Pacific Pivot Point

15 January 2012

Described by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as an expanse “stretching from the Indian subcontinent to the western shores of the Americas,” the Asia-Pacific domain has ascended to the top of America’s national security priority list, and Canada must take particular note of what is being called America’s “Pacific Pivot.”

In rugby, the player charged with directing his team’s overall strategy is called the pivot. In Japanese poetry, a Kakekotoba – or pivot word – is strategically employed by the lyricist when searching for the most economical use of words. English geographer Sir H. J. Mackinder (1861-1947) used the expression when describing the vast continental expanse of Central Asia as the “geographical pivot of history” destined to remain the “pivot of the world’s politics.” But, no matter how one defines what U.S. Defence Secretary Panetta described as America’s “strategic turning point after a decade of war,” a geopolitical shift of this nature has not occurred since America and its NATO allies confronted the scourge of terrorism after 9-11-2001.

Security Environment
Predominantly land-based in nature, NATO and American operations in Afghanistan and Iraq have seemingly crushed al Qaeda’s core. This success has forced the network to recruit new followers and establish new bases in failed states scattered throughout North Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and countries skirting the Indian Ocean. As the specter of terrorism from these areas continues to challenge international peace and security abroad, maritime piracy, cyber attacks, nuclear weapons and the proliferation of anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) technolo­gy will increasingly become the preferred tools of both state and non-state actors vying to achieve their ideological and national aims. By denying assured access to commercial and military traffic in the global commons, actors that eagerly participated in or watched the Afghan and Iraq wars unfold in not so innocent ways, will be met by an altered U.S. defense posture.

But, unlike Afghanistan and Iraq, where air, sea, space and cyberspace assets were leveraged to support land operations, future military undertakings in the Pacific and Indian Oceans will position air and maritime forces at the “sharp end” of the stick.

Anti-Access & Area-Denial
The military contribution to this changed defence posture incorporates two obscure and innovative operational concepts – the Joint Operational Access Concept (JOAC), and the AirSea Battle.

Released in late November 2011, the JOAC is the Pentagon’s “common intellectual framework” for developing balanced ways and means for achieving “operational access in the face of armed opposition.”

To ensure that future joint forces have the “ability to project military force into an operational area,” the JOAC calls for more effective leveraging of cross-domain synergy by future joint forces. This, according to the concept, can only be made possible through a greater degree of joint force integration and the “full inclusion of space and cyberspace operations into the traditional air-land-sea battlespace.”

As the “overarching concept” dealing with emerging A2/AD challenges, the JOAC recognizes AirSea Battle as a promising and complementary concept that is currently under development within the Pentagon.

Officially introduced in the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), AirSea Battle has increasingly become a topic of heated debate in a number of American service periodicals, defence media, and online ­journalzines. With roots in the Cold War AirLand Battle doctrine, which planned to halt and then attack advancing Warsaw Pact forces through joint air-land operations, AirSea Battle is an evolved concept that focuses on the development of integrated air and naval capabilities for defence against 21st century A2/AD threats.

Where AirSea Battle departs from its predecessor, is that it is an operational concept – not a strategy, doctrine, or concept of operations (CONOPS) – that, according to United States Naval War College ­Professor Milan Vego, is “developed for a ­specific course of action during the commander’s decision-making process.”

Although the U.S. DoD has been shy to discuss the concept, which identifies a worrying trend in China’s increasing acquisition of A2/AD capabilities, in August 2011 the Pentagon quietly acknowledged the establishment of a dedicated “AirSea Battle Office.” Composed of Navy, Marine, Air Force, and Army officers, this organization has a major obstacle to overcome – beyond defining what AirSea Battle really is or isn’t. With a planned reduction in defense spending that has not been seen since the end of Cold War, adequate and continuous funding may hinder the further development of the AirSea Battle concept and the acquisition of future capabilities for power projection operations.

Canadian Connection
So what does this all mean for Canada and the political and military leaders charged with ensuring that Canada’s national security strategy is both balanced and reflective of its national interests in a changed geostrategic environment?

With the U.S. taking on new challenges in the Asia-Pacific, and as NATO transforms to overcome critical organizational challenges and capability gaps, Canada’s leadership must do the same. Leaders must adjust to a changed international security environment and ensure that national ends (policy), and military ways (concepts of operation) and means (capabilities) are balanced enough to enable Canada’s ability to play a pivotal role in its own immediate sphere of interest.

With the wrap up of the CF combat mission in Afghanistan, Canada’s leaders at the tactical, operational and strategic levels have returned home with valuable lessons. At the tactical and operational levels, where Canadians have paid dearly in both blood and treasure, soldiers, diplomats and civilians have successfully adapted to the challenges of counterinsurgency, stabilization and reconstruction operations. At this level of war, Canada has proven to be one of the “hardest” and most adaptive leaders in the NATO Alliance. This, and the reasons for it, must never be forgotten, as re-learning these lessons would be organizationally unwise and morally unjust.

When coalitions go to war, some nations opt out of the most important part of the challenge, the fighting. This has been an enduring lesson at the strategic/political level. Prominent Canadian historians, David Bercuson and Jack Granatstein, noted this frustrating reality with the NATO ISAF operation. In a recent piece published by the CDFAI, the two authors suggest that for Canadian decision makers to overcome the unfair burden of a “two-tiered Alliance”, they must “think long and hard before entering into any coalition to which national caveats have been attached.”

