OTTAWA (Reuters) - NATO wants all 28 member states at a summit next week to commit to boost their defence spending, but Canada opposes the move, straining ties inside the alliance, two sources told Reuters on Thursday.
The sources, both familiar with negotiations on the issue, said NATO officials were pushing for a joint pledge to increase spending to two percent of gross domestic product within 10 years. The NATO summit will be held in Wales on Sept. 4-5.
In 2013, only the United States, Britain, Greece and Estonia met the 2 percent target.
“Canada has made clear it will block consensus and even though the focus is on European members, this is making life harder for NATO as it faces Russian aggression,” one of the sources said.
The United States, NATO’s dominant power, says the Ukraine crisis shows European allies must spend more on their own defence. Washington accounts for more than 70 percent of total NATO military spending.
Canada currently spends just over one percent of GDP on defence annually, or roughly C$20 billion (11.1 billion british pounds).
A senior Canadian government official defended Ottawa’s military record and said NATO had not spelled out how the extra money would be spent.
“We are open to increasing defence spending, but to specific ends ... we’re talking about committing numbers over 10 years when there is a pressing need to respond to the situation with Russia and Ukraine,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“The response to that is not a 10-year commitment ... it’s not more press releases, it’s taking action, and I think in that regard Canada is actually pulling its weight.”
Canada has so far assigned six fighter jets to patrol the skies of eastern Europe, sent troops to take part in exercises in Poland and provided non-lethal military aid to Ukraine. It has also promised Kiev C$220 million in loans and loan guarantees.
The official said Canadians would not support boosting defence expenditures by billions of dollars over the next decade.
Canada’s right-leaning Conservative government faces an election next year, when it has promised to balance its budget for the first time since the 2008 recession. Polls show the Conservatives could lose the 2015 vote.
In Brussels, a senior NATO diplomat said 15 Alliance members had experienced three consecutive years of economic growth after the recession.
“We expect that as economies recover so should defence budgets,” the diplomat told reporters on Wednesday.
Germany is also concerned about the 2 percent target but has not shown any signs of blocking consensus at the summit.
“Germany believes that the two percent requirement is unsuitable as an assessment criterion to determine the loyalty of a member state to the Alliance. We should talk less about percentages of defence budgets and more about smart ways to obtain better capabilities,” said a defence ministry spokesman in Berlin.
With additional reporting by Adrian Croft in Brussels and Sabine Siebold in Berlin; Editing by Ken Wills