TORONTO (AP) — Canada’s defense chief announced Wednesday that the country plans to sharply increase its military budget following pressure from the Trump administration to bolster spending.
Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan said military spending will grow 70 percent to reach $32.7 billion Canadian ($24.1 billion) in a decade. That means Canada would spend about 1.4 percent of gross domestic product on defense by 2026-27, up from about 1.2 percent now.
U.S. President Donald Trump has demanded that NATO’s member countries increase their spending on defense forces. The U.S. accounts for more than 70 percent of all NATO military spending. Only Britain, Estonia, Greece and Poland now meet the NATO goal of spending at least 2 percent of GDP on defense.
U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis said he was “heartened” by Canadian policy.
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“The United States welcomes Canada’s marked increase in investment in their military and their continued commitment to a strong defense relationship with the United States and NATO,” Mattis said in a statement.
“This new defense policy demonstrates Canadian resolve to build additional military capacity and a more capable fighting force. In light of today’s security challenges around the world, it’s critical for Canada’s moral voice to be supported by the hard power of a strong military.”
Sajjan said the added money is designed to make sure Canada is a reliable and credible partner.
The plan calls for 5,000 additional military personnel, 15 new warships and 88 new fighter jets, the latter up from a planned 65 announced by the previous government.
“If we’re serious about our role in the world, we must be serious about funding our military,” Sajjan said. “And we are.”
Canadian Transport Minister Marc Garneau called it a “sovereign decision” by his government. The announcement comes a day after Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said Canada would increase military spending because Canada can no longer rely on Washington for global leadership.
“It would make sense to associate defense increases with anti-Trump sentiment,” said Robert Bothwell, a professor at the University of Toronto. “Trump is as popular as a skunk at a garden party here, so skunk deflection would seem a laudable act.”
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said he was pleased with Canada’s move.
“I warmly welcome Canada’s new defense policy and the major planned investments,” Stoltenberg said in a statement. “This new policy affirms Canada’s unwavering commitment to NATO and will ensure Canada has the armed forces and key capabilities that the Alliance needs.”
Canada has about 800 military personnel in the international mission against the Islamic State group, but removed its fighter jets after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party government was elected in late 2015. Canada also has about 200 troops in the Ukraine and 220 in Poland.
Associated Press writers Lolita Baldor in Washington and Lorne Cook in Brussels contributed to this report.