(Cleveland) It’s an all-too-common “mistake” to judge Canada’s commitment to global military security solely on the basis of its military budgets, President Joe Biden’s ambassador to Ottawa said Friday.

David Cohen declined to comment on a Washington Post article that alleged Prime Minister Justin Trudeau privately told NATO officials that Canada would never meet the 2% of GDP spending target imposed on members of the Atlantic Alliance.

But the U.S. ambassador had a lot to say about whether Canada deserved its old reputation as a cash grab when it comes to military spending.

Cohen was the keynote speaker on Friday among several past and present U.S. ambassadors, trade lawyers and scholars from both countries gathered for the annual Canada-U conference. S. Law Institute in Cleveland.

Canada makes its own decisions about priorities and budget envelopes, he said. In 2014, he voluntarily agreed, along with a host of other allies, to aspire to the 2% target originally set in 2006 by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

But Cohen suggested that Canada’s support for Ukraine in its war against Russia and its plans to strengthen Arctic defenses should carry more weight in the political debate. “Whenever there was a need, Canada stepped in,” he said.

Mr. Cohen’s defense contrasts with the assessment of one of his predecessors, David Jacobson, who said at the awards banquet the day before that he feared the consequences of what Mr. Trudeau would have said. .

Jacobson, who served as Barack Obama’s ambassador to Ottawa from 2009 to 2013, said the Washington Post story could make it harder for Canada and the United States to resolve future bilateral irritants.

Peter MacKay, who served as Canada’s Minister of National Defense for six years under Stephen Harper’s Conservative government, points out that Mr. Trudeau did not deny the content of the Post article.

“It is remarkable that the Prime Minister has not taken the opportunity to clarify or contextualize or say that is simply not true. And so this whole thing escalates,” Mr. MacKay said in Cleveland.

The Post article was based on a document from secret Pentagon documents leaked in recent weeks to an online discussion forum for video game enthusiasts.

The Post said the unsigned and undated document, which La Presse Canadienne has not seen, mentions “widespread” military shortcomings in Canada that are causing friction with its partners and allies.

While NATO has long pressed many of its members to meet its 2% target, military spending in the United States represents about 3.3% of a GDP that is 13 times that of Canada. By comparison, the Canadian government currently spends about 1.4% of GDP on defence.

This turn of phrase is reminiscent of Donald Trump, who has frequently berated NATO allies for compromising the alliance — and who is running again for the US presidency next year.

The Post article did not detail Trudeau’s comments, but it did address complaints from a number of allies about perceived shortcomings within the Canadian military.

NATO, for example, is said to be “concerned” that Canada has not reinforced the ranks of its battle group in Latvia, which is part of a multinational deterrence mission in Eastern Europe.

Meanwhile, Turkey was reportedly “disappointed” by Canada’s apparent “refusal” to help transport aid after the massive earthquake earlier this year, while Haiti is “frustrated” by the reluctance of the Canada to mount a security mission there, the Post wrote this week.

But Ambassador Cohen believes that Canada’s military spending “trajectory” has gradually improved over the past few years.

The Liberal government has committed nearly $40 billion to NORAD modernization and North American defense, and announced $8 billion in military spending in Budget 2022.

“In Joe Biden’s worldview, no country should be judged or evaluated solely for what it does in the defense sector,” Mr. Cohen said. The question is: what kind of partner are you? We believe that Canada and the United States are inextricably linked. »

As for Latvia, Defense Minister Anita Anand said Canada had issued an urgent call for tenders to equip its troops with anti-tank, anti-drone and anti-aircraft defense systems.

The Post also writes that the Canadian military had warned in February that a major military operation would currently be impossible, given the deployment in Latvia and Canada’s continued military support for Ukraine in its war against Russia.

The United States is also eager to find someone to lead a multinational support mission in Haiti, a country ravaged by criminal gangs, and officials have even named Canada as a valid option.

But former Ambassador Jacobson believes that the question of Canada’s role in Haiti is less a bilateral disagreement than a serious question about Canadian military capacity. “You have even fewer tanks, soldiers and bullets if you spend 1.4% of your GDP. »