Earlier this month, President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced a new U.S. defense strategy, shaped in large part by projected Pentagon budget cuts. According to the New York Times (Elisabeth Bumiller & Thom Shanker, “Obama Puts His Stamp on Strategy for a Leaner Military,” New York Times, 5 January 2012), the new strategy also reflects a shift away from the past decade’s focus on Iraq and Afghanistan towards a rising geopolitical concern over China’s growing economic and military might. President Obama announced that the U.S. military “will be leaner”, but he also declared that “the world must know the United States is going to maintain our military superiority.”
Canada and other U.S. allies may find themselves under greater pressure to contribute forces to U.S.-led operations as a result of the reductions. Thus far, however, the Harper government has given no indication of how it intends to respond.
Fen Hampson, Director of Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University, advises that Ottawa should formulate a strategy to replace the “outdated” Canada First Defence Strategy, which is actually a “shopping list” rather than a strategy. According to Hampson, Canadians have several salient questions to ask themselves (Fen Hampson, “Canada needs new mission statement for its armed forces,” iPolitics.ca, 9 January 2012):
Canadians are going to have to ask themselves how we fit into this realignment of US strategic priorities and intensifying military competition between the US and China.
During the past decade, we were a staunch ally of the United States in the wars in Afghanistan and Libya. Our navy also played an important role in securing sea lines of communication in the Straits of Hormuz and the Arabian Sea during the Iraq war.
The real question though is whether we are going to join hands with the US as its geostrategic orientation shifts towards the Asia-Pacific. Should we deploy more of our own naval assets in the Pacific? If we do, will their mission extend beyond continental defence to one where they play a greater role in maintaining freedom of the seas and countering China’s military presence alongside US forces? More to the point, do we see the rise of China in the same threatening terms as the United States? …
Canada desperately needs a new mission statement for its armed forces. If the United States can map a new defence strategy in a document that is a mere eight pages, we can surely do the same.