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  • Roland Paris

Interview on The West Block, Nov. 13, 2016

Transcript - The West Block on Sunday, November 13, 2016. Hosted by Tom Clark. Global News

Tom Clark: Welcome back. Well that was the prime minister late last week responding to the election of Donald Trump. The relationship that Canada has with its closest neighbour will be, shall we say ‘in flux’, with President Trump on areas such as climate change, immigration and trade, given his stance on all these issues.

Well joining me now is Roland Paris, a former foreign policy advisor to Justin Trudeau, now at the University of Ottawa. Roland, good to have you here. You have been a critic of Donald Trump since the beginning on this. Do you believe that the world is a more dangerous place this week than it was last week before his election?

Roland Paris: Yeah, I’m not sure if it’s more dangerous this week but there’s a lot more uncertainty now. During his campaign, Donald Trump called into question some of the foundations of American foreign policy, including its trade commitments, its alliance commitments. I mean these are critically important. Not just to American partners and allies, but they are part of a network of arrangements and institutions that have helped underpin a largely stable, largely open international system for decades. So, I’m not convinced that Donald Trump is going to throw away NATO or tear up NAFTA. But we’re in a moment of uncertainty now where all of America’s partners are wondering what does it mean? How will those very significant changes that he was setting out in broad terms in his campaign be translated into specific policy?

Tom Clark: Let’s just as they say ‘get granular’ here for a moment on some of the issues that we’re going to face. You mentioned defence. You mentioned NATO. I hear this not only from just Republicans because Donald Trump has said it, but Democrats as well that there is going to be a big demand from the United States that countries such as Canada actually meet their NATO obligations in terms of spending on defence. We’re half of what our commitment is. If Democrats and Republicans are going to speak loudly about this issue—Obama did when he gave a speech to the House of Commons—is that something that we’re going to have to accommodate?

Roland Paris: It is, I mean I think we have to be thinking about these in two ways. One is the big picture and the other is the implications for Canada specifically. The big picture, as I was suggesting a minute ago, is that we have for the first time somebody who’s been elected as president of the United States, first time in generations basically calling into question the degree of commitment that the United States has to the security of its European allies. And let’s not forget that NATO and the American security commitment to Europe has had profoundly stabilizing effects, not just on European security but on the political stability of Europe basically almost for 70 years now. So we, Canada, have an interest in nudging the United States back into thinking about NATO as an alliance and not thinking about it in instrumental terms as a way of extracting resources.

Tom Clark: And that actually really—to interrupt for a second, but it brings up an interesting point because a lot of the concern on the foreign policy side is how cozy or relaxed is he going to be about Vladimir Putin in Russia and its objectives whether it be in Ukraine or whether it be in Eastern Europe.

Roland Paris: There are any numbers of these questions you’re pointing out, what is his relationship with Putin going to be? What is the relationship with NATO going to be, individual NATO countries in towards the alliance? You could ask the same questions about what is he going to do about the Iran deal? And then closer to home, what does he mean by tearing up or renegotiating NAFTA? For Asian allies, what does it mean to be calling into question the American security commitment there? These are big questions and when they’re unanswered, countries whose interests are engaged, they themselves have to start thinking about how they might position themselves in different scenarios. So that itself is problematic. But coming back to the point on Canada and NATO, Canada does pay less than a lot of other NATO allies in terms of our defence budget. What Canadian governments say, and it’s true, is that when Canada is called upon to provide forces to specific NATO missions that Canada almost always provides very useful forces and sometimes in leadership positions. Tough jobs, including in if you recall, the job that we’re doing in Afghanistan and more recently agreeing to send troops to Latvia in a leadership role but having said all that, we probably spending enough on our military.

Tom Clark: Well and the argument you outlined was exactly the argument that Stephen Harper outlined to me. We committed 2 per cent of GDP.

Ronald Paris: He says, Stephen Harper’s speaking points. [Laughs]

Tom Clark: [Laughs] No, I’m just hearing them again.

Ronald Paris: Fair enough.

Tom Clark: We committed 2 per cent of GDP to spend on defence. That is our commitment to NATO. We’re less than half or around half of that. So we are way below what we should be spending, what we agreed to spend, right?

Ronald Paris: Well there are very few countries that have actually met the 2 per cent target.

Tom Clark: Greece.

Ronald Paris: Well it’s a perfect example. Greece has, but Greece had less than 10 troops deployed to Afghanistan, for example. Whereas recently, Canada is one of four countries alongside the United States, Germany and the U.K. to take on a leadership role in the deterrence measures in Eastern Europe, we’re going to be leading the battle group in Latvia. Having said all that, I think that there are reasons internal to Canada to be thinking that we’re not spending enough on defence and so this is a time for us to be looking at our level of defence spending. And as you know, there’s a defence policy review underway right now. Given what we’re hearing from the United States it’s even more reason to be looking at those levels.

Tom Clark: I’ve only got 40 seconds left. How should countries like Canada proceed in the weeks and months ahead?

Ronald Paris: Well, I think that the Canadian government has already begun to open a conversation with the incoming administration and that’s critical for us. Our core interests with the United States are economic. Our merchandise exports to the United States alone account for one fifth of our total Gross Domestic Product (GDP). So part of that opening conversation is to make a case about the mutual benefits of this relationship and building on them. And the good news, and it’s not all good news, but part of the good news is that Donald Trump is a businessman and we do an enormous amount of business between our two countries. And I think that that’s a basis for Justin Trudeau and Donald Trump to have a productive conversation.

Tom Clark: Ronald Paris, terrific having you here as always. I appreciate your time.

Ronald Paris: Thank you.

Tom Clark: Thank you so much.

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