The top U.S. diplomat in Ottawa says he has been assured that Canada will continue crucial investments this year to modernize its defense in the Arctic, even though this month’s budget did not include money specifically for this work.
Ambassador David Cohen told CBC The House in an interview broadcast this weekend that Canada must make air and maritime defense of the Arctic a national priority. He said he had made that point in “frank conversations” with senior cabinet ministers since taking office in December.
“So I think it’s recognized that this budget does not include funding for NORAD, for modernizing and improving northern defense for Canada and for the United States, but will be released in the this fiscal year,” he said.
The United States has long complained that Canada has not honored its commitment to NATO to increase military spending to 2% of national GDP. Barack Obama raised it during his speech to Parliament in 2016 when he was president. Donald Trump took up the refrain with even more confidence during his time in the White House.
Cohen is not a career diplomat or politician. He is, on the other hand, a successful business executive and lobbyist, a man described by the Washington Post a decade ago as a politics buff with extensive Beltway contacts and an ability to distill issues. complex.
These are also useful skills in Ottawa – where politicians pay far more attention to what happens south of the border than their American counterparts do when it comes to Canadian politics.
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But North American security is a subject the United States cared deeply about long before Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine and long before China began to assert itself as a polar power claiming resources. of the arctic.
Cohen acknowledged during the interview at the US Embassy that the budget included an additional $8 billion in defense spending. But he said growing Russian and Chinese activity in the North must be countered by a more robust Canadian presence at the top of the world.
“The United States was told, I was told and other officials in the White House and Washington were told that when we discussed the $8 billion increase in defense spending, (we a) told us that, remember, that doesn’t even include anything for NORAD modernization,” he said. “That will be an addition as we continue to look at what NORAD needs.”
Liberal MP John McKay estimates the cost of modernizing NORAD could run into billions of dollars.
McKay, chairman of the House of Commons defense committee, strongly criticized Canada’s failure to respond to Russia’s growing military presence in the Arctic. He told CBC News that Russia has built or renovated 11 bases in the region, while Canada has only one base in Alert.
“It is absolutely necessary for the Government of Canada to be aware of the military needs of the Arctic,” he said when asked for his reaction to Cohen’s comments.
“We have underestimated, continually underestimated, Putin’s willingness to engage militarily over the past few years. And we cannot afford that risk.”
But the Prime Minister was unclear on Canada’s position. Justin Trudeau told reporters this week that security is only part of his government’s priorities in the North. Addressing climate change and promoting economic opportunity for Inuit are equally important, he said.
“We are in a time of thinking about how we ensure Canada’s continued sovereignty in the Arctic, and in the past or past governments this would have happened through a military lens,” he said. Thursday after announcing a new Inuit engagement policy.
“Can we put more bases in the North? Can we show that we are ready to defend and control our Arctic? What is this policy, and quite frankly, the relationship that we have established over the last few years in the Crown…Inuit Partnership [shows] is [that] sovereignty in the North is through the people who live there and have lived there for millennia. »
A spokesperson for Defense Minister Anita Anand said Arctic defense is a key government priority.
Daniel Minden wrote in an email that the 2021 budget includes $252 million over five years in initial military funding, “with new investments in situational awareness, modernized command and control systems, research and development and defense capabilities to deter and defeat aerospace threats to this continent.”
The email also says Budget 2022 goes further by “investing $6.1 billion in increased capabilities for the Canadian Armed Forces, including continental defence.”
Cooperation on shared defense priorities isn’t the only file to land on Cohen’s desk since arriving in Ottawa just before anti-vaccination protests locked down the nation’s capital for weeks.
Ongoing EV tax credit compromise: Cohen
Trade and climate change are two other topics where there is potential for conflict.
The Trudeau government lobbied last year for Canada to be exempted from a proposal from President Joe Biden’s now defeated Build Back Better bill, which would have provided a $12,500 tax credit to buyers of electric vehicles, provided the vehicles were manufactured in the United States by unionized workers.
Cohen said the proposed tax credit to boost U.S. electric vehicle sales isn’t dead, but a compromise to ensure Canadian auto parts suppliers aren’t left out is in the works.
“I remind you that the Prime Minister actually offered a possible solution to this, which is that if US legislation were rewritten to be North American, Canada would consider increasing its credits for electric vehicles, which tend to be in the form of consumer rebates,” he said.
Cohen also sought to assuage worries about U.S. protectionism and any lingering worries about protesters closing the Ambassador Bridge in February, pointing to a speech this week by Biden National Economic Council Director Brian Deese.
“He said a lot in that speech, but the title of that question is that it’s not possible for the United States or any country to locally produce 100% of the components in our supply chain. “, Cohen said. “We need to have strong partnerships and relationships with allies to ensure a reliable and resilient supply chain.
“So now there is a direct response from the White House to your question. [about] whether the desire and commitment to maintain and develop supply chain interdependence between Canada and the United States remains. »