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Since 2017, the last time Canada’s approach to national defense was updated through official government policy, a lot has changed.

Russia has doubled down on its 2014 invasion of Ukraine with a cruel war of attrition. China has articulated a desire to devour Taiwan – like it did Hong Kong – by 2027. And Iran has recently launched its first direct state-to-state strike against Israel in living memory.

The United States has known for years that the world is becoming darker and more dangerous, and a sequence of administrations, from Trump to Biden, have encouraged America’s northern ally to do more to support continental and western hemisphere defense.

Better late than never, Canada has answered – at least rhetorically.

Days ago, Canadian defense minister the Honourable Bill Blair released Canada’s long-awaited Defence Policy Update, or DPU. It pledges to bring Canadian defense spending from a paltry 1.3% of national GDP to a much more respectable – but still short of NATO requirements – 1.76% by 2029.

Despite falling short of the NATO target of 2% defense spending as a per centage of GDP, Canada’s real economic contribution – the real measure of the nation’s value to the NATO alliance – is a solid 6th place among NATO allies, and growing due to the DPU. This is because Canada’s economy is relatively large within the NATO club.

But as anyone who follows government policy knows, spending doesn’t always equal impact. That’s where the DPU gets a few things right.

For example, Blair’s DPU builds on the current Liberal government’s previous commitment to invest $38B to enable a sweeping modernisation of the North American Aerospace Defense Command that keeps Canada and the United States safe from Russian aerial surveillance and attack. Given that Canada is an Arctic nation and borders Russia, this will go a long way to ensure North American technology and troops can keep our continent safe from Russian probing. Money spent here represents a real return-on-investment.

Also, the DPU underlines Canada’s commitment to replacing its current fleet of approximately 80 F-18 Hornet fighter jets with the F-35 fighter-bombers that the United States and many allies have already committed to. On this one, Canada is coming in late after a decade of dithering, but better late than never for interoperability with the northern nation’s key allies.

The DPU also builds on Canada’s presumed – and now concrete – commitment to replenish its fleet of ageing Victoria Class submarines. Prime Minister Trudeau even went so far as to claim the country was considering nuclear-powered submarines to meet future sub-surface defence and surveillance needs.

This would earn it credentials for joining the new “AUKUS” club - comprising Australia, the UK, and the US - for purposes of nuclear submarine and technology collaboration. Encouragingly, even without a commitment to nuclear subs, senior government sources in Canada have told me Canada’s accession to the pact’s tech-focused “Pillar 2” is already in the works, partially on the strength of the recent NORAD and defense commitments made by Minister Blair and his predecessor, Anita Anand.

So far, so good. Is there a catch? Yes – there’s always a catch. The bulk of defense spending announced in April doesn’t kick in until 2026 and 2027. In other words, until after the next Canadian federal election, making the spending commitments ripe for backtracking.

It’s equally true that despite these green shoots, there remains serious rot in the Canadian defense space, including soldiers turning to food banks to feed their families and having to buy their own gear while on deployment. There’s also a lack of clarity in the DPU’s accounting for various initiatives and many analysts remain skeptical about the Canada’s capacity to follow through on the various commitments outlined in the document.

But progress is progress, and progress is always welcome.

The United States should see Canada’s new Defense Policy Update as a down payment toward a stronger Canadian defense posture.

America should see to it that Canada’s words become actions and that deferred spending becomes real investment.

Matthew Bondy is a Senior Fellow with the Macdonald-Laurier Institute and the Center for North American Prosperity and Security.