Published in the Ottawa Citizen,October 25, 2011
For much of NATO’s history, the term “burden-sharing” sent Canadian officials scrambling for cover. Coined during the long standoff with the Soviet Union, the term encapsulated a complex debate over who was, and was not, pulling their weight within the alliance. This was defined in terms of putting troops on the front line, and in terms of defence spending as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product. It was a static situation in which one’s contribution to collective defence was summed up in a set of counting exercises.
Though, as is often forgotten, Canada was a leading contributor to NATO in its earliest days, our standing declined over the years. In part this was a relative phenomenon; Canada’s contribution naturally shrank in proportion as the European nations built up their own forces once they recovered from the devastation of the Second World War. But there was also a slow decline in Canada’s absolute contribution. Simply put, we sent fewer and fewer troops to Europe over the years, and spent less and less on defence as a percentage of GDP. This trend was dramatically accelerated when prime minister Pierre Trudeau halved our commitment to Europe in the early ’70s and made other cuts to Canada’s military capacity, giving us the reputation of a “free rider” in NATO councils….