Canada’s New Pond

15 May 2011

A maritime nation and middle power, Canada is dependent on international trade for its economic prosperity. The Atlantic Ocean, often referred to as “the pond”, was a key strategic region and battle space during two World Wars and the Cold War. As a founding member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) – both a defense and political organization – Canada has played a key leadership role in the Atlantic pond. Melting sea ice has recently caused Canada to “look north” to the Arctic Ocean Basin and the security and sovereignty challenges that are presented by a rapidly changing Arctic.
Most analysts would agree that the Atlantic has been the primary focus of Canada’s Navy – but that is changing. During the 21st century, Canada’s Navy will need to assume a growing role in the Indo-Pacific Ocean Basin.
Trade across the Indo-Pacific will experience significant growth in this century. China and India have massive populations of 1.34 billion and 1.18 billion respectively out a global total of 6.9 billion. To put that into perspective, Canada’s population is only 34 million. The Indo-Pacific’s growing economies and resulting demand for resources will continue to provide a ready market for Canadian exports well into the future. Canada has recognized the importance of this market and taken active steps to streamline at all levels of government in an effort to improve its port and interconnected rail and road infrastructure through the Asia-Pacific Gateway and Corridor Initiative. Aimed at becoming more competitive in the Asia Pacific region, over $9 billion of federal and stakeholder funds have been directed to these infrastructure projects and is seen as an important investment in Canada’s future economic prosperity. 

HMCS Winnipeg and ­Portuguese frigate, NRP Corte Real, manoeuver in the Indian Ocean at the conclusion of a two-day joint naval exercise.

There is much discussion about the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Project, which will consist of an oil export pipeline and a condensate import pipeline from Edmonton, Alberta to Kitimat, British Columbia. This project will provide an ocean facility to allow Alberta’s tar sands oil to be sold to growing markets in China, India, and elsewhere. Kinder Morgan’s TransMountain pipeline, which stretches 1100 kilometers from Edmonton across the Rocky Mountains to Vancouver, has a 300,000 daily barrel capacity and provides energy to Vancouver and the Pacific Northwest. Some reports suggest it is already overscribed by 33% and unable to handle the volume of growing oil exports from the tar sands. We are seeing increasing numbers of oil tankers, presently 65 (a 5-fold increase is expected), moving bulk oil exports through the Port of Vancouver to foreign markets via pipelines.
Strengthening our Navy is an important and critical component to Canada’s sovereignty infrastructure as a maritime and exporting nation engaged in international trade. Canada’s long history of trade with China can be traced back to the silk trade and Canadian Pacific Empress liners that plied the Pacific with a land bridge by rail across Canada and then on to Europe that dates from the end of the 19th century. However, today, trade with the Indo-Pacific region – currently estimated at $128 billion – will continue to grow rapidly as the Indo-Pacific economies mature.
Shipping is a key component of globalization. Over 110 billion dollars of trade goods are carried by sea to and from Canada. It is estimated that 80% of the world’s global trade is carried by some 50,000 cargo vessels. Canada’s exports are critical to our economic prosperity even if they are carried in foreign-flagged vessels. If there are impediments to global shipping, such as piracy in critical choke points, Canada’s trade will, of course, suffer.
When it comes to the Indo-Pacific, we need a presence early and often at the national and sub-national level. A naval relationship is a good starting point and can project a Canadian presence in a very cost effective and efficient manner, leading to prompt results – especially when integrated with air power which allows a great deal of flexibility. A prime example is seen with the international naval response to piracy in the waters around the Horn of Africa.
A consistent and dependable presence can build long term relationships between the Navies of like-minded nations. One key example is the U.S. Navy’s Pacfic Partnership 2011. Sponsored by the Commander US Pacific Fleet (CINCPac), the underlying goal of this event is to build strong relationships through humanitarian and civil assistance. The Canadian Navy participates in this unique partnership which seeks to develop working relationships across this wide range of activities including environmental sustainability missions.
The present Commander of MARPAC, Rear-Admiral Nigel Greenwood, continues to build on the groundwork laid down by a series of former insightful MARPAC commanders, retired Rear-Admirals Tyrone Pile and Roger Girouard, who have worked to build Canada’s presence in the Pacific. Our Navy’s leadership has long recognized that the nation’s interests are linked to trade and relationships. Building trust between other navies, through exercises, port visits and exchanges, is vital to international security and pays big dividends.
Warships and frigates provide a unique opportunity to fly the flag in a nonthreatening and an internationally and legally acceptable fashion. For many years, the MARPAC Commander has sponsored Maritime Security conferences. The personal relationships developed at such events have put Canada in good stead with other nations, but these types of events require both continuous and sustained funding and governmental and political support. The return on investment is incalculable when working together to solve international challenges.
Security challenges are mounting in the Indo-Pacific region. Not surprisingly, recent reports that MARPAC headquarters would be moved to Halifax met with swift resistance, both in the press and from the public. Prime Minister Harper advised in a subsequent press release that no such move would take place.
The fact that such a move was contemplated highlights the need for Canada to look more closely at the Indo-Pacific endgame in the world’s largest growing economy and export markets. Strengthening its national and naval presence in that region would benefit Canada for security, defense and trade reasons.
Our Navy can be a key component of Canada’s foreign and international trade policy, integrating into a broader and more holistic approach. Expanding the federal government’s Asia-Pacific Gateway and Corridor Initative and giving it a more external outlook to include defense and foreign policy would be an effective option to build on the solid work that has been done to date on expanding Canada’s trade.
The Australian SeaPower Centre, a component of the Royal Australian Navy, is a world leader in naval thinking and has a good working relationship with Dalhousie’s Centre for Foreign Policy Studies Centre. Australia takes a more holistic approach to its maritime affairs and, with its strong export base of bulk natural resources, clearly recognizes the importance of shipping trade to its economic prosperity. It was not always so. Recognizing the problem in 1979, the Australian Association of Maritime Affairs was set up to change this. Working with public and private interests, Australia has since developed a comprehensive approach to maritime issues, taking a multidisciplinary approach to the subject. It now has a comprehensive maritime outlook with strong links to its Navy and has developed strong and clear policies on maritime issues and the importance of sea-borne trade. Canada can learn from the Australian example.

