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What is Missing From Canada’s Indo-Pacific Strategy?

I did some reading up on Canada’s Indo-Pacific Strategy and the consensus seems to be that it’s a step in the right direction but that it is also modest. In Take Whiteman and its sequel, China plays a role, but it’s primarily in the background.

In my novels, the United States is in the midst of a civil war and has largely pulled back from its international commitments. I have also assumed China has taken Taiwan and is asserting itself in various places around the world.

As I see it in my stories, the vision I’ve written about concerning China is the culmination of world events as they have been playing out in recent years.

On reading Canada’s Indo-Pacific Strategy, it would seem the Canadian government has finally come to the conclusion that China should be treated as a threat and that Canada, in cooperation with its closest allies, should take various steps to counter China in the region.

I won’t do a full analysis of the strategy; rather, I’ll flag those defence-related outputs that could have been added to this document to make it more impactful from a policy perspective and more notable in the eyes of alliance partners.

Having reviewed the strategy, for what it is worth. I can say that I’m supportive of what’s proposed. As many analysts have suggested, it is an important step in the right direction. However, it could have done more, particularly in the area of defence commitments.

On the defence front, here are the outputs that Canada should have included in its Indo-Pacific Strategy, to better position it to make a more meaningful impact in the region over the next ten to fifteen years:

1) Commitment to Purchase Submarines. I wrote a lengthy blog on this, so I won’t repeat my argument. Here, I will only reiterate a few points. First, if Canada is going to be treated seriously by its foes and allies, it must have a submarine capability. The bare minimum is four boats, seven would be better. Second, Canada does not need nuclear-powered subs. Modern, versatile, affordable diesel boats are what Canada needs. A further point. I realize that Canada is years away from making an announcement on the purchase of submarines (if at all). However, for the purpose of the Indo-Pacific Strategy, at the least, the Canadian government could have acknowledged that submarines are an integral component of Canada’s Navy and that it will formally commence the process of exploring whether or not to replace its current fleet of Victoria-class vessels.

1b) Pacific Forward Operating Base. As was done for years in the United Arab Emirates, if Canada is going to purchase a modern submarine fleet, it should look to establish an agreement with one of several allies enabling the Canadian Navy to establish a forward operating base that would allow it to stage supplies and a maintenance capacity for however many submarines might periodically operate in the region. With a permanent or semi-permanent presence in the Indo-Pacific, Canada would gain invaluable knowledge and experience in working with its allies in this part of the world. It would also signal Canada, itself a nation of the Pacific, has a serious interest in fulfilling the objectives of its Indo-Pacific policy. And as per the point above, the strategy didn’t necessarily have to indicate that a forward operating base is going to happen; rather, the concept could be explored in consultation with Canada’s closest allies.

2) Surveillance/Anti-Submarine Aircraft. Canada is actively looking to purchase 8-12 Posiden-8s, which the Canadian Armed Forces have called the Canadian Multi-Mission Aircraft (CMMA). Based on what I’ve reviewed online, this plane would perform a broad range of functions, including surveillance on land and sea, and anti-submarine warfare. Like submarines, this is a platform that Canada must purchase. The combination of its long coastline and its desire to play a meaningful role in multilateral missions in the future, necessitates an airframe like Boeing’s P-8. Mention of the commitment to purchase a Posiden-like platform in the strategy would have been another important signal that Canada is becoming more serious about its military and its engagement in the Indo-Pacific region.


2b) Naval Standoff Missiles. According to online info, Canada already operates an older version of the Harpoon. The standoff missile is a crucial part of naval warfare. A country’s ability to put this type of weapon in the field is an immediate and important signal it means business on the high seas. Perhaps mentioning the purchase of the Harpoon Block II (Extended Range) would have been defence overkill in the strategy document, but if Canada is looking to be seen as a serious player in what is the most heavily armed region in the world, a statement indicating it would look to purchase this type of weapon would have delivered a crystal clear message.

3) Jungle Warfare Training for the Canadian Army. Because the Canadian Armed Forces are currently well below its prescribed operational strength, this type of commitment is all but impossible now. But should Canada get its act together and properly fund and reconstitute its armed forces, the idea that a company or even a battalion of Canadian soldiers would regularly train in jungle warfare in the Indo-Pacific region would send another powerful message to its allies and China that Canada is genuine in its commitment to the region.

4) UAV Commitment. In February 2022, the Canadian Armed Forces announced a $5 billion request for proposal for the purchase of Unmanned Ariel Vehicles (aka drones). Until this point, the CAF had operated various UAV platforms, but drones and their operation, haven’t been designated as a permanent force structure in the Canadian military. With the finalization of the RFP, it sounds as though this will change. Reports indicate that something in the range of 300 soldiers will be dedicated to operating whatever platform the CAF purchases. Warfare from the past 10 years or so, demonstrates the UAV is a crucial capability. Though whatever UAV is to be purchased isn’t specifically for the Indo-Pacific region, mention of this new multi-billion capability could have been incorporated into the recent strategy as another commitment that would raise the level of seriousness of Canada in the eyes of its allies.   

Final Analysis:

As mentioned, having reviewed Canada’s Indo-Pacific Strategy and considered various commentaries upon it, it’s my sense that the Trudeau government produced a way-forward approach that is reasonable. More importantly, it at long last, clarifies Canada’s position vis a vis China. Which is to say that in the best version of itself, China is a competitor. In its worst version, it is a foe that Canada should prepare to confront with its closest allies. From a foreign policy perspective, this is the right move, if an overdue one.  

This praise aside, the Trudeau government’s strategy is underwhelming in the area of defence. It commits to $500 in spending to increase military operations in the region. But this is well short of what is needed. What was and is needed is for Canada to make several important investments in its ability to project power well beyond its borders. What is above are just a few suggestions that might have made the Canadian government’s Indo-Pacific Strategy a much more impactful document.  

Importantly, all of what’s above is eminently reasonable in that it is affordable and would be supported by the vast majority of Canadians. To incorporate some or all of these items into the Indo-Pacific Strategy would have significantly elevated this policy output in the eyes of Canada’s allies and perhaps most importantly, its chief competitor in the region, the Chinese Communist Party and the generals that do the party’s bidding.  

Published inCanadian Armed ForcesDefence PolicyForeign PolicyTake Whiteman

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