This article is part of Watching Washington, a regular dispatch from CBC News correspondents on US politics and developments affecting Canadians.
A US senator ridiculed Canada as a defense profiteer during a high-profile congressional hearing in Washington on Tuesday – and suggested he was fed up.
This came during an exchange on the planned additional US$40 billion in aid for Ukraine that the US Congress is expected to pass shortly.
Dan Sullivan of Alaska said he still supports US funding for Ukraine, but he also expressed exasperation that so much of the burden of military assistance falls on the United States. He asked witnesses if they saw US allies stepping up and moving closer to NATO’s historic military spending. target of 2% of GDP.
Sullivan specifically mentioned Canada twice and referenced Germany once in passing during his broadside.
“Do you see a shift in our NATO allies to say, ‘You know what? It’s time for us to do our part here. Americans are doing it — again,” the Alaska Republican asked.
“[Because] $40 billion [more for Ukraine] – that’s a lot of money. My constituents also have a lot of needs.
“We still have NATO allies, Canada one, just charging for free. And it’s getting a bit tiresome.”
What is the context
Sullivan was speaking at a hearing attended by two senior US intelligence officials: Avril Haines, director of national intelligence, and the lieutenant general. Scott Berrier, director of the United States Defense Intelligence Agency.
The US Congress appears to be rushing to approve yet another new spending package for Ukraine with massive bipartisan support. In fact, Congress is likely to provide even more, billions more, than President Joe Biden’s $33 billion. request for military and humanitarian aid.
United States currently spending more on its military than all the other NATO countries combined – in fact twice as much as all the others combined, including more than 30 times what Canada spends in total dollars and nearly triple what Canada spends on percentage of GDP.
Like the vast majority of Congress, Sullivan is likely to vote for the latest Ukraine aid package. He did, however, add a caveat and a message to allies.
“That’s a lot,” said the Alaskan senator. He asked witnesses for their views on recent military spending pledges by foreign allies.
“If ever there was a time when countries had to kind of wake up and say, ‘You know what? For 40 years, we promised to reach 2% (of GDP). The wolf is at the door. Maybe the bear is at the door, or the dragon is at the door. Whatever metaphor you want. …
“I understand that Canada will not even reach one percent of GDP.”
In fact, Canada currently spends 1.36% of its gross domestic product on the military, according to the latest NATO report. The figures.
The recent federal budget promises spending will reach approximately 1.5% while Canada has also provided over C$1 billion to Ukraine in military and non-military aid and loans; this assistance includes eight armored vehicles and some howitzers.
The Trudeau government also promises to modernize NORAD’s Arctic radar systems after repeated requests from the United States
Others in Washington were much more complimentary of Canada. This includes the US Secretary of Defense during a recent press conference at the Pentagon.
Lloyd Austin thanked his Canadian counterpart Anita Anand for stepping up armored vehicles and other contributions to Ukraine: “That is exactly what we expect from Canada, from your own leadership and moral sense.”
Intelligence officials say they will monitor whether U.S. allies are meeting their recent military spending pledges.
“I think that’s something we’re going to see them follow through, at least in part,” Haines replied in the exchange with Sullivan.
Berrier said the invasion of Ukraine had indeed been a wake-up call: “I think it had a galvanizing effect on our NATO partners. will give back [on spending].”
One of Washington’s immediate priorities is to see a concrete plan from Canada to replace the aging warning system in the Canadian Arctic.
Biden’s ambassador to Ottawa, David Cohen, recently told CBC News that he’s had some candid conversations on the subject with senior members of the Canadian cabinet.
WATCH | An increase in support for Ukraine from the West: