Considering the Pacific Rim
Sep 15, 2010

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Although reluctant to admit it, most Canadians are Eurocentric. We pay lip service to the concept of being a Pacific Rim nation but in reality our focus is elsewhere. We should be keeping more than a weather eye on events in the Pacific.
It is difficult for us to comprehend the scope of the Pacific. When made aware that his tankers were being sent to the Atlantic to reinforce support to the escort forces after Pearl Harbour, Admiral Bull Halsey snorted: “Don’t those people [Naval Department in Washington] realize that we need those tankers? Hell, the Atlantic is just a fishing pond compared to the Pacific and our steaming distances are ten times those of the naval forces in the Atlantic.” He eventually won the argument after Guadualcanal when the Chief of Naval Operations finally admitted that the Pacific needed to be extensively reinforced if they were to defeat the Japanese. I doubt that Canadian leaders would have acted any differently had this happened to Canada.
As we gradually come to grips with the impact of a year ‘round ice-free northern passage in our life time, we should be studying new requirements that would fall upon us given the increased commercial and naval activities along our westernmost coastline – one that is thinly populated and only occasionally patrolled by naval and coast guard forces. To put it into context – British Columbia has one third of Ontario’s land mass and a population that approximates that of the greater Toronto area. Most of its population is centred in the Vancouver area and along the Fraser Valley. There is one major port on the mainland at Prince Rupert, and one on Vancouver Island, the port of Victoria-Esquimalt.
Although the Canadian fleet in Esquimalt is balanced, in terms of naval assets, they may prove woefully inadequate as the volume of trade through the Northwest Passage escalates exponentially year after year.
Why is that important? Let’s consider what we are up against.
The Pacific Ocean is the largest body of water on earth. It has been thought of as the “American Lake” since the turn of the last century. That perception could be forgiven since the United States Navy was the largest and most competent naval force in the Pacific and for most of the late 19th and 20th centuries. The previous major naval force in the region, the Royal Navy, had after the two World Wars gradually withdrawn as former colonies were granted independence. The other major naval contender, Japan, flourished during the first 45 years of the 20th century but were destroyed by the might of the United States military forces and forced to become an American “protectorate.” The other nations of the Pacific Rim remained land locked as they went through significant internal turmoil in the post World War Two period.
However, this situation has changed dramatically in the last 60 years. The regional dynamic has changed dramatically with the advent of globalization and the liberation of trade. In the past 20 years we have witnessed the rise of World Class major Asian economies (the phenomenal growth of Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan, now includes China and India) who have commercially re-invented themselves and are now world class economies and major players in the global market place. One must, however, note that along with this increasing prosperity has developed a concomitant increase in national aspirations to become a “regional” power and, in some cases, more.
HMCS Winnipeg (left) commanded by Commander Craig Baines, Standing NATO Maritime Group 1, and Pakistan Navy manoeuver in the Indian Ocean at the conclusion of a two-day joint naval exercise.
War Fighting Capability
One major indicator of the growth of these nations is their new-found desire to develop autarky when it comes to the acquisition of new sophisticated weapons systems and war fighting potential. Almost all of these countries have developed both sophisticated missile launch systems and companion nuclear warheads. Although they still seek to purchase military goods and services from the West, they become less dependant upon external sources for military equipment as they develop more internal capabilities each year.
With the possible exception of the Republic of Singapore, the nations that make up this power block have the capacity to produce main battle tanks, direct and indirect sophisticated gun systems for both their armoured vehicles and artillery needs, both towed and self-propelled, and all manner of small arms.
China is now a world leader in fighter aircraft development and its latest endea vour, the J-17 is considered to be an affordable “fifth-generation” all weather fighter aircraft that will match other nation’s aircraft in performance but will be offered at a much lower cost to “client nations.”
India is not far behind in the development of indigenous aircraft. In addition, all of these nations produce tactical armoured vehicles such as APCs, as well as armoured and unarmoured logistical vehicles.
Now let’s examine the key Pacific nations in turn. China’s history dates back at least five thousand years. Scornful of other cultures, China imposed a condition of self-isolation that lasted until the 19th century. Traces of this linger yet, however, China is coming out of this long period of isolation and is now desirous of assuming her rightful place among the nations of the world. No longer xenophobic, China has branched out as a good neighbour not only within her region but throughout the Pacific. Her technological prowess and prodigious manufacturing capability has ensured a host of steady customers and China has become thoroughly dependant upon her trade profits to modernize her country and bring the standard of living up to 21st Century standards.
To protect from external and internal threats China maintains a large standing army. It has engaged in border disputes with its neighbours and has sent clear messages to her regional neighbours, as well as other nations, that she is prepared to defend her interests by any means. In order to do that, China has begun a massive build up of modern well-equipped strategic forces. She has achieved her desired capacity and is capable of building more nuclear submarines, surface combatants, logistics and amphibious craft faster than most countries in the world. Her foreign policy is centred on the projection of massive power within the region and significant joint forces to anywhere her interests are threatened.  China is determined that her voice will be heard and that she will never again be interfered with in the course of her political and economic affairs.
Japan is currently struggling to regain her position in the Pacific region, and to be more than just a world class economic power. After the sound defeat of the Second World War, the Japanese struggled with the shame of the conduct of her military forces during the war. That generation sought to end the militarism that had created the aggressive foreign policy and the extensive use of the military to acquire the raw resources to feed its requirements. In conjunction with the senior American, General Douglas MacArthur, the Japanese drafted and approved a “peace constitution” which forbade the use of Japanese military in any activities other than the defence of Japan.
Later generations have felt that this philosophy was too constrictive and marginalized Japan as a nation. They are no longer interested solely in being the United States’ major “aircraft carrier” in the western Pacific. Riding a wave of public sentiment that felt that Japan had atoned long enough for her wartime sins, the Japanese government amended their constitutions and began to engage in military activities as part of a number of coalitions.
Japan has begun to seek military autarky and does produce a wide variety of military weapons and logistics systems and has substantially increased the size of its Maritime Defence Force. While Japan still procures much of its most capable military systems from the West, mainly the United States, it still is achieving greater military self sufficiency each year.
Japan, like China, is extremely depen dent on world trade. To ensure the free movement of its merchant navy, Japan will  no doubt take whatever action necessary to remove impediments. They will follow a diplomatic path to achieve their aims, though we should watch any potential for this new sense of awareness of its growing power to turn to force for protecting key interests if issues are not resolved.
Korea, one of the Asian Tigers, is pursuing military autarky as well, but not for the same reasons as her regional neighbours. Korea is also concerned about the free conduct of commerce on the high seas but it is not the major reason for this quest. At the end of WWII, the Korean peninsula was divided along the 38th Parallel. The North quickly became a client state of the former USSR which provided significant arms, ammunition and equipment to raise a major military force.
The southern peninsula concentrated on rebuilding its society and its economy. The Republic of Korea’s military was only lightly equipped and was devoid of heavy weapons or equipment, functioning as a “Constabulary” force. The invasion of the South by North Korean forces very nearly succeeded but for the American military forces and troops from the United Nations. A truce was concluded in 1953, but technically the two Koreas remain at war.
After the conflict, South Korean undertook a massive program of industrialization in conjunction with the building of a well-equipped and efficient military force. As its economy grew, Korea became a major player as a goods and services producing nation. Along with this development came the move from a regional commercial trader to a major economic power on the world scene. While still in a state of dynamic tension with the North, South Korea now relies heavily on its trade with the world not just within its own region. Any interference attempt by the North or any other nation will likely result in military confrontation.
Since the granting of her independence, India has seen a number of significant threats that have made her geographically insecure. India has fought Chinese forces over border issues, and Pakistan over unresolved cultural issues. Mixed with this palpable threat is its proximity to Iran and other middle eastern states. Islamic extremists have recently made several terrorist attacks on Indian cities, with Mumbai being the most recent major attack. Like China, Japan and Korea, India has significant interests within the western Pacific. It also relies heavily upon trade for its economic well being.
Although initially a major customer of the United States and the USSR, India has slowly but surely gravitated to conducting the majority of their business with Russia. Beyond purchasing major weapons systems, Russia and India have entered into a host of mutual agreements which has seen the licensed manufacture of Russian equipment by Indian factories, the development of joint projects, and the transfer of technology. These agreements have enabled India to build intercontinental ballistic missiles, surface-to-surface missiles, a host of weapons from small arms to sophisticated anti-tank rocket launchers, as well as ships and aircraft. This transfer of specialized technology is currently enabling the Indian Navy to build the first of a planned six large aircraft carriers that will significantly increase their power projection and safeguard their interests.
India has served notice to the world that, as the second largest population, it has no intention of being relegated to anything less that a “front rank” nation. Their intention appears straight forward: to dominate the Indian Ocean and in doing so control the approaches to the Indian subcontinent. Secondly, India intends to have sufficient military might to safeguard her off-shore resources and any adjacent land masses.
How is this important to us, and why should we spend significant sums on new ships to increase our naval presence in both the mid-ocean and littoral regions?
First, we should be concerned that five major trading nations in close proximity are all chasing the same markets. History tells us that, at some point, competition ceases to be friendly and becomes increasingly aggressive if not hostile. These nations are all developing major naval forces that can be projected far out into the Pacific Ocean.

