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Failing Grades From The U.S.

by David J. Bercuson

The frigate Regina lies at dock before patrolling Canada’s portion of the North American coastline.

Pat Buchanan is well known as one of America’s most acerbic right-wing political commentators. A former speech writer for the late president Richard Nixon, Buchanan has himself displayed presidential ambitions on a few occasions, both as a Republican and as an independent.

Buchanan doesn’t often comment on Canada but when he does, it’s plain he hasn’t got a lot of respect for this country’s defence effort. When Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham criticized the United States last October for subjecting Arab-born Canadian citizens to photographing and fingerprinting when crossing the border, Buchanan criticized Canada for “freeloading” on the U.S. in matters of defence.

Buchanan has a nasty way about him, but he isn’t wrong on the freeloading charge. As evidence Canadians need only check out the June 2002 version of the Report on Allied Contributions to the Common Defense, submitted to the United States Congress by the U.S. Secretary of Defense.

This document, compiled annually by the U.S. Department of Defense, has been coming out every spring for some two decades. It is available each year on the department’s Web site. It is the definitive U.S. government’s annual assessment of the “relative contributions toward the common defense and mutual security” made by the United States’s allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, by its two principal Pacific allies Japan and the Republic of Korea, and by the nations of the Gulf Cooperation Council–Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

In all, 26 nations are rated on virtually every aspect of their common defence programs, foreign aid, and contributions to international peacekeeping and peace-enforcement operations. The aim of the report is to compare the defence burdens borne by the U.S.’s allies, to explain the disparities and to describe efforts to eliminate those disparities.

The Americans are neither unreasonable nor simplistic in their evaluations. For example, they realize that straight comparisons of the percentage of a nation’s defence budget when measured by its gross domestic product can be very unfair, especially to less developed and poorer nations. The comparisons made in the report also ignore military contributions that fall outside the ambit of the 26 countries acting in concert. For example, most of the rescue and maritime patrol responsibilities undertaken by the Canadian navy off Canada’s east and west coasts fall outside the report’s area. But by the same token it is also true that much of the military capability of the U.S. is also outside the report’s boundaries.

In the report’s 20-odd categories, Canada gets a pat on the back for increasing the percentage of its defence budget devoted to modernization by some 10 per cent in 2001 over 2000, as compared to the non-U.S. average of just 2.8 per cent. And Canada was also better than average in foreign-assistance spending as a percentage of gross domestic product over the period 1998 to 2000.

The rest of the story isn’t so good. Although most North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies contributed what the U.S. Defense Department thinks is a “fair share” in at least one of four major categories–active-duty military personnel, ground-combat capability, naval tonnage, and combat-aircraft capability, Canada had the sole distinction among the 26 allies of contributing “less than its fair share” in all four areas. The term fair share is not precisely defined, but since it applies equally to the U.S. itself and its other 25 allies, Canadians can hardly complain about being singled out for poor performance.

The performance is distinctly poor in almost every area being measured by the department. Canada’s defence spending as a percentage of gross domestic product has shrunk from 2.0 in 1990 to 1.1 in 2002, third last only to Luxembourg and Japan among America’s allies.

That is no surprise to Canadians who have studied the dozen or so reports of the Conference of Defence Associations, the C.D. Howe Institute, the Institute for Research on Public Policy, the Council for Canadian Security in the 21st Century, and other private organizations, as well as the auditor general and Senate and Commons committees.

What is not so well known is how badly Canada fares by other measurements. Once a peacekeeping operations powerhouse, Canada now ranks eighth among the 26 nations in percentage of gross domestic product devoted to peace operations and 14th in personnel deployed as a percentage of the labour force.

Still, Canada’s performance in international peacekeeping operations is sterling compared to its ranking of active-duty military personnel as a percentage of the labour force (25th out of the 26 nations) or in virtually all the major areas of military capacity.

Canada is 25th out of 26 in ground-combat-capability share as a percentage of GDP, 16th in naval force tonnage as a percentage of GDP, 24th in combat-aircraft capability as a percentage of GDP, and 10th in transport aircraft capacity.

Canada does badly in almost everything when compared to advanced industrialized NATO partners such as Britain or France. It does abominably compared to poorer countries such as Turkey or the Czech Republic.

As for those Canadians who claim that although Canada may not spend much, it was there, at the front, when the war on terrorism heated up last fall and winter, the report offers little consolation. Yes, Canada was there. But so were 17 other countries besides the U.S. from this group that does not include Australia– which was also there. Eight others besides the U.S. sent ground combat troops.

The report carries one clear message. At a time when the U.S. is increasingly measuring its friends by how much they are doing in the common cause after Sept. 11, 2001, Canada doesn’t measure up. This proud nation has allowed itself to become a military pipsqueak on the one hand, while maintaining its nagging­and to the U.S. increasingly annoying–demeanour on the other. When a friendship runs one way, it isn’t a friendship anymore, it’s a dependency.

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