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Canada, which looks to the navy, has neglected its army, according to the French ambassador

The problem, in part, is that Canada has become too dependent on the United States and its enormous defense machine, the most expensive in the world, said Michel Miraillet.

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Caught in navel-gazing and living under the protective shield of the United States, Canada has allowed its military presence in the world to wither over the past decade, the new French ambassador to Ottawa suggested on Friday.

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In blunt comments that he said reflected his own personal views, Michel Miraillet argued that Canada needed to strengthen its defense capabilities as threats grew from China, Russia and North Korea.

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The problem, in part, is that Canada has become too dependent on the United States and its enormous defense machine, the most expensive in the world, he said during a meeting with the editorial board of the National Post.

“It’s always difficult for a country which by nature is very protected, with a big guy underneath who sucks but in the end, well, it works,” said Miraillet. “You are very French, you get in a first class car with a third class ticket…. If you want to stay first class, you have to train, develop and go somewhere.

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“This country in some ways can be too comfortable, too comfortable.”

The ambassador’s remarks were by no means the first time someone from outside the country had criticized Ottawa’s recent defense spending record. US presidents have long urged Canada and other lagging NATO members to meet the alliance’s recommended target of allocating 2% of GDP to the military.

But it’s unusual to hear a similar complaint from another Canadian ally, even though the arms industry could benefit from increased equipment purchases in Ottawa.

  1. Canadian troops from NATO's Enhanced Forward Presence Battlegroup attend a meeting with Canadian Defense Minister Anita Anand in Adazi, Latvia, February 3, 2022.

    Canada strays further from NATO’s 2% defense spending target

  2. US Ambassador to Canada David Cohen:

    US ambassador says Canada has failed to live up to its own defense spending hype

According to NATO figures, France is 11th among the 29 countries in the group, spending just below the 2% target, or 1.90% of GDP. Canada is 24th, budgeting just 1.27% of its gross domestic product for defence.

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Miraillet, a former director general for global affairs, acknowledged Canada’s recent contributions to international defense, including its involvement in Afghanistan, sending soldiers to the Baltic countries and training Ukrainian troops.

He also said that this country has a “fantastic” reputation in France as a friendly nation with similar values.

But the ambassador said he remembers a day when, for example, Canada was a major contributor to UN peacekeeping, a contrast to the situation today.

After peaking in 1993 when more than 3,300 Canadians were deployed on peacekeeping missions, the number has dropped to just 54 this year, according to figures compiled by Professor Walter Dorn of the Royal Military College. .

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“At the end of the day, I have the feeling that militarily this country is less present than 10 or 15 years ago,” Miraillet said. “Canada was much more present in the past in Africa than it is now…. There needs to be more Canada on the ground, not only in Africa but also in Asia.

He also suggested that threats in that country’s backyard are growing, with China sending icebreakers to the Arctic, possibly heralding the arrival of People’s Liberation Army submarines. Meanwhile, Russia has deployed more attack submarines than ever before, the ambassador said.

You’re French, you’re in a 1st class car with a 3rd class ticket

But he said Canada had a “huge problem” with its own submarine fleet, calling them “very old” vessels. In fact, used ships bought in the UK have been plagued with mechanical problems, leading to expensive repairs. Miraillet also questioned the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), the joint US-Canadian continental defense program.

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“You are now faced with a situation where NORAD looks like an old Volvo 240. I mean it’s strong, but you have to strengthen it.”

Instead of looking beyond its borders at security threats and humanitarian needs around the world, Canada seems absorbed in internal political discussions, especially on “gender” issues, Miraillet said.

“Now I have this feeling – it’s very personal – but the country is really about the navel, more than ever.”

His remarks – delivered with self-deprecating humor – were perhaps not entirely selfless. France has a major arms industry and was recently stung by Australia’s decision to cancel a deal to buy 12 French-made diesel-electric submarines. They are to be replaced by eight nuclear submarines which he will buy from the United States instead. The Royal Canadian Navy has said it is considering buying a new fleet of submarines.

The ambassador cited an incident in the early 1990s when the Canadian Navy approached France to buy attack submarines from it, only for the United States to frustrate the talks. But he suggested Canada needs a bigger military to respond to international security risks, no matter where it buys its equipment.

“I’m not telling you that you have to buy French frigates, even if that would be a sign of good taste,” he said smiling. “But on the other hand, what I want to see is just having enough capability to be ready… just for deterrence.”

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Rodney N.

The author Rodney N.