Why Canada Needs a Navy
© 2010 FrontLine Defence (Vol 7, No 6)

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Any maritime nation must maintain an effective navy. Defined as a national political instrument capable of protecting its sovereignty on, under and above the water through sea ­warfare and defence, Canadians can take great pride in what amounts to a centenary of dedicated and distinguished navy service. Amidst an unstable global stage, it remains abundantly clear to those in the military that Canada does indeed need a navy, but many do not see it as an essential part of the Canadian state, and others believe that in time of need a navy can be quickly ­cobbled together to respond to a crisis.

The ever-increasing global populace faces a complex system of challenges that serve to reinforce Canada’s dependence on its maritime resources and approaches. Not only are the oceans the means of sustaining life, they are a source of resources, energy and are the highways upon which we depend for much of our commerce and communication.

Most Canadians are unaware of the many multi-nation naval efforts around the world which have regularly sent Canadian warships to deter terrorism and piracy and to provide humanitarian aid – such as in Haiti after the devastating earthquake, and as is currently being done off the coast of Somalia.

When it comes to exercising sovereignty in waters under Canadian jurisdiction, the following three criteria must be met: knowing who is using our waters and for what purpose; maintaining an unequivocal expression of government authority in our waters; and responding quickly and effectively to violations of the law and threats to our national security or sovereignty. The recent refugee arrivals on the west coast, along with the ecological disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, both serve to highlight the importance of having a naval capability in order to exercise sovereignty.

As a nation dependant on its oceans, Canada needs to take stock of her maritime interests. These include: a coastline measuring almost a quarter of a million kilometers; close to 470 million tonnes of cargo that move through Canadian ports annually; approximately 76 million tonnes of crude oil and refined petroleum products that move through Canadian ports each year; and our valuable ocean fisheries stocks.

Looking through the lens of what Canada’s navy has done in both World Wars, the Cold War, and more recently the activities in the Horn of Africa and the Persian Gulf, it becomes abundantly clear that Canada’s navy has been a national strategic tool both domestically and internationally throughout its 100 years of service.

As a national institution, the navy has played a major role in Canada’s development as a sovereign country. As Canada faced risks, its young men and women from all corners, regardless of their geographic or cultural differences, joined a vibrant institution that in turn projected a common Canadian philosophy in which its citizens take great pride.

The largest challenge any government or military organization faces, is trying to anticipate what form future challenges will take. Naval assets take a great deal of advance planning. A warship is more complex to design, build and maintain than any other piece of military equipment.

Beyond the actual ships, a much broader organization exists, and is the result of a complex process by which the navy and the government come to an agreement on what actual capabilities will be maintained.

A responsible government turns to its citizens for input on what it is they believe are essential priorities that their navy should be prepared to pursue. It is currently apparent that Canadians believe that as a nation we should be capable of enforcing sovereignty over all of our ocean approaches – including the Arctic. This relatively recent development complicates a massive forward planning challenge for a navy that up until recently had been focusing on the replacement of its re-supply capability, refit of its frigates and their replacements.

In that way, every citizen has a role to play when it comes to reinforcing the requirement for naval resources and how they believe those essential assets should be deployed. Elected officials at all levels take great interest in defence related matters, and should be challenged accordingly.

Once an accurate appraisal regarding future operations has been agreed upon, the navy can then set about identifying the types of equipment it will require. As the lapse-time from the initial statement of requirement to the delivery of the first new ship is often 12-15 years, it is abundantly clear that navy planners are subsequently forced to work in a time vacuum of sorts. For this very reason it becomes more important to analyze desired overall capabilities and, with those in hand, set about acquiring the best equipment to do the job.

Based on recent missions abroad, combined with more recent local activities that include intercepting and escorting refugees, it would appear the navy is on track with its fleet of “go anywhere” frigates/ destroyers, supply vessels to support them, along with a compliment of helicopters and submarines that in turn provide invaluable strategic advantages.

Not maintaining an effective naval force is tantamount to surrendering one’s sovereignty at sea. Canada exists within an ever-increasingly fragile global environment and as such must ensure it carries its weight in maintaining the security of the international system and global economy. The deployment of naval resources at home and abroad is not an option – it’s required.

Andrew Warden is the Maritime Affairs Director at the Navy League of Canada.
© FrontLine Defence 2010



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