Canada unveils for first time target date for NATO defense spending goal

NATO's 75th anniversary summit, in Washington

By Ismail Shakil

OTTAWA (Reuters) -Canada will increase defense spending to the NATO target of 2% of gross domestic product by 2032, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Thursday, making a commitment for the first time on when the government would meet the goal as pressure from the United States mounts.

The Trudeau government has announced several plans to raise defense spending since coming to power in 2015, but until Thursday, it had not outlined a definite timeline for reaching the NATO target, drawing criticism from allies.

"As we continue such investments, Canada fully expects to reach NATO's 2% of GDP spending target by 2032," Trudeau told reporters in Washington, where he was attending a summit of NATO leaders.

Canada currently spends about 1.4% of GDP on defense and, in a defense policy update in April, announced plans to raise military expenditure to 1.76% of GDP by 2030.

Ottawa has been under pressure from Washington to boost defense spending. In May, U.S. senators wrote to Trudeau to urge him to increase defense spending further, and this week U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson accused Canada of "riding on America's coattails."

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said last month that more than 20 of the 32 NATO members were set to meet the alliance's target defense spending this year, highlighting how allies have raised military spending since Russia seized Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

In a briefing, Trudeau said Canada had participated in all NATO initiatives and punched above its weight, something that he said "isn't always reflected in the crass mathematical calculation that certain people turn to very quickly."

Canada had focused on utilizing its resources efficiently and "not some nominal targets that make for easy headlines and accounting practices, but don't actually make us automatically safer," he added.

The announcement was quickly criticized domestically, with the main opposition Conservative Party saying Trudeau's plan was not serious and an attempt to save face at the Washington summit.

"The Liberals released a defense policy update just three months ago that showed no path anywhere close to 2%. If this commitment to get to 2% was serious, it would have been included in that plan," the Conservative Party's defense critic, James Bezan, said in a statement.

Trudeau said Ottawa conducts periodic reviews of its military needs. In a defense policy update expected in 2028, he said, it would explore opportunities to further increase spending.

In a statement, the defense ministry said Canada would invest in "the right mix of these additional capabilities" outlined in the April policy update to reach the 2% target by 2032.

The next federal election must be held by end-October 2025 and a range of polls show the Trudeau-led Liberals would lose badly to the Conservatives.

(Reporting by Ismail Shakil and Promit Mukherjee in Ottawa;Editing by Alistair Bell and Diane Craft)