A nominee to become commander of North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) said Wednesday that he is committed to having "tough conversations" with Canada about its defence spending, should he take over the organization.
The CBC reported that at a U.S. Senate hearing, Lt.-Gen. Gregory Guillot responded to comments by Sen. Dan Sullivan of Alaska aimed at Canada's perceived insufficient spending on military expenses.
"Can you commit to us to having those tough conversations with your Canadian counterparts?" asked Sullivan.
"Yes, senator, you can count on me to do that," Guillot replied.
NORAD is a combined organization that supervises the airspace above the United States and Canada. Guillot was nominated by U.S. President Joe Biden in April, but it is unclear when he would take over the position, since new military confirmations have been stalled.
Canada's unwillingness to meet its defence spending requirements has been a recent target of criticism by NATO allies including the U.S. In April, the Washington Post reported that Pentagon documents stated that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had told NATO officials that Canada will never meet the military spending requirements required by the organization. The current spending target for NATO members is 2% of national gross domestic product (GDP).
The Post report also noted other areas of tension between Canada and fellow members. Reportedly, Germany is concerned about Canada upholding its NATO pledges while committing significant aid to Ukraine.
A recent Wall Street Journal editorial called Canada's level of spending "pathetic" and suggested the country is a "free-rider" in NATO.
2022 estimates for Canada's defence expenditure clocked in at 1.29%, making it one of the lowest spenders by percentage of the 30 member countries. However, Canada is among the highest contributors in terms of actual dollars spent, as one of the wealthier countries in the alliance.
During the confirmation hearing for Guillot, Sullivan explicitly called out Canada as a weak link and referenced the WSJ editorial.
"I hope the Canadians are watching your confirmation hearing," Sullivan said. "Can you commit to this committee that you can have discussions with the Canadians and say, 'Hey, look, when you're not supporting NATO, when you're not supporting missile defence for North America, it's actually harmful to the alliance?'"
"Americans get frustrated when our allies don't pull their weight. And with regard to NATO, Canada's not even close to pulling its weight," he continued.
Canadian officials have not publicly admitted to not pulling their weight with regards to NATO. At the NATO summit last month reporters were told that the 2% target was not mentioned. Trudeau also committed to more than doubling the size of Canada's contribution to a NATO mission in Latvia, adding 1,200 military personnel to the base there.
Trudeau emphasized Canada's contributions to the alliance in absolute terms, saying, "There's lots of different math that can be applied in different ways."
Arctic security was another main topic at Guillot's confirmation hearing. The candidate noted that a major attack on the U.S. could pass through the Arctic, prompting another response from Sullivan, who represents Alaska.
"Hopefully, they'll pay for that," Sullivan said. "They're not very good about paying for missile defence either. Even though we protect the whole North American continent."
According to military procurement expert David Perry, it's notable that U.S. President Joe Biden hasn't commented on Canada's comparative lack of spending publicly. "They're not frustrated enough to be public about it in the way that past administrations, both Republican and Democrat, have done," he said.
"And if they aren't frustrated enough to be public about it, the evidence seems to show that the Canadian government isn't going to feel compelled to react to that in any particular way."