NATO’s 2 per cent military spending benchmark is ‘self-evident’: Finnish president


The president of NATO’s newest member nation said the military alliance’s two per cent defence spending target seems “self-evident” to him — even as a debate rages over the fact that most NATO members, Canada included, are not meeting the target.

In an interview airing Sunday on Rosemary Barton Live, Finnish President Sauli Niinistö said the Nordic country is committed to its current level of defence spending — around two per cent of GDP.  NATO members pledged in 2006 to spend two per cent of their national GDP on defence.

“I think that it’s self-evident … To me, as a Finn, we usually do what we agree [to do],” Niinistö told host Rosemary Barton.

“It’s an agreement. To follow it is self-evident.”

Intelligence leaks that became public last month reported that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told allies Canada would never honour the NATO defence spending commitment.

Canada currently spends around 1.3 per cent of its GDP on defence. Only a handful of NATO’s 31 member countries — including the United States and the United Kingdom — are spending two per cent or more.

Finland applied to join NATO last year following Russia’s escalation of its invasion of Ukraine. It formally became a member last month.

Article Five of NATO’s North Atlantic Treaty says that “an armed attack against one or more [NATO members] in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all.”

Niinistö, who has been Finland’s head of state for over a decade, said pursuing membership was the right decision for his country. He added that Finland, which shares a 1,340 kilometre border with Russia, has a lot to contribute to NATO.

“Finland maximizes its security and, surely, takes responsibility for others’ security too,” Niinistö said.

Like Canada, Finland is transitioning from the F/A-18 Hornet fighter to the F-35 Lightning. Niinistö said that, international hockey rivalry aside, the two countries have many other things in common.

“We have always felt some similarities with our societies, and we’ve have always had very good relations,” Niinistö said, pointing out the two countries’ shared focus on Arctic security.

But unlike Canada, Finland has mandatory military conscription for male citizens. The Finnish Defence Forces train 22,000 conscripts every year, according to the Finnish military.

Two men in military camouflage stand, one holding an assault rifle.
Finnish soldiers take part in the army mechanized exercise Arrow 22 at the Niinisalo garrison in Kankaanpää, Western Finland on May 4, 2022. Finnish President Sauli Niinistö told CBC News that Finland’s mandatory military service for male citizens makes it stand out among NATO member countries. (Heikki Saukkomaa/Lehtikuva via AP)

Niinistö said Finland’s high proportion of citizens with military training makes it stand out in comparison to most NATO countries. He added that he hopes Finland’s NATO membership will mean it never has to see battle.

“I emphasize the preventative side of our alliance,” he said. “But we understand very well that we have to maintain our strong army.”

Sweden awaits membership

Finland’s application to join NATO was part of a joint application with its Nordic neighbour, Sweden.

But Turkey has held up Sweden’s bid for NATO membership, alleging that Stockholm supports Kurdish nationalist groups in Turkey. Sweden has strengthened its anti-terror laws to improve its prospects for joining NATO.

Niinistö said Finland isn’t pleased with the delay.

“We didn’t want to be separated from Sweden,”  he said. “The Finnish membership is not complete without Sweden and we are doing our best to promote Sweden.”

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