When it comes to intimidation, we know that Donald Trump doesn’t give up.
But he is playing an extremely dangerous game by inviting Vladimir Putin to attack his NATO allies, to force them to respect their commitment on military spending.
The former US president dropped this bombshell during a partisan rally last Saturday. What would he do if a NATO country that does not spend 2% of its GDP on defense, NATO’s target, asked him to protect it against attack?
“No, I wouldn’t protect you. In fact, I would encourage them to do what they want, said the one who is already almost guaranteed to be the Republican candidate in the next elections.
Some will say that this is just rhetoric to boost its popularity among followers of “America First” who no longer want to see the United States play sheriff of the planet.
Others will argue that this is nothing more than blackmail on the part of Donald Trump who only translates into his bellicose language the frustrations that so many other American presidents before him have expressed against the countries that underinvest in their defense, relying on protection from the United States.
While the Americans spend 3.5% of their GDP on defense, only 11 of the 30 NATO countries exceed the 2% mark.
Except that the United States would be shooting itself in the foot by abandoning NATO: if the European bloc found itself ensuring its own defense, it is a safe bet that it would do so more with its own weapons, manufactured by its own industry…rather than with weapons purchased from the United States.
But whether it was a bluff or not, Donald Trump’s remarks nevertheless constitute a threat to NATO countries, including Canada.
NATO’s strength is based on the principle that all allies will defend each other, should one be attacked. Pretending otherwise, especially when you are the most powerful, undermines the deterrent effect of this commitment and exposes the planet to increased risks.
Now is not the time to undermine NATO, which has kept its members safe for 75 years, when the risks have never been more real since World War II.
After invading Ukraine, the Russian president no longer hides his appetite for the Baltic countries which are part of NATO. In recent weeks, the leaders of many European countries, such as Denmark, the United Kingdom and Germany, have also affirmed that Russia risks attacking a NATO country in the coming years.
So, we must definitely not tempt the demon by making him want to test NATO’s determination.
Even if Donald Trump’s remarks were aimed more at Europe, they also increase the risks that have been threatening Canada for a long time.
Canada would find itself even more isolated on the international scene if NATO lost its influence and the United States and Europe acted more solo.
As a medium-sized country, Canada’s entire foreign policy is based on its participation in large organizations such as NATO, the UN or the G7 which have allowed it to prosper thanks to the maintenance of the liberal international order.
The crumbling of these institutions would cause Canada to lose its relevance on the world stage which has already faded over the decades, in particular because of its underinvestment in defense (1.38% of GDP, one of the lowest levels of NATO).
In this context, Canada would become even more dependent on the Americans, which could have consequences on the exercise of our sovereignty, particularly in the Arctic. We had a foretaste of it in 2019, when the Trump government clashed with Ottawa over the Northwest Passage.
Whether Donald Trump is elected or not changes nothing: the MAGA (Make America Great Again) movement already has a very real impact (we only have to see how the American Congress succeeds in blocking aid to Ukraine), and this impact is not about to disappear.
If it does not want to be marginalized internationally, if it does not want to become a satellite country of the United States, Canada has a serious analysis to make. The Trudeau government does not want to put forward a date for reaching the target of 2% of GDP in defense, which would cost billions. But underinvesting also has a cost. Military alliances are not just about defense. They are also a way of exercising political and economic influence on the international scene.
With an economy that relies on exports, Canada cannot afford to be excluded from the corridors of power. Our prosperity depends on it.