Canada’s West Coast is a major conduit to North America and American markets. It is a major departure point for Canadian exports of raw materials, finished goods and services. This nation cannot afford to have our western ports impeded or blocked by foreign nation’s naval forces. We must be able to guarantee to our nation’s “customers” that we are able to protect their cargoes and their vessels in the pursuit of peaceful ventures.
Second, Canada as a member of the Pacific Rim has an international obligation to protect civilian commerce against armed threats and potential damage. Given the opening of the North West Passage which is mostly located in Canadian Littoral waters, Canadian naval forces will need to be robust enough to force users of this waterway to follow not only International Law of the Sea edicts but also those that pertain to our stewardship of the passage.
Canadian naval forces must be plentiful enough and strong enough to protect Canadian sovereignty and to deny unauthorized action of rogue nations to poach Canada’s natural resources. Although some may argue that this is properly the responsibility of the Coast Guard, until that force is fully armed and trained to deal with heavily armed foreign vessels, it will remain the responsibility of Canada’s navy to deal with such events.
Summing it all up, we as a nation cannot take for granted that all nations transiting through Canadian waters will follow all of the rules. The potential of rogue nations or surrogate naval forces waging undeclared “guerre de course” may not be large but it is, nevertheless, real. Acknowledging that fact means we are required, by law, to put precautions in place. We no doubt will work with other nations to achieve a stable and peaceable system of ocean commercial traffic.
We must face the fact that we cannot meet our potential obligations with the fleet that we have now. We will need both a substantially larger “blue water” fleet and a “brown water” littoral fleet with a mix of vessels that will achieve those tasks that will be thrust upon us by a changing world.
Time is of the essence, we must not falter or be dissuaded.

Major (ret) Rob Day, a former Air Force Logistics Officer, is currently doing research on strategic issues.
© FrontLine Defence 2010