Tag Archives: Canadian Navy

Canada joins gang showing colours in Asia

Canadian leaders search for “gravitas” and “respect” from their US counterparts is adding to friction in the Asia-Pacific. Amidst tension on the Korean Peninsula, the Canadian Navy has joined Washington’s “pivot” towards Asia.

Recently departed, HMCS Chicoutimi is expected to be in the Asia-Pacific until March. While they refused to offer CBC News much detail, a military spokesperson said the first ever Victoria-class submarine deployed to the region will “provide the government with defence and security options should a timely Canadian response be necessary.”

Chicoutimi’s deployment follows on the heels of a six-month tour of Asia by HMCS Ottawa and Winnipeg, which included “freedom of navigation” operations and exercises alongside US, Japanese, Australian and other countries’ warships. When the two Canadian gunboats travelled through the South China Sea with their allies, Chinese vessels came within three nautical miles and “shadowed” them for 36 hours. On another occasion a Chinese intelligence vessel monitored HMCS Winnipeg and Ottawa while they exercised with a South Korean ship.

After visiting HMCS Ottawa and Winnipeg in Singapore Chief of Defence Staff Jon Vance declared, “if one wants to have any respect or gravitas you have to be in that region.”

During the past decade the US and its principle Asian economic ally Japan have lost their economic hegemony over the region. With Chinese power growing and the Obama administration’s “pivot” designed to contain it, Washington has sought to stoke longstanding territorial and maritime boundary disputes in the South China Sea between China and the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam and other nations. As part of efforts to rally regional opposition to China, the US Navy engages in regular “freedom of navigation” operations, which see warships travel through or near disputed waters — kind of like the logic employed by street gangs defending “their” territory.

The Canadian Navy has supported Washington’s aggressive posture. They’ve increased participation in patrols and exercises in the region. In 2012 it came to light the military was seeking a small base or “hub” in southeast Asia – probably in Singapore – with a port facility.

Unfortunately, exerting naval power in the region is nothing new for this country. For two decades the Canadian navy has made regular port visits to Asia and since its 1971 inception Canada has participated in every Rim of the Pacific Exercise, which is a massive US-led maritime warfare training every two years.

Immediately after US forces invaded Korea in 1950, Ottawa sent three gunboats to the region. Ultimately eight Canadian warships with 3,600soldiers were deployed to the country during the conflict (a total of 27,000Canadians fought in the three-year war that left millions dead). Canadian ships transported troops and bombed the North. According to a Canadian War Museum exhibit, “During the war, Canadians became especially good at ‘train busting’. This meant running in close to shore, usually at night, and risking damage from Chinese and North Korean artillery in order to destroy trains or tunnels on Korea’s coastal railway. Of the 28 trains destroyed by United Nations warships in Korea, Canadian vessels claimed eight.”

Before the outbreak of the Korean War the Canadian Navy sought to exert itself in the region. In a bizarre move, Ottawa sent a naval vessel to China in 1949 as the Communists were on the verge of victory. According to Canadian Gunboat Diplomacy, the boat was sent too late to stop the Kuomintang’s defeat by Mao’s forces and was not needed to evacuate Canadians since British boats could remove them. The objective, it seems, was to demonstrate to the US and UK “that Canada was a willing partner”, particularly in light of the emerging north Atlantic alliance.

And like the smaller, weaker kid in a street gang our “leaders” are trying to prove how tough we are. Need someone to attack a house? Sure, we’ll do it. Show them our firepower? We’re in.

Canadian military planners’ search for “gravitas” is akin to gang logic. But, let’s hope our behaviour in Asia doesn’t lead to where gang warfare has taken many North American cities.

Advertisements

Comments Off on Canada joins gang showing colours in Asia

Filed under A Propaganda System, Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy

Who has heard of Canadian gunboat diplomacy?

Former Prime Minister Kim Campbell once said “an election is no time to discuss important issues.” But surely the opportunity to free up $40 billion while making the world a safer place ought to spark a discussion about the Canadian Navy’s role in the world.

Four years ago the Conservatives announced the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy, a $30-$40 billion effort to expand the combat fleet over three decades. But, the initiative is stalled and this is a perfect time to consider other priorities, such as putting the money into a national daycare program, building co-op/public housing, investing it in light rail or using it to make higher education more affordable.

Let’s have a debate and let Canadians choose.

The first step is understanding how the Canadian Navy uses it warships.

People seldom think of Canadian foreign policy when the term “gunboat diplomacy” is used, but they should. It is not just the USA, Great Britain, France or other better-known imperial powers that have used naval force as a “diplomatic” tool.

Nearly a century ago the Royal Bank loaned $200,000 to unpopular Costa Rican dictator Federico Tinoco just as he was about to flee the country. A new government refused to repay the money, saying the Canadian bank knew the public despised Tinoco and that he was likely to steal it. “In 1921,” Canadian Gunboat Diplomacy notes, “in Costa Rica, [Canadian vessels] Aurora, Patriot and Patrician helped the Royal Bank of Canada satisfactorily settle an outstanding claim with the government of that country.”

