A Globe and Mail editorial of 5 June 2012 proclaimed that a sea change is needed in Canada’s Armed Forces as priorities change from land fighting in Afghanistan to preparing for this era defined by the Royal Canadian Navy as the "maritime century.”
The editorial was inspired by remarks Prime Minister Stephen Harper gave at the unveiling of The Royal Canadian Navy Monument on 3 May 2012, in which he said “Canada is a maritime nation, a maritime nation with trade, commerce and interests around the world... Canada and its economy float on salt water.” Mr. Harper went on to stress “Such a nation must have a navy.”
The Modern Day Navy
Canada’s entry into the Afghan field of operation caused Canadians to face the difference between “peacekeepers” and “peacemakers.” Similarly, they need to be aware that the traditional role of the navy is changing. The RCN is no longer just expected to ward off seaborne advances in defence of the country’s sovereignty. The modern day navy is more involved in performing constabulary duties in response to transnational organized crime and terrorism. These naval duties coincide with the challenges experienced by domestic policing authorities on land.
The communities that make up Canada are ultimately the crucibles where such offshore illegal endeavors are financially supported. Transnational crime begins within communities through drug trafficking, people smuggling, money laundering, gun smuggling, and compromising intellectual property. Global political and religious extremist ideologies take advantage of Canada’s traditional community placidity by threatening community values that have evolved in accordance with national laws and mores. Through its global reach, and in collaboration with our allies, the RCN is called upon increasingly to support community peace of mind back home. The Canadian public needs to be aware of these expectations of their navy.
As was evident in the Libya blockade, the RCN still serves a more traditional military role in support of Canada’s international treaty obligations. With 42% of Canada’s trade traveling by sea, access to global shipping routes for vessels heading to or leaving its shores must be secured. A routine Canadian naval presence in maritime “hot spots” around the world as well as collaboration in multi-national exercises is critical to guaranteeing such access.
While the role of Canada’s modern day navy in serving the country’s interests on the world stage is to be appreciated, it is also necessary to define how that role relates to possible domestic security threats in our post 9/11 world. In a recent interview with Vice-Admiral Paul Maddison, Commander RCN, discussed the challenges of crewing the new vessels coming on stream from the NSPS (National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy). Discussing the role of Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships (AOPS), Vice-Admiral Maddison described them as “constabulary vessels, not a combatant. They will be built to commercial standards and aimed at providing Canada with an arctic surveillance offshore sovereignty capability and also to be there for search and rescue, to enable other lead departments in their maritime mandates, whether it is RCMP, Coast Guard, Fisheries and Oceans, or CBSA.”
Although referencing the unique situation in the Arctic, this description of how Canada’s domestic maritime security is being managed raises the question: Who is in charge of such activities? Relying on such tenuous relationships, the AOPS role can be compared to the acquisition of very modern computer hardware forced to apply out-of-date software.
Using the templates for Maritime Security Operations Centre (MSOC) in the Atlantic, Great Lakes and Pacific regions, this matter will likely be resolved through some kind of Arctic MSOC. When this occurs, Canada’s domestic maritime security will be managed through four large, mutually exclusive interdepartmental, bureaucratic committees.
Transport Canada oversees the movement of all marine surface vessels within Canada’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), and the coastal provinces have jurisdiction over what happens below the surface. To date, the provinces have not needed to be directly involved with maritime security affairs, however, with submersible drone capability vessels on the horizon, that will need to change. Currently, domestic maritime security is overseen by the Government of Canada’s Interdepartmental Marine Security Working Group (IMSWG), comprised of 17 federal departments and agencies, and chaired by Transport Canada.
Guarding the shoreline
The need for a seamless modus operandi between threats that happen off shore and how they relate to inland communities was illustrated by the Mumbai Massacre. This was a tragic example of where there was no real coordination between the navy and the federal, state and municipal police.
The role that a navy plays on the world stage has to be reassessed when the country is reeling at home from internal strife. Such is the situation facing the Mexican navy confronting the challenges of domestic drug warfare. As Mexico does not have a coast guard service, the navy does it all. Acknowledging the difference between naval duties and policing duties, Rear Admiral Fierro Rocha said “It could be an ideal situation” when questioned about Mexico having a Coast Guard service.
More through historical default than design, the Americans have a Coast Guard service that is recognized as a kind of “gold standard” in coastal security operations around the world. This recognition is attributable to USCG being structured as a military operation but with civil law enforcement privileges that allow it to operate at sea and on land. USCG is also unique in that it can serve in foreign theatres wherever U.S. troops are based.
