The Mark News | 11.18.10
By Alan W. Dowd
Arctic’s frozen waterways are thawing, pirates are preying on vital sea lanes,
rogue states are shipping WMD technology, China is beginning to deploy its
navy overseas, and terrorists have proven their capacity to carry out deadly seaborne
attacks. In short, now is no time for the Western allies to mothball their
navies. But sadly, that appears to be what’s happening.
Britain is slashing defense spending by eight percent. As a
result, Britain will delay
needed upgrades to its nuclear-submarine fleet, speed up the decommissioning of
an aircraft carrier and share an aircraft carrier with France.
Likewise, Italy is planning 10 percent cuts
across the board, resulting in the cancellation of new warships.
Even the U.S. Navy is
shrinking. The U.S. deployed466 ships in 1992, 316 in 2001 and just 287 today. And now, Washington is backing away from a plan to
build the fleet back up to 313 ships by the middle of the next decade. Instead,
the Pentagon plans on deploying 301 ships—by 2040.
As for Canada, its
navy numbers just 33 ships.
That’s a tiny fleet for a maritime nation with a
huge coastline, vast trade linkages and important global commitments—especially
in light of the fact that 13 of those ships are out of service for
refurbishing, as a recent Globe and Mail report detailed. Moreover, three Canadian destroyers are on track to be
retired, and plans to replenish Canada’s
suddenly-essential fleet of Arctic vessels are being scaled back due to budget
constraints, according to the Globe and
no wonder that the Canadian Navy’s global role, like the Canadian military’s
role in general, is ebbing, and has been since the end of the Cold War.
isn’t to suggest that Canada’s
navy does not contribute in important ways to international security—more on
that in a moment—or that Canada
is any different than other members of the Western alliance system. In fact, Canada’s
investment in defense is very much in line with most of its NATO allies. For example, a recent NATO
analysis found that only five members of the alliance mustered the will to
meet NATO’s set standard of investing two percent of GDP on defense. While the U.S. invests around four percent of its GDP on defense—a
GDP that is enormous compared to the rest of the alliance—Canada (1.3 percent), Germany
(1.3 percent), Italy (1.3 percent)
(1.2 percent), among others, have fallen well below the two percent target.
be sure, defense spending has increased in recent years under Prime Minister
Stephen Harper. However, Canada still ranks just 126th in the world in defense
spending as a share of GDP.
As the old saying goes, “You
get what you pay for.”
Canada was once a central player in the military arena. As
former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney observed, “If people want to know how Canada paid for its seat in Europe, they should
check out the graves in Belgium
Indeed, by the end of World War II,
some 332 ships, one of
the largest navies on earth. Canada
dispatched troops to defend Korea
at the beginning of the Cold War and to liberate Kuwait at the end.
However, Canada’s contribution to allied security
dwindled so much in the post-Cold War period that the Canadian Embassy actually
bought space on billboards in Washington, D.C., to publicize Canada’s
contributions in Afghanistan.
And with nearly 3,000 troops engaged in the battle for Afghanistan,
the Canadian Forces are indeed bearing a heavy load, accounting for seven percent
of the non-U.S. forces deployed.
What we need to understand is
that keeping the high seas secure is just as important as bringing security to Afghanistan. As
Vice Admiral Dean McFadden of the Canadian Navy observes, “A regulated ocean—oceans that are free for all
to use lawfully—is as fundamental to our way of life as any of the other
pillars of the international system.”
That’s because 90 percent of global trade, equaling more
than $14 trillion, travels by sea. In other words, the oceans are fields of global commerce.
Hence, just as there is a need for
police within nations to protect life and property, there is a need to protect and
police the oceans, as McFadden suggests. From the dangerous waters of the Horn
of Africa to the choke points of the Persian Gulf to the flashpoints of the
South China Sea to the new transit routes opening up in the Arctic,
it is Western naval power, by and large, that protects the world’s oceans. And
that costs money.
should be doing more, especially in the Arctic,”
says Eric Wertheim, editor of The Naval
Institute Guide to Combat Fleets of the World. “The good news is that it’s
still very early in the Arctic game. There’s still time.” Time to invest in the
naval assets needed to protect the world’s vital waterways.
Some wonder if it is in the
economic interest of taxpayers to invest in defense. “Doesn’t defense just
divert resources from the private sector and from worthy social programs?” the
We might find part of the
answer from no less an authority on economic behavior than Adam Smith, who
noted that “the first duty of the sovereign, that of protecting the society
from the violence and invasion of other independent societies, can be performed
only by means of a military force.” Smith asserted that “a wealthy nation is of
all nations the most likely to be attacked.” Thus, he concluded that the state
must provide “a well-regulated standing army”—and navy for that matter.
Much has changed since the 18th
century, to be sure, but in a very real sense, Smith was providing an
illustration of how the developed world must respond to, and prepare for, the
threats around it. The United States
as leaders of the developed world, simply have to invest in defense to protect
their interests and expand the zone peace and prosperity.
Toward that end, Canada
has, in recent years, contributed naval assets to the fight against al Qaeda in
and around the Arabian Sea. The Canadian Navy
answered when Haiti cried
out for help and aided in the East Timor
humanitarian effort. Canada
supports the Proliferation Security
Initiative, a U.S.-led effort enfolding some 90 nations and their naval
forces aimed at intercepting weapons of mass destruction and their precursors
while in transit. And Canadian ships have participated in Operation Ocean Shield, NATO’s
counter-piracy mission off the Somali coast.
there’s only so much 33 ships can do. As Wertheim observes, “Canada has capable naval forces,
just not enough of them.”