A number of Canadian defence analysts are advocating that the Royal Canadian Navy shift its focus from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean to counter the growing power of China’s naval forces (David Pugliese, “Should The Royal Canadian Navy Transfer Warships From Halifax To Esquimalt To Deal With The ‘Threat’ From The Chinese Military?” Ottawa Citizen, 15 August 2013):
The issue of transferring Royal Canadian Navy ships from the east coast to the west coast because of the supposed threat from China has resurfaced.
This issue was talked about in 2006-2007 and then again in 2010. The argument coming from some defence analysts is that since China is pursuing what they call an aggressive military buildup in the Pacific region, then Canada should transfer naval assets from Halifax to CFB Esquimalt to help counter that.
The RCN fleet is currently split “on a 60-40 basis favouring the Atlantic Coast, with seven frigates and two destroyers in Halifax compared to five frigates and one destroyer in Esquimalt.” David McDonough, a post-doctoral fellow at the University of British Columbia, insists Ottawa “should reverse the emphasis, with at least 60 per cent of the frigates and destroyers in B.C.” (Peter O’Neil, “Defence analysts say navy should shift vessels to West Coast,” Vancouver Sun, 11 August 2013).
However, as Pugliese reports, the logistics of a naval pivot towards the Pacific would be immensely expensive, given that “70-75 per cent” of the Navy’s current infrastructure, support facilities, and personnel are located on the East Coast.
And those costs would be in addition to the expensive new fleet of submarines that McDonough argues for, which he suggests could be paid for by “reducing personnel.”
Retired rear admiral Roger Girouard also suggests that Canada should become a “Pacific power”. Arguing that Canada’s trade interests are only as secure as our military’s ability to operate in the region, Girouard asserts that “Canada should not expect to make windfall profits from the positive outcomes of Asian markets if it is completely unwilling to invest in the security and stability that creates the positive environment for these very markets to flourish.”
Jack Granatstein of the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute also argues that Canada has “a real interest in seeing the Pacific remain a peaceful ocean with unhindered trade” (J.L. Granatstein, “Canada needs a navy for the 21st century, Ottawa Citizen, 14 August 2013) and thus that “it makes sense for us to re-balance the RCN’s fleet.”
That Canada has an interest in preserving the Pacific as a peaceful ocean does seem clear. Less clear is why these analysts believe that casting the Canada-China relationship in more explicitly military terms would be a productive way to help achieve that end.
Photo credit: U.S. Navy