal pledge to meet NATO’s two percent defense spending requirement.
But last month, Scholz suddenly reversed course, instead saying that Germany will only meet the two percent target on average over the next five years. Berlin claims that its weapons deliveries to Ukraine are too costly, and thus there is no money left for Germany’s own defense.
According to senior German military officials, Germany’s current defense spending levels, just 1.6 percent of the country’s GDP, won’t even suffice to replace old and defective equipment.
All of this represents a dramatic reversal from the situation just a few years ago. President Trump spared no effort in challenging then-Chancellor Angela Merkel over her reluctance to meet defense spending requirements, eventually extracting major concessions. Pressure from Trump also led to Canada boosting its military budget more than 70 percent.
Biden has yet to offer even a semblance of such pressure or demands that America’s allies fulfill their promises to the United States. The world is more dangerous as a result.
Ben Solis is the pen name of an international affairs journalist, historian, and researcher.