Ends: NATO, the Arctic and the Western Hemisphere
The importance of Canada’s continued engagement and leadership within NATO is as important today as it was when Lester B. Pearson signed the Washington Treaty. With Canada’s future security and prosperity inexorably linked to deterring the spread of Communism, today her inclusion within the Alliance is paramount to overcoming modern day security challenges. As was successfully shown during the recent NATO campaign in Libya, Canadian leadership in the air, on the water and on the briefing podium has become a key feature of Canada’s future on the international stage.

Canadians must continue to seek leadership positions within NATO and ensure that future generations do the same. Without this, Canada’s interests within NATO and its 60+ year relationship with European allies will be greatly diminished.

As an Arctic power, Canada’s motivation and ability to project its will into the thawing region has grown significantly since 2006. As a leader in circumpolar relations, Canada’s leadership was key to the founding of the Arctic Council. Becoming the preeminent intergovernmental forum for promoting cooperation and coordination among Arctic states, Canada’s leaders should be encouraged to strengthen the Council and its work during its upcoming chairmanship of the council in 2013. In doing so, Canada will continue to play a fundamental role in furthering relations between Arctic states – and particularly with the Russian Federation. In this manner, Canada will help ensure that the Arctic and the promise of its future prosperity will unfold peacefully for the region and the world.

With the release of its Northern Strategy and Arctic Foreign Policy Statement, Canada’s government has clearly voiced its intent in keeping the Arctic a stable, rules-based domain. Supported by its continued commitment to “cooperation, diplomacy and respect for international law”, Canada’s political aims in the Arctic have also been ensured through the Canada First Defence Strategy (CFDS). In this document, the government has promised Canadians that the military will have the requisite ways and means to meet future challenges to their national security and interests.

Canada Command
One pledge that has been achieved since the release of the CFDS is the growth of Canada Command. As the primary operational authority for all six CF Regional Joint Task Forces and three Search and Rescue Regions, Canada Command’s responsibility was extended beyond Canada to include Central America, South America and the Caribbean. This responsibility, in line with Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s 2007 announcement, proves that “Canada is committed to playing a bigger role in the Americas and to doing so for the long term.” As such, Canada Command is moving ­forward to lead the development of positive security partnerships and empower regional actors in a region whose massive economic potential is held back by grave security concerns. As Canada has shown in developing a balanced Arctic security strategy, it must also consider the specific ways and means of furthering its leadership in the Western Hemisphere.

Ways: Communication
As Canada Command progresses with its Canadian Forces Military Engagement Plan for the Western Hemisphere, CF operational concepts and doctrine need to be clearly articulated and effectively communicated to the Canadian public. Although adequate to the point where they provide broad and somewhat detailed information, existing publically available CF concepts and doctrine do not lend themselves to a much needed public discussion on Canadian military matters. As evidenced in the daily drove of misinformed punditry relating to the procurement of military equipment and military operations, the lack of open source strategic thought from DND and the CF severely limits the growth and development of public discussion regarding future military operations and capability requirements. One may be keen to note that very little or no Canadian naval doctrine or operational concepts exist in the public sphere. Some might consider the ­capstone maritime document Securing Canada’s Ocean Frontiers: Charting the Course from Leadmark as sufficient, while others will argue that it is nearly eight years old and that much has changed since its release.

Means: Hybrid Challenges & Financial Reality
As evidenced by previous Canadian contributions to NATO and other coalition missions, the ability of future CF forces to “plug-and-play” with partner and coalition forces is a lasting aspect of military operations. As signaled in the JOAC and AirSea Battle concept, a revolution in the conduct of joint operations is coming, and Canadian planners (as well as taxpayers) must take into consideration the transforming nature of military operations when deciding on sustaining current and acquiring future capabilities.

Our future fighting forces will still face a world of terror attacks, maritime piracy, cyber hacking, and unpleasant small wars. But, while we plot our common course through to financial recovery with our American and European allies, Canadian skills and military capabilities must be sustained and maintained and supplementary technologies acquired to successfully battle new challenges.

As evidenced in the Strait of Hormuz, off the coast of Somalia and in the Caribbean, rising A2/AD challenges, maritime piracy and drug interdiction will require Canada’s naval, air and land forces to meet new challenges in existing and innovative ways.

As Canada’s fiscally prudent naval procurement goes forward, shipbuilders will need to consider what capabilities will help the CF assure access to maritime and air domains in the future. Additionally, our submarine fleet will need to be kept and upgraded to serve the RCN’s growing maritime presence off Canada’s coasts, in the Arctic and in international waters.

As their Army brethren return from far off countries, naval boarding parties may find some specialist skills are complementary to combating complex new hybrid challenges now entering their once exclusive domain. For our airmen and women, joint multinational training and cooperation will lead to better interoperability that goes beyond enhanced sensor systems of highly advanced platforms.

In the end, it is the development of new and existing relationships that will effectively operationalize a CF contribution to a whole of government approach at home and a comprehensive approach internationally.

In the coming years, Canadian leaders will be compelled to learn new acronyms, revisit concepts from Mackinder, Mahan, and Brodie, while putting everything in the context of the 21st century global security environment. They will also need to engage Canadians in a two-way conversation about Canada’s future in an era where its security and prosperity depend on the continued openness of the commons. It is only through an informed popular debate about these aspects of Canada’s future that will help achieve a balanced national security strategy and redefine what it means to be a middle power.

In an age that may revive terms like containment, deterrence and first strike, Canadian leaders will have to be like the rugby player, poet and geographer all in one. They will have to take up key leadership roles in areas identified by Canadian interests and that are pivotal to Canada’s long-term security and economic prosperity.

Marko Babic, a former Strategic Analyst with NATO HQ SACT, is an Army reservist and aspiring student of military and strategic studies in Calgary, Alberta.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Depart­ment of National Defence or the Canadian Forces.
© FrontLine Defence 2012