Since the start of the Ukraine situation, and Crimea, the Canadian Government has been pushing for a stronger military response while backing their NATO allies in both Eastern Europe and the Baltic States. However, Canada is amongst the trailing countries who fail to spend NATO’s requirement of 2% of GDP. In fact, the Canadians are spending just a little over 1% of their current GDP.

As a matter of fact, only four countries are spending the required 2%: the United States, the United Kingdom, Greece and Estonia. Unfortunately, the Russians are once again demonstrating their willingness to re-expand their country. While the last few months was played through some proxy wars, mainly pro-Russian separatists, the recent incursion of armored columns in Ukraine backed by rockets clearly demonstrated Russia’s intentions.

Canada has been leading from for the front on the Ukraine situation since it began. The Conservative government justifiably sent CF-18s to Romania in early May, which are now stationed in Lithuania to patrol near the Russian border. The Army also sent paratroopers and other ground elements into Poland to train with the Polish and American soldiers. The Navy also sent a Canadian warship to boost NATO’s presence in the Black Sea.

Photo : Sgt Bern LeBlanc, Affaires publiques de l’Armée canadienne AS2014-0022-001
Soldiers from the 3rd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, the U.S. 1-503 Airborne and the Polish 16th Airborne Battalion advance in formation during training at the Czertyn Engineers Training Centre in Poland on May 27, 2014

Having said that, we need to keep in mind that Canada is only spending half of the required NATO GDP expenditure. The big question here is, can Canada back tough talk with Russia based on that 1% GDP expenditure? NATO’s secretary general Rasmussen is trying to bolster the budgets of the trailing countries due to the recent Russian incursions in Ukraine. As a matter of fact, he told CBC host Evan Solomon that, “We have lived in a relatively quiet security environment, but the crisis in Ukraine as well as what we’re now seeing in Syria and Iraq [and] North Africa is a wake-up call. You can compare it with insurance. NATO is… security insurance. And for an insurance you pay a premium. Now the premium has gone up because of this unstable security environment and that’s why we need more defence investments in the coming years.”

Canada is currently swallowed-up in the F-35 controversy, as they selected it to be their next main fighter. While this fragile project is costing millions of dollars over the original estimate, ground troops are having issues repairing and upgrading the equipment that endured the harsh conditions of the 12-year campaign in Afghanistan.

With the projected $2.7 billion in defense cuts, how can we ensure our ground troops’ preparedness against a growing threat? The population might be tired of wars and military spending, but how can Canada defend their very own soil if most of the equipment is aging and needs major upgrades? Well, it’s not the current budget cuts that will allow that, unfortunately.

Some might applaud these cuts due to the fact that the Canadian Forces have one one officer for every three enlisted soldiers. A great reorganization of the chain of command could give some slack to the boys and girls who are fighting the wars on the ground, in the air and on the sea.

Another good example is the Arctic. Prime Minister Harper has been there a few times, stating that Canada’s claims are legal and that the Arctic should be Canadian. However, the Canadian Forces have only a small center for Winter Warfare and nothing else up there. Not even one combat arms unit is stationed up there. We have no boots on the ground in the Arctic, or “mukluks,” as PM Harper likes to say. The $2.7 billion cuts could be used to enforce our presence and consolidate it. Since 2007, PM harper has been telling the media that a deep-water port should be built in Resolute Bay so that our ships could dock there. As of today, no ports are built. We’re a Nordic country and we have NO deep-water ports.

Canadian soldiers training in Arctic Warfare conditions.

Another thing that concerns me is the fact that the boys and girls have less money for training. We’re clearly tough-talking the Russians, but our soldiers have almost no money to get bullets downrange. Meanwhile, an amazing number of officers are creating new titles at the National Defense Headquarter (NDHQ) to keep their jobs and remain in their cozy offices.

But back to the GDP expenditure. Canada has consistently remained a key player in the past two decades of conflicts, let alone the last Iraq war. While the Canadian Forces are a small military, its soldiers are superbly trained and can get the job done no matter what. Regrettably, the $2.7 billion cuts – which is a bit more than 10% of the total defense budget – will clearly leave the troops hanging without proper training.

Canada was one of the founders of NATO back in 1949, and has been sending troops all over the world under NATO’s banner. Nevertheless, it’s during times like today that we need a solid contribution and a solid budget to back our Prime Minister’s words.

Canadian soldiers fought in Afghanistan for a litlle over 12 years as part of NATO’s ISAF. Picture courtesy of Jonathan Wade.

Having said all of that, Canada could turn towards their SOF teams and contribute to NATO’s response in Eastern Europe with them. In fact, CANSOFCOM has a solid reputation as one of their best SOF capabilities in the world, and could very well fill in the Canadian role in the whole Ukraine situation. With a smaller budget and more cuts to come, deploying small groups of ultra-trained operators could give the same punch as deploying a whole battle group. It is, in my opinion, the job of European NATO allies to deploy the bulk of the forces, as it is logistically easier to do so.

CANSOFCOM could very well take part in a multinational SOF element deployed in Eastern Europe and be put on high alert. Jack wrote an article last year about having a real-life Rainbow Six team. I honestly think it would be one of NATO’s greatest assets were it to be formed. Having a joint Counter-Terrorism unit ready to respond in Eastern Europe could make NATO’s life easier. Canada, through their elite JTF-2 and CSOR, could contribute to the efforts against Russian incursion in Ukraine while keeping cost-related operations to a minimum.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Minister of National Defence Peter MacKay speak with a member of the Canadian Forces Special Operations JTF2 unit after they stormed a ship during Operation Nanook off the shores of Churchill, Man. Friday, August 24, 2012. (Adrian Wyld / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

I don’t see the use of pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine stopping anytime soon. NATO SOF teams could very well work with Ukraine’s military to recapture key positions from those pro-separatists militias, if NATO ever joins the fight in Ukraine. Until then, these SOF teams could very well train together and prepare different contingency plans over the possible outcome of the current Russian threats.

NATO’s intentions towards Russia are still unclear. Fortunately the summit scheduled on September 4-5 should give us a clearer vision of what to expect in the near future. Until then, we can only hope that countries such as Canada agrees to bolster their defense expenditure to reach the NATO’s goal of 2% GDP spending.

(Featured Image Courtesy: Cpl. Vicky Lefrancois, Combat Camera)