In another chapter of the 2000 book titled “Maple Leaf Over the Caribbean: Gunboat Diplomacy Canadian Style” Royal Military College historian Sean Maloney writes: “Since 1960, Canada has used its military forces at least 26 times in the Caribbean to support Canadian foreign policy. In addition, Canada planned three additional operations, including two unilateral interventions into Caribbean states.”

While the Canadian Navy has long flexed its muscles in the Western hemisphere, over the past decade the Canadian Navy has played a greater role in Africa. In the summer of 2008 Canada took command of NATO’s Task Force 150 that worked off the coast of Somalia. Between the start of 2013 and fall of 2015 Canadian warships HMCS Regina and HMCS Toronto participated in a 28-nation Combined Maritime Forces operation in the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean. At the start of 2015 twenty-six Canadian Armed Forces members participated in the multinational maritime security exercise Cutlass Express 2015. Sponsored by the US Africa Command (AFRICOM), it took place off the East African coast.

As part of what’s been dubbed Africa’s “encirclement by U.S. and NATO warships”, HMCS Athabaskan led Operation Steadfast Jaguar 2006 in the Gulf of Guinea. A dozen warships and 7,000 troops participated in the exercise, the first ever carried out by NATO’s Rapid Response Force.

The following year HMCS Toronto participated in a six-ship task group of the Standing Naval Maritime Group 1 of NATO that traveled 23,000 kilometres around the continent. The trip took five months and was the first NATO fleet to circumnavigate Africa. HMCS Toronto spent a year preparing for this trip, a journey costing Canadian taxpayers $8 million.

Oil largely motivated operations off Nigeria’s coast. Nigeria’s Business Day described NATO’s presence as “a show of force and a demonstration that the world powers are closely monitoring the worsening security situation in the [oil-rich] Niger Delta.” A Canadian spokesperson gave credence to this interpretation of their activities in a region long dominated by Shell and other Western oil corporations. When the Standing Naval Maritime Group 1 warships patrolled the area Canadian Lieutenant Commander Angus Topshee told the CBC that “it’s a critical area of the world because Nigeria produces a large amount of the world’s light crude oil, and so when anything happens to that area that interrupts that flow of oil, it can have repercussions for the entire global economy.”

More broadly, the objective of circumnavigating the continent was to develop situational knowledge of the various territorial waters, especially Nigeria and Somalia. How knowledge of countries’ coastlines was to be used was not made entirely clear, but it certainly wasn’t to strengthen their sovereignty. “During the voyage,” according to a story in Embassy, “the fleet sailed at a distance of 12 to 15 miles off the African coast, just beyond the limits of sovereign national waters. The NATO fleet did not inform African nations it would soon be on the horizon. This, Lt.-Cmdr. Topshee says, was an intentional move meant to ‘keep options open.’ ‘International law is built on precedent,’ he says. ‘So if NATO creates a precedent where we’re going to inform countries, we’re going to operate off their coastline, over time that precedent actually becomes a requirement’.” To help with the legal side of the operations a lawyer circumnavigated the continent with HMCS Toronto.

Reportedly, the Nigerians did not appreciate NATO’s aggressive tactics. Topshee described the Nigerians as “downright irate” when the fleet approached. “There was real concern they might take action against us.”

For HMCS Toronto’s Captain Stephen Virgin, the circumnavigation was largely about preparing NATO forces for a future invasion. “These are areas that the force might have to go back to some day and we need to operate over there to get an understanding of everything from shipping patterns to how our sensors work in those climates.”

In early 2011, 15 days before the UN Security Council authorized a no-fly zone over Libya, HMCS Charlottetown left Halifax for the North African country. Two rotations of Canadian warships enforced a naval blockade of Libya for six months with about 250 soldiers aboard each vessel.

Later that year, on May 19, HMCS Charlottetown joined an operation that destroyed eight Libyan naval vessels. The ship also repelled a number of fast, small boats and escaped unscathed after a dozen missiles were fired towards it from the port city of Misrata. After the hostilities the head of Canada’s navy, Paul Maddison, told Ottawa defence contractors that HMCS Charlottetown “played a key role in keeping the Port of Misrata open as a critical enabler of the anti-Gaddafi forces.”

On one occasion a Canadian warship, part of a 20-ship NATO flotilla purportedly enforcing the UN arms embargo on Libya, boarded a rebel vessel filled with ammunition. “There are loads of weapons and munitions, more than I thought,” a Canadian officer radioed HMCS Charlottetown commander Craig Skjerpen. “From small ammunition to 105 howitzer rounds and lots of explosives.” The commander’s response, reported the Ottawa Citizen, was to allow the rebel ship to sail through.

The National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy will give Canadian officials greater means to bully weaker countