Chancellors’ Challenge: Defence Spending

The Chancellors’ Challenge is an innovative cross-listed North American Studies and Political Science course run in cooperation with the Laurier Centre for the Study of Canada and the Laurier Library. Senior undergraduate students engaged in collaborative, student-centred learning and employed digital tools to develop online projects addressing some of the biggest issues confronting Canada today.

Chancellor Cleghorn’s Challenge:

Defence Spending

 

How can Canada—a founding member of NATO—meet its defence spending obligations and overcome chronic shortcomings in defence procurement?

Corporal Braden Trudeau, Canadian Armed Forces photo

CANADA’S STRUGGLE to meet NATO’s recommended defence spending target is a persistent issue. Despite a commitment by NATO member countries in 2006 to set annual defence spending at a minimum of 2 per cent of their GDP, Canada has consistently fallen short of this benchmark. Canada’s defence expenditure is currently only 1.27 per cent of its GDP, a number that has been on the decline since 2020. This deficit in defence spending has raised concerns from NATO commanders and foreign policy observers alike who argue it leaves Canada vulnerable and lacking in the necessary resources to protect its national security.

Students Rafael Campos-Gottardo, Sarah Humphreys, Sadaf Iltafi, Ryan Polecrone, and Alicia Yurova created a Timeline project that explores Canada’s defence spending and the global ramifications of these commitments.

They found a significant part of Canada’s defence spending challenges relate to its defence procurement process, public opinion, and the historical and geographical factors which have shaped Canada’s current spending commitments. Procurement in particular has struggled to keep up with technological trends and adapt to changing security needs. The complex nature of procurement has led to inefficiencies and project delays, further impeding Canada’s ability to strengthen its defence capabilities. Additionally, a lack of adequate funding in the defence budget has resulted in difficulties maintaining spare parts and training budgets for the military.

The Timeline also delves into the historical and geopolitical factors that have influenced Canada’s defence spending policies. It traces the evolution of these policies back to the Cold War, where Canada allocated only 16 per cent of its government spending to defence. Over time, Canada’s relationship with the United States has played a significant role in shaping its defence policy. Canada’s defence spending is also intertwined with economic considerations. The students discuss how Canada had to balance defence spending with other pressing domestic needs following the 2008 economic crisis. The government needed to allocate available funding in a way that would encourage economic recovery while preserving essential defence capabilities.

Another aspect of the challenge in addressing Canada’s defence spending is public opinion. Despite growing concerns from NATO and foreign policy experts about the adequacy of Canada’s defence expenditure, ordinary Canadians do not support increased defence spending. The Timeline highlights the delicate balance that policymakers must maintain in a polarized political climate, where international commitments and public sentiment must be considered simultaneously.

In light of the ongoing challenges with defence spending, the students’ work emphasizes the importance of meeting Canada’s international obligations, particularly the NATO target of 2 per cent of GDP. It is vital to protect Canada’s national security and strengthen the nation’s defence capabilities. The Timeline underscores that achieving this goal requires not only increasing defence spending but also raising awareness about the importance of Canadian defence and peacekeeping.

A further and compelling suggestion by the students is the integration of defence policy into the Canadian education system. By doing so, awareness can be raised about the significance of Canadian defence and peacekeeping. Educating the public on these matters can potentially shift public sentiment, making it more amenable to increased defence spending. By emphasizing the importance of Canada’s defence needs, the students suggest that a more substantial allocation to defence in the budget can become a priority.

Click here to view the Timeline in fullscreen at KnightLab.

Canada’s struggle to meet defence spending targets has multifaceted challenges, including public opinion, a cumbersome procurement process, and historical influences. The students’ digital project as highlights the pressing need for increased defence spending to meet international obligations and strengthen Canada’s national security. Moreover, it stresses the importance of integrating defence policy into the Canadian education system to raise awareness about the significance of Canadian defence and peacekeeping. With these steps, the students demonstrate how Canada can address its defence spending challenges and safeguard future security.

 

Post written by Kyle Pritchard, Digital Content Manager at the Laurier Centre for the Study of Canada and a PhD Candidate at Wilfrid Laurier University.

Timeline by Rafael Campos-GottardoSarah HumphreysSadaf IltafiRyan Polecrone, and Alicia Yurova

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