When I wrote, just yesterday, about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s seemingly unfocused views on grand strategy and the dilemma he confronts of being advised, on the one hand, to prepare for a big war against a near peer enemy or, on the other hand, to prepare, at equally high costs, for a long, long asymmetrical war against a host of terrorist groups and the like, I made a passing reference to North Korea and the very real threat it poses … including, in the form of a rogue missile launch, to us, here in North America.
I made that reference without discussing a very good article by Prof Stephen Saideman, of Carleton University, that appeared a week ago in the Globe and Mail.
Prof Saideman reviews the North Korean threat and concludes, very correctly, that “Canada cannot make much of a difference in any military kind of way … The Canadian Navy is simply too small and currently too stressed to do much. Same goes for the Air Force.“
He then offers three ways Canada can make a difference; by:
- “working with the relatively young democracies of the region to cement their institutions and develop democratic norms. While democracy is not a panacea, we have found that we work better with democracies than authoritarian regimes, and that democracies can create communities of peace and trade;”
- “bringing back the Pearson Peacekeeping Centre. Japan wants to do more peacekeeping as it aims to be a more positive international citizen and as it seeks a permanent seat at the United Nations. Japan and, indeed, many of the countries of the region could contribute more to peacekeeping efforts but have limited experience;”
- promoting and defending “the international order via norms that make co-operation easier, and international laws that make conflict more costly.“
The first course open seems to me to be both obvious and, yet, too often ignored. Amongst those (sometimes shaky and often inexperienced) democracies with whom we need to have better relations we can number Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. Given the rapid rise in the size of the Philippines-Canadian community it might be (politically) wise to focus our attention there.
I have always been skeptical of the “peacekeeping industry.” I reiterate that tough, superbly disciplined, well trained (for war) combat soldier with adequate equipment can keep any peace, anywhere under any circumstances. But I acknowledge that there is (or needs to be) a body of peacekeeping doctrine and some capacity to learn from the experiences of others. I was never convinced that the Pearson Peacekeeping Centre was the best or even a really good idea, but, perhaps, if we added an official, Canadian, combined Global Affairs/National Defence school ~ akin to a staff college ~ that brings together diplomats, aid and development experts and military people from like minded countries around the world we might be able to help to make a difference.
Prof Saideman’s third course is aimed at China and he, himself, says that, “Of course, there is a conflict of interests and values. There will be the temptation to not call out China for fear that Canadian firms might be denied access to Chinese markets.” But, as I have said before, we should not leave tasks as vital as ensuring freedom of the seas to the USA alone. We need to rebuild our Navy, sooner rather than later, so that we can project our power globally and, since it is in our vital interests to do so, support the US Navy and our pacific friends in maintaining freedom of the seas in the Western Pacific.
I have a fourth option.
We could (if the new, Liberal, government, was interested in governing for Canada rather than just in campaigning for re-election in 2019) start, right now, offer real support to our future TPP trading partners in Malaysia and Vietnam and to the Philippines (which would make very good, domestic, political sense) by expanding military ties with them by, just for example, and in the near term:
- Commit to sending a Canadian frigate into the South China Seas region for a long duration “diplomatic visit” (show the flag) mission every year; and
- Send a “six pack” of CF-18s ~ after all they’ll be “unemployed” in a just a few days ~ to conduct combined air patrols with our friends in the region, again for a few weeks and on an annual basis.
In the longer term we can commit to an unbalanced fleet that sees a strong naval-air joint task force in our Pacific region, at the expense of the Central and South Atlantic and the Mediterranean and Persian Gulf theatres. As Prof Saideman says, in the opening sentence of his conclusion, “We have been focused on Europe and the Mideast too much and have largely ignored the most important part of the world’s economy.“
If the Liberals will not commit to a Pacific Strategy then maybe it should be part of a Conservative campaign platform…