Canada and the Indo-Pacific Century: A Military/Naval Role?

Our former ambassador at Beijing, David Mulroney (tweets here, is very tough on the Chicoms), has some very good suggestions below but one on defence that I think should be avoided; first on China and India:

Navigating a New Canadian Course in the Indo-Pacific

This talk was delivered at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute’s annual dinner on February 19, 2020 [video here]

[China:] We’ve been divided as a country. We have a China lobby, one that includes a who’s who of former ministers and mandarins [our compradors], extolling the economic importance of our relationship with Beijing, while a growing number of China sceptics worry that any financial benefits from China tend to be selectively and strategically distributed, and come, ultimately, at the peril of our very autonomy as a nation.

Perhaps most worrying is that the government has appeared to endorse both sides of this debate, although not, fortunately, at the same time. But we’ve seen little evidence of new thinking, little inclination by Ottawa to work out how we deal with a country that is both an important partner and an adversary.

So, while it is timely indeed to consider renewing our foreign policy focus, starting with a broader and less China-centric view of Asia, all of it, and the Pacific, we should first ensure that we’ve internalized the lessons of the past year.

A successful Canadian engagement of the Indo-Pacific region involves a lot more than spinning the globe and tweaking ministerial travel schedules…

[India:] Let’s begin by paying India the respect of seeing it as it is, rather than as it exists in our Canadian imaginations. And let’s be confident enough to understand that while we will agree about many things, we will disagree about others.

Our ability to understand India was eroded during years in which we substituted lectures for dialogue, and during which we viewed India through the very narrow prism of its relationship with Pakistan.

Unfortunately, we’re in danger of replacing an arrogant and aloof approach to India with a cringeworthy kind of neediness that is deservedly being rebuffed by New Delhi.

We should not force the pace of relationship building, but take the time to identify shared objectives. These obviously include trade, education, and science and technology cooperation, but they should also include enhanced defence cooperation and a renewal of dialogue and trust on broader security issues…

Now on defence:

And let’s be absolutely honest here. You can’t aspire to any real status in the Indo-Pacific region without a robust, expeditionary military capability, one that is perceived by our allies to be both credible and beneficial…

With our limited military/naval capabilities we should rather leave the Western Pacific and trying to look after China to South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Vietnam and Australia who have lots of capabilities themselves plus all the American ones. Any Canadian effort would be symbolic, ineffectual and wasteful. And not necessary if we can do decent diplomacy and private sector trade–see, e.g., Germany, no question of an Asian military role [this is changing, see from March 2021: “State Department has applauded Germany’s plans to send a warship (frigate) through the South China Sea this summer“–individual Canadian frigates have been making such transits for some time].

Moreover, unlike the U.S., we have no treaty obligations to any countries in the Indo-Pacific [see U.S. treaties here]. We have no “allies” in the true meaning of the term. On the other hand we are members of the NATO alliance and NORAD (actually an agreement, not a formal treaty). As things stand the Canadian Armed forces, all three services, are hard pressed to meet our current commitments under NATO and NORAD or to respond effectively if real crises occur.

Trying to play that military role in the Indo-Pacific, essentially code for helping deal with an increasingly aggressive China, just does not make sense for us. Canada is simply not in a position to take on that role in any meaningful way. If we think we may gain a bit of credit by flying the flag with the odd cruise of an RCN ship, fine. But nothing much more.

As for our Navy, it should focus on anti-submarine warfare in the North Atlantic (far and away its top NATO priority during the Cold War) in light on the resurgent Russian submarine threat there, in particular to NORAD from sea-launched cruise missiles. The US would love to see us publicly announce we are doing that–consider their own refocus [note “Comments” at post below]:

US Navy’s Revived 2nd Fleet Revving-up for Another Possible Battle of the Atlantic, with the Russian Navy’s Subs

Mark Collins

Twitter: @Mark3ds

UPDATE: a very relevant earlier post, note esp. 2):

The Dragon vs the Kangaroo and the Beaver

9 thoughts on “Canada and the Indo-Pacific Century: A Military/Naval Role?”

  1. Support for my view, with some defence details, at

    “Realistically, I don’t know how much of an effective force we could contribute to a conflict against China anyway.

    Between Japan, South Korea, USA, Australia — as well as smaller countries such as Thailand, Vietnam, etc — there are plenty of players, already allied, in any sort of military conflict against China.

    We have 1 AOR & a handful of frigates available at any given time, and they are usually tied up in NATO operations around Europe, Persian Gulf, Africa. Maybe, MAYBE we’d have 1 submarine available (Which we did have a deployed sub in that region of the world, monitoring North Korea sanctions), and that’s about it.

    On the air side, we could contribute a handful of fighters, a refueller, and maybe a few cargo planes to help with allied logistics.

    Between the naval side & air side of things, sure…we could send over a force that could help contribute/reinforce allied efforts, and perhaps take up some secondary tasks so the adults can focus on the warfighting.

    I would think a solid focus on ASW between the Cyclones & new CSC, and being a real partner to the USN in the Atlantic would be a better & more useful area to focus our resources.”,2941.msg1598928.html#msg1598928

    Mark Collins


  2. A friend well acquainted with defence and diplomatic matters, and some experience in the region, observes:

    “Well, I would describe Australia and New Zealand as effectively real allies, even without a formal treaty. Five Eyes is deeper than NATO intelligence sharing and the militaries regularly exchange personnel. And we have just bought from Australia some gently used fighters with equipment and software provided by the USA only to real allies.

    The Canada-Japan security document stops short of a real alliance but leans that way. With regard to South Korea, Korean War blood shed counts and we still participate in the armistice arrangement.

    NORAD is a treaty in Canada’s view (written in “treaty” language) but is an executive agreement in D.C. (i.e., not ratified by the US Senate). The US honours such understandings as treaties [at least so far, Mark Collins]”.

    Back to India. Why would we “ally” (to use the word loosely as so many now do) our country with one that tolerates and even foments deadly violence against its minorities, including “first nations?” Why would we ally our country with one that turns a blind eye to widespread violence against women? If it were a question of its being the enemy of my enemy, perhaps. But such arrangements are of necessity not out of values and shared democratic interests as in NATO.

    Of course we cooperate with India on Sikh terrorism but that is a genuine mutual interest and international obligation.”

    Mark Collins


  3. Friend familiar with naval and military matters observes about the PLA Navy:

    “Straight line extrapolations often don’t make it into actual history.”

    And see this:

    “China’s navy keeps getting bigger, and the US is stockpiling ship-killer missiles
    *The Navy is ramping up its purchases of long-range anti-ship missiles over the next five years.
    *The expansion of that arsenal comes as China’s navy continues to grow…”



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s