Policy elements to the Asia-Pacific Gateway and Corridor Initiative set out the framework for a productive and competitive transportation system that the Government of Canada supports. This Initiative can serve as a starting point for discussion on an increased Canadian naval presence that is linked to trade and economic prosperity. Gateway and corridor strategies must address major trends in international transportation. Long-term planning is essential.
We need to apply the same rigour to our defence policy when it comes to the Indo-Pacific. This will require Canada to become more active in the region. It will also require our Navy to have a robust combat capability, as Canadian ships will be in these waters doing important and necessary work for our nation’s interests.
Some of these issues were discussed at a recent Asia Pacific Security Workshop this past April, at Royal Roads University’s new Comprehensive Security Working Group (part of the School of Peace and Conflict Studies headed by retired LCol Alex Morrison). The workshop provided an overview of such issues and established a starting point for further work. Royal Roads has a long history in the region, first as a Military College and now as a University. A security focus from Royal Roads University bodes well for developing a strong Canadian position. Analysts have noted the increasing size of navies in the region, along with more submarines and flight deck vessels capable of launching aircraft. Predictions suggest there will be 110 conventional powered submarines and 11 new aircraft carriers or equivalents planned or being built in the region by 2030.
China has been vigorous in expanding its navy and has recently been giving international legal concepts a restrictive definition under the Law of the Sea Convention to protect its national interests in the South China Sea. They do this by putting a narrow interpretation on the right of transit passage within its exclusive economic zone (EEZ). China seeks to limit foreign warships entering its EEZ.This has been described as lawfare and can be quite effective with a limited use of naval resources. China is also making similar comments in the Arctic Ocean Basin. A plethora of piracy and other criminal activities are occurring in the region – and yet Naval resources are in a state of flux.
Canada needs to prepare for the many threats brewing in the Indo-Pacific, and a strong Navy requires sustainable funding. Our defense policy should be intertwined with our foreign and international trade policy. Canada’s Navy has the stamina and leadership to become an important element of the evolving future across the “other” pond. This component will help foster a strong and robust economy in a rapidly changing world. We need more Navy, not less, in and around the Indo-Pacific Oceans in the coming century – Canada’s future trade and prosperity depends on it.  
Joe Spears was a speaker at RAdm Tyrone Pile’s 2008 Maritime Security Conference in Victoria.
© FrontLine Defence 2011