Reducing conflict with China an environmental necessity

A map of current and potential Canadian military bases. Illustration: The Breach

Is the Canadian or Chinese military a greater threat to humanity?

As the likelihood of military conflict with China grows it’s worth assessing the balance of power. This offers an indication of which parties are likely to be the primary belligerent force (because they would prevail in a conflict).

When it comes to international bases China has a single one in Djibouti. One Canadian ally, the US, has 800 international bases in over 70 countries while the UK has dozens of international military installations. Even the Canadian military has three times as many international bases as China. Canada has military installations in Kuwait, Jamaica and Senegal and is negotiating to set up “lily pads” in Tanzania, Germany, South Korea and Singapore. On a per capita basis Canada has over 100 times China’s international bases.

The Canadian government says its international bases are designed to “project combat power” under US leadership. The planned base in Singapore is explicitly about countering China.

But it’s not just bases. Canadian Navy vessels regularly patrol the Mediterranean, North Sea, Caribbean, etc. Last month HMCS Winnipeg joined with a US destroyer to pass through the Taiwan Strait and a 2018 Reuters headline noted, “Canada joins effort to counter China with Asian warship drills”. The Chinese navy isn’t part of NATO or other alliance operations and does not regularly patrol far from its shores.

(In an illuminating comparison Australian military writer Brian Toohey notes that China has four nuclear-powered, ballistic missile-armed submarines (SSBNs) that can each carry 12 missiles with a single warhead. To hit the continental US the easy to detect subs would have to bypass US subs in the region. The US, on the other hand, has 14 SSBNs that can each launch 24 Trident missiles, which each contain eight independently targetable warheads able to reach anywhere on the globe. In other words, one US submarine can destroy 192 targets (cities) compared to 48 for all the Chinese submarines combined.)

Alongside the naval presence, Canadian troops are stationed in about two dozen countries around the world. Hundreds are in each of Latvia, Ukraine and Iraq but small numbers are also in places such as the West Bank and South Korea (Canadian troops have been based there since the early 1950s Korean War, which was partly a war against China). Unlike Canadian forces, Chinese troops are rarely deployed internationally outside UN missions.

Contrasting military spending is also revealing. As many know, the US spends four times more on its military than China. But even comparing Chinese and Canadian military spending illustrates something surprising. Canada spends over $30 billion a year on the Department of National Defence and Veterans Affairs while China spends over $200 billion on its military. On a per capita basis the Chinese military budget is only a third of Canada’s.

This is not a justification for increased Chinese military spending, but rather a plea for acknowledging the truth. Humanity needs to jettison militarist nationalism.

The Covid 19 pandemic and the growing devastation wrought by climate change demonstrate a need to radically rethink popular conceptions of security. Peace and climate concerned Canadians should focus on restricting this country’s military spending, deployments and international belligerence. When Canadians criticize Chinese militarism — or even fixate on the Uighurs or Hong Kong — it feeds a widely held belief in the world’s most populous state that Washington is seeking to block its rise. This stimulates Chinese military spending, which in turn, enables militarists in Canada to argue that the federal government needs to spend $100 billion — $350 billion over their lifecycle — on new heavy carbon emitting fighter jets and naval vessels to counter China. The military-industrial complex uses its propaganda machine to hype Chinese rights abuses and military power to justify ever more spending on the weapons of war. Which gobbles up public resources required for a just transition from fossil fuels.

Whatever lies and exaggerations the militarists may pedal, China is not a serious contender to the US-led military order. It’s US and Canada militaries we should be most worried about.

Serious environmentalists need to confront this reality.

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