Maritime Strategy for the 21st Century
© 2008 FrontLine Defence (Vol 5, No 4)

The 2008 Maritime Security Conference, organized and conducted by the Centre for Foreign Policy Studies at Dalhousie University, ran from 12-14 June and drew over 120 delegates from a wide range of fellow NATO and allied countries. Participants were invited to discuss the challenge of creating effective maritime strategy in an age of rapid change.

High-ranking policy practitioners and leading academics – such as Senator Colin Kenny (Chair, Senate Committee on National Security and Defence); Dr. Jack Granatstein (historian, co-author of “A Threatened Future”); Ms. Laureen E. Kinney (Director General, Maritime Security, Transport Canada); Dr. Joseph DiRenzo III (United States Coast Guard); Captain Edvard Winther Johansen (Director, Norwegian Navy Training Establishment); and Rear-Admiral Paul A. Maddison (Commander Joint Task Force Atlantic) – were solicited to provide a contextual framework for each day’s discussions. In addition, Vice-Admiral Drew Robertson (Chief of Maritime Staff) gave a keynote address at the conference’s annual dinner, which was sponsored by Lockheed Martin.

May 2008 – Task Force Arabian Sea – comprised of a three-ship Task Group (HMCS Iroquois, Calgary and Protecteur), Command and ground support teams, and two Helicopter Air Detachments – make up the fourth rotation of Operation ALTAIR. Under the command of Commodore Bob Davidson, Combined Task Force 150 (CTF 150), a naval multinational coalition conducts surveillance patrols and maritime security operations in the Gulf of Aden, Gulf of Oman, the Arabian and Red Sea and the Indian Ocean.

Given an uncertain threat environment, this year’s conference theme was “Breaking the Box: Making Strategic Choices for ­Maritime Security Needs in the 21st Century.” The search for effective policy responses took panelists from a discussion of Canada’s likely strategic future (with considerable emphasis on the changing ice conditions and burgeoning resource opportunities of Canada’s Arctic), to the factors and processes driving and responding to such change, and then to the requisite balancing of maritime responsibilities and functions in response to these dynamics. Furthering this latter discussion, the potential benefits of – and obstacles to – attaining synergy between the government’s various branches were reviewed in a final panel on interoperability. In addition, the Canadian Forces Maritime Warfare Centre displayed a gamed scenario of a cooperative response to an Arctic maritime security incident by the Canadian Navy and Canadian Coast Guard (CCG). All such conversations were greatly assisted by the large number of naval and civilian subject matter experts with first hand-knowledge of real-world planning, exercises, actions, and review activities.

Discussions of the strategic future began with a straightforward observation: our predictions are uncertain, at best. There was, however, widespread agreement that climate change will drive ever more economic activity in Canada’s north.

Given global industrial growth and resource constraints, the ocean floor will witness a competitive ‘scramble,’ much like that of Africa in the 19th century. As such, Canada will be required to prepare for not only increased dangers to marine and environmental safety, but also a possible return to serious great power competition. Unfortunately, this conversation remains incomplete, as there exist few estimations of just what it would take to make northern resource extraction profitable.

Meanwhile, trans-Arctic shipping may face less growth than anticipated, for there is a tradeoff between the decreased distances of polar transit and the slower speeds necessitated by the ever-present danger of a fractured icecap and shallow depths in the passages. Likely profitability must therefore be demonstrated, rather than simply assumed. Clearly, the prospective geopolitical importance of the Arctic remains an under-studied matter.

A further – and, according to some, predominant – strategic consideration is the extent to which the public purse shall be made available for maritime security. Particularly in the Canadian context, the public does not perceive security threats to be immediate. Consequently, even if such tranquility belies a misunderstanding of the true strategic environment, budget resources will be severely curtailed when dictated by untroubled voters. Furthermore, the suggestion that a Prime Minister – even one who stands as an effective public educator – would overcome such obstacles founders upon the logic of political life in a democratic society: when protected by a superpower ally, butter is infinitely more attractive than guns.

Regarding the division of functions between coast guard and navy, much of the discussion accepted, even if tacitly, the status quo separation of responsibilities. Indeed, there was widespread agreement that organizational divisions are fine, so long as each branch retains its respective identity and culture while nonetheless enjoying the capacity to seamlessly integrate operations with differently uniformed colleagues. In terms of the Arctic, all concurred that the CCG has an impressive reservoir of experience in high latitude operations. The movement of grey hulls to the north should therefore be designed to augment existing capabilities, rather than to assume roles already apportioned. Potentially more controversial was how some coast guards enjoy enforcement powers (such as Norway and the United States), while others do not (such as Canada). To be clear, those that are so empowered seem to be content with this arrangement. However, it was recognized that to commission the CCG as an enforcement body would require both the expenditure of resources and the changing of an established culture. Given that that the CCG already maintains close partnerships with other enforcement-empowered branches of the government, the response to this notion was decidedly underwhelming.

The final topic of discussion was interoperability, the need for which was ­universally agreed. Several strategies for achieving seamless integration were offered without dissent: common strategic planning, interdepartmental dialogue during procurement (a necessity exemplified by the incompatibility of small watercraft and communications systems across different government branches), and frequent, regularized exercises comprised of officials from all departments, ranging from the strategic to the tactical levels. Previous experience (such as Halifax’s Maritime Security Operations Centre) provides real confidence that further integration can be achieved.

Unfortunately, the truly confounding problem is information sharing. In light of Charter provisions, privacy legislation, and access-to-information concerns, overcoming the hurdles facing data fusion will continue to prove incredibly challenging. Moreover, given that any solution will have to be grounded in the interpretation and application of law, legal experts are needed to fashion proper remedies. Such skills, however, were beyond the expertise of both the delegates assembled and front-line maritime security practitioners. As such, there will be much to consider at future Maritime Security Conferences.
Mr. Sean Clark, a Doctoral Fellow of the Centre for Foreign Policy Studies at Dalhousie University, served as the Raporteur for the conference – a contracted task sponsored by the Chief of Maritime Staff. This article is a synopsis written after the Report of Proceedings was completed.
More information on the 2008 Maritime Security Conference can be found at
© Frontline Defence 2008