What about the Pacific?
May 15, 2013

Canada must break from its Eurocentric mindset and look to the ­Indo-Pacific region, where increased criminal, commercial and naval activities along our westernmost coastline, plus the advent of year round ice free northern ­passage will increase Canada’s Pacific responsibilities.

The United States Navy was the largest naval force in the Pacific – and without peer – for most of the late 19th and 20th centuries, however, globalization and the liberalization of trade have changed the regional dynamic dramatically. In the past 20 years, the “Asian Tigers” have commercially re-invented themselves and are now world class econo­mies. Almost all of them have developed sophisticated missile launch systems and some have developed their own companion nuclear warheads.

China has come out of isolation to find a new place among nations. Her technological prowess and manufacturing capability have ensured steady customers. As a result, China is now dependent upon trade to modernize and improve living standards.

China has made clear that she is prepared to defend her interests by any means, and to do that, 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.

Japan is struggling to regain her position in the world – to be more than an ­economic power. After a sound defeat in World War II, Japan was forced to accept a “self-defence only” mandate. However, riding a wave of public sentiment that felt Japan had atoned long enough for her wartime sins, the Japanese government amended its constitution and began to engage in military activities. Japan now produces a variety of weapons and logistics systems, and has substantially increased the size of its Maritime Defence Force. Japan will no doubt take whatever action it needs to remove impediments to the free movement of its merchant navy.

South Korea is also pursuing military self-sufficiency, both to protect its sea commerce and to confront a hostile northern neighbour. After war with North Korea, the South industrialized and built a well equipped and efficient military force. Along with this development came the move from a regional commercial trader to a major economic power on the world scene.

Since independence, India has experienced a number of significant threats such as fighting with China over border issues and Pakistan over cultural issues, and has slowly gravitated toward doing business with Russia. Beyond the purchase of major weapons systems, Russian and India have entered into a host of licensed manufacturing agreements, developed joint projects, some including the transfer of technology. These agreements have enabled India to build ICBMs, SSMs, 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 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 foreign interests. India relies heavily upon trade for its economic well being and intends to be a “front rank” nation, dominating the Indian Ocean and controlling the approaches to the Indian subcontinent. India intends to have sufficient military might to safeguard her off-shore resources as well as any of their adjacent land masses.

What does this mean for Canada? First, we should be concerned that five major trading nations in close proximity all chase the same markets. At some point competition may become increasingly aggressive and probably hostile. These nations all are developing major naval forces that can be projected far out into the Pacific Ocean.

Considering that 90% of world trade is transported via the oceans, Canada cannot afford to have its western ports impeded or blocked by foreign nations, and we must protect cargoes and vessels.

As a member of the Pacific Rim, Canada is obliged to protect civilian commerce against armed threats. Given the opening of the North West Passage, Canadian naval forces must be able to enforce both international and Canadian law. Canada’s navy must also be strong enough to protect Canadian sovereignty and defend our natural resources.

We cannot assume that nations in Canadian waters will follow the rules, and our current fleet is inadequate to meet the challenges – we need both a substantially larger “blue water” fleet and a “brown water” capability. Canada needs a real navy to confront real threats, and time is running out.
Robert Day, a retired logistics officer, is a military historian and analyst.
© FrontLine Defence 2013