The secretary general of NATO says he has no doubt about the American commitment to the alliance, despite President Donald Trump’s statement that member countries – including Canada – were shirking their defence spending obligations.
Jens Stoltenberg said at the Halifax International Security Forum on Friday that America’s role in NATO is unchanged under the Trump administration, citing the increased U.S. military presence in Europe as evidence of America’s commitment to the “transatlantic bond.”
“Actions speak louder than words,” Stoltenberg said on a panel. “We have to remember that for the first time since the end of the Cold War the United States is now increasing its military presence in Europe, with more troops, with more equipment and with more exercises.”
Stoltenberg also mentioned Canada’s increased role. He shared the stage with Canadian Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan.
“Canada is back in Europe,” said Stoltenberg. “Harjit Sajjan was speaking about this every time we met at the NATO defence minister meetings, and I think sometimes Canadians underestimate the symbol that that sends to Europeans.”
Sajjan said Canada’s co-operation sends a strong message of support to our allies, and also to our adversaries.
“What this is also doing is allowing our military members to train together. There is a message that we’re sending to Russia, obviously from a message of deterrent,” he said.
In 2014, member countries pledged to spend at least two per cent of GDP on NATO defence spending by 2024. Last year, the per cent of Canadian GDP committed to NATO was increased from .98 to 1.02 ($20 billion), according to a NATO report. The U.S. currently budgets 3.36 per cent of its GDP ($680 billion).
The Canadian and U.S. ambassadors to NATO tried to reaffirm this spirit of co-operation during a separate media conference Friday.
“The heart of the alliance is unity,” said Kerry Buck, Canada’s NATO ambassador since 2015. “That’s the greatest benefit to every ally. Alliance unity is built by consensus, and it takes a lot of care and feeding to maintain that alliance unity. That’s our centre of gravity.”
Kay Bailey Hutchison, the U.S. ambassador to NATO, echoed Buck’s statements and emphasized the importance of continued co-operation in the wake of increased Russian aggression.
“We are such a co-operative alliance. We do things by consensus, and sometimes that’s hard,” said Hutchison. “I don’t think that we have had the same challenges before 2014 that we have now after 2014, that being when Russia overtook Crimea.”