The Canadian Armed Forces’ top commander says the mission to modernize and revamp Canada’s military should proceed “as fast as possible” in response to Russian threats and aggression toward NATO.
“I think that process needs to be accelerated,” Gen. Wayne Eyre told CBC Radio’s The House.
Eyre pointed to several areas where the Canadian military falls short, including ground-based air defence and an aging stock of anti-armour weapons.
“I believe we need to put those types of tools into the hands of our troops to ensure that we are ready for the threat that’s out there,” he said.
“The armed forces that we have today is not the armed forces that we need for the future threat.”
Eyre’s comments come as the federal government finalizes its next annual budget, which could include a significant bump in military spending.
Defence Minister Anita Anand told CBC News earlier this week that she will propose “aggressive options” to cabinet that could see Canada’s military spending meet or exceed NATO’s target of two per cent of national GDP.
“We are going to be moving forward with increased defence spending,” Anand said.
Eyre focused on soldiers and readiness
NATO has set two per cent as the minimum recommended level of defence spending for member states. For years, Canada’s military spending has fallen short of that benchmark.
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Military spending currently amounts to about 1.4 per cent of Canada’s GDP — the fifth-lowest national percentage in NATO.
If the Liberal government does increase its defence spending, Eyre said his “first and foremost” priority would be to recruit and retain a stronger and more capable fighting force.
Eyre said military readiness and high-level training for soldiers has suffered in recent years. A report by the Department of National Defence issued before the COVID-19 pandemic estimated the military’s operational readiness rate at 80 per cent.
“Ensuring that we can attract and retain the best talent from all segments of Canadian society, that would be the top priority,” he said.
While no soldiers from Canada or other NATO nations have been thrust into the conflict with Russia, the alliance is strengthening its presence in eastern Europe to deter Russian aggression.
Canada has promised to contribute about 4,000 soldiers to NATO’s response force in Europe. More than 500 are already on the ground in Latvia.
Could war spill over?
Of the prospect of a wider conflict between Russia and NATO — a conflict retired Lt.-Gen. Andrew Leslie has said would amount to a third world war — Eyre said “we always have that fear and it’s something that we need to be very mindful of.”
He said current global dynamics have similarities to the climate in 1914, when rival world powers and new military technologies combined to produce the carnage of the First World War.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has made veiled threats of nuclear escalation since his forces invaded Ukraine. Russia also launched an airstrike at a Ukrainian military base about 12 kilometres from the Polish border last week, killing dozens and wounding more than 100 people.
Russian airstrikes targeted the western Ukrainian city of Lviv late this week, bringing the conflict closer to NATO countries.
Eyre said Canada is “steadfastly resolute in ensuring that [the conflict] doesn’t spill over into the borders of our NATO’s allies.”