Initially, it was the USCG model that Malaysia followed in the creation of its Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA). Both Canada and Malaysia belong to the British Commonwealth. While their colonial histories are different, there are many similarities in their institutional government structures. Malaysia gained its independence from Britain in 1957, today comprising a federation of thirteen States and three federal territories it has a similar government department structure to Canada.
Commenting on the formation of the MMEA, a Canadian naval policy expert remarked “the Malaysian government had to cannibalize the Royal Malaysian Navy for ships and men to help create the MMEA.” This comment illustrates concern among senior navy personnel that supporting a modern day coastal defence would take resources away from the navy. This is why there is need for a new balancing between Canada’s maritime security global and domestic obligations in our post 9/11, transnational organized crime world.
Responding to this comment Captain Mamu of the MMEA, who was interviewed by Frontline, said, “… the Royal Malaysian Navy roles were diluted before MMEA was formed. The RMN did both defence and constabulary work to conduct surveillance in EEZ (200NM) because the other agencies’ vessels were smaller in size. The RMN was a sturdy supporter of MMEA formation. We share RMN facilities; we conduct exercises and operation at sea.
“All other agencies originally felt unsure of this MMEA formation; after 5 years MMEA has developed very close cooperation with Police, Customs, Fisheries, and the rest of the agencies; it is good for our country maritime sectors”
Expanding further on how MMEA was formed, Captain Mamu said, “Before MMEA was formed, a number of government agencies were responsible for various aspects of maritime safety and enforcement functions. These agencies include the Royal Malaysian Navy, the Royal Malaysian Police, the Department of Fisheries, Royal Malaysian Customs, Marine Department, Royal Malaysian Air Force, Department of Environment, and the Department of Immigration. Sound familiar?
With an amalgamation of assets from various maritime agencies, a nucleus team formed in April 2003 was tasked to establish the MMEA. The Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency Act 2004 (Act 633) was passed by parliament in June 2004 and the Agency began operations in November 2005.
The challenges faced by Malaysia in forming its Maritime Enforcement Agency are very similar to what Canada should expect to encounter were it to follow such a course of action. Balancing the need for security at home with the need to show the flag in critical locations around the world has to be a major policy decision for Canada in coming years.
A Canadian Maritime Renaissance
Stephen Harper is probably the first Prime Minister to acknowledge Canada as a maritime nation. Given his “use it or lose it” characterization of the Canadian Arctic, his support for NSPS, and his rebranding of Canadian Maritime Forces as the “Royal Canadian Navy,” he has a clear vision of Canada’s maritime domain that goes beyond the “coast to coast to coast” rhetoric one usually hears from Ottawa politicians. Given that he represents a constituency in one of Canada’s land locked provinces and is a native son of Toronto one can only hope that other Canadians will support his “maritime nation” vision of Canada.
If such a national maritime renaissance is to occur, one that would awaken Canadians to recognize Canada as a maritime nation, a clear vision is needed of how the navy on patrol relates to the police on the beat. This vision must demonstrate clearly that the home shore line is being guarded by a recognized mariner professional body that has authority to enforce Canadian laws on sea and land.
A new Canadian Maritime Force is required to amalgamate Canadian military and policing cultures in a united and cooperative effort combining all three Ocean shorelines. This Force could be tasked with protecting Canadians from foreign actions (state, criminal and/or terrorist) that begin off shore and threaten community peace of mind on shore. In addition, it would demonstrate a domestic rapid response capability and assume responsibility for all Search and Rescue (SAR) operations along Canada’s coastlines.
The personnel for such a Force must be qualified to serve in any part of Canada’s coastline when called upon to do so, both routinely, and in rapid response situations. In accordance with Canadian gun ownership traditions, this new Force must be appropriately armed and trained in the use of personal and vehicular armaments. Dedicated Canadian mariners need to be recruited for life-long career positions enforcing Canadian law, guarding Canada’s coastline and protecting Canadian communities supported by state-of-the-art maritime technological support, including satellite surveillance.
With such a Force in place, Canadians will have confidence, knowing there is a seamless modus operandi between their navy on patrol and their police on the beat. Having a national leader with a demonstrated interest in promoting Canada as a maritime nation should be the first of many steps towards fulfilling such a vision.
Tim Lynch is a FrontLine maritime security correspondent based in Toronto. Send comments to email@example.com
© Frontline Security 2012