Canada pledges big boost to defense spending amid criticism

Canada has pledged to increase defense spending by over 70% in a move praised by senior US and NATO officials.

Canada’s defense minister Harjit Sajjan said the increase followed “years of underinvestment,” and would boost annual defense spending from $18.9 billion in Canadian dollars in 2016-2017 to $32.7 billion in 2026.

(That’s the equivalent of an increase from $13.99 billion in the US to $24.2 billion.)

In a statement, Canada’s chief of the defense staff, Gen. Jonathan Vance, said the funding boost “represents a significant investment in our future,” and said it would allow the Canadian military to “remain a flexible, responsive, combat-capable force that is prepared to deploy anywhere in the world.”

“We must be ready to operate in multiple theaters at any given time,” Vance added.

The increase was quickly welcomed by senior US and NATO figures.

“We are heartened by today’s release of Canada’s defense policy,” US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said in a statement following the announcement.

Mattis said the US welcomed “Canada’s marked increase in investment in their military,” adding: “In light of today’s security challenges around the world, it’s critical for Canada’s moral voice to be supported by the hard power of a strong military.”

His praise was echoed by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, who issued a statement saying “I warmly welcome Canada’s new defense policy and the major planned investments in security and defense.”

“This new policy affirms Canada’s unwavering commitment to NATO,” Stoltenberg added.

President Donald Trump has repeatedly slammed NATO allies for not meeting NATO’s recommended target of spending 2% of GDP on defense, lecturing leaders, including Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, at last month’s NATO summit.

Despite having the alliance’s fifth biggest defense budget, Canada only spent 0.99% of its GDP on defense in 2016, ranking 23 out of 28 alliance members, according to official NATO statistics.

Even with Wednesday’s announced increase, Canada could still fail to meet the NATO target.

“Our government did not set out on the defense policy review with a dollar figure or GDP percentage in mind,” Sajjan said.

Canada does fare a bit better on another NATO target, spending 18.06% of its defense budget on equipment. The NATO recommendation is 20%.

The new money will be used to increase the number of active duty troops by 3,500 and reserve military personnel by 1,500, bringing the total number of active and reserve personnel to 71,500 and 30,000, respectively.

The increased budget will also allow for the purchase of new ships and aircraft, including 88 new jet fighters for the nation’s air force to replace Canada’s aging fleet of CF-18s.

“Eighty-eight fighters are required to fully meet our NORAD and NATO obligation simultaneously,” Sajjan said, referring to the joint US-Canada command that oversees the defense of North American airspace.

“Of course we consulted our allies throughout the process,” Sajjan said.

The new defense policy was announced the day after Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, delivered a speech where she called on Canada to take a bigger role in international affairs in the wake of perceived American retrenchment.

“The fact that our friend and ally has come to question the very worth of its mantle of global leadership, puts into sharper focus the need for the rest of us to set our own clear and sovereign course,” Freeland said.

CORRECTION: This story has been updated to correctly state the Canadian defense budget in 2026.