Canada's Defense Minister Bill Blair, center, speaks with Estonia's Defense...

Canada's Defense Minister Bill Blair, center, speaks with Estonia's Defense Minister Hanno Pevkur, left, and Finland's Defense Minister Antti Hakkanen during a meeting of the North Atlantic Council in NATO defense ministers format at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Friday, June 14, 2024. Credit: AP/Virginia Mayo

BRUSSELS — Canada looks on track to meet NATO’s military spending guideline by the end of the decade, Defense Minister Bill Blair said Friday, notably by boosting investment in the Arctic near its shared border with Russia as the region warms quickly because of climate change.

After Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014, NATO allies agreed to halt budget cuts and move toward spending 2% of their gross domestic product on defense within a decade. Canada was barely spending 1% at the time.

Last year, as it became clear that Russia’s war with Ukraine would grind on, they decided that 2% should be a spending minimum. According to NATO figures, Canada was estimated to be spending 1.33% of GDP on its military budget in 2023.

“Our country finds itself at a pivotal moment. Our sovereignty and our security are no longer guaranteed by our geographic location," Blair said. Canada is surrounded by three oceans with NATO's biggest ally, the U.S., as its neighbor.

"But the new threat environment, the greater accessibility of our Arctic, the new technologies and the actions of our adversaries have taught us that we need to be ready,” he told reporters on the sidelines of a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels.

Blair said that he expects Canada's defense spending to climb to at least 1.75% of GDP by 2029, but that other investment, notably replacing the country's aging submarine fleet or purchasing integrated air defense and missile systems, would probably push the figure past the 2% mark.

“I believe it brings us inevitably to over 2% of defense spending. But I’ve got some work to do in order to be able to articulate that both to my own country and to our allies,” he said.

A general view of a meeting of the NATO-Ukraine council...

A general view of a meeting of the NATO-Ukraine council in defense ministers format at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Thursday, June 13, 2024. NATO defense ministers gathered Thursday hoping to agree on a new plan to provide long-term security assistance and military training to Ukraine, after Hungary promised not to veto the scheme as long as it's not forced to take part. Credit: AP/Virginia Mayo

Canada already plans to buy surveillance aircraft, helicopters and restock its ammunition supplies.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has said that he expects around two thirds of the alliance’s 32 member countries to spend 2% of GDP on their defense budgets this year, up from just three countries a decade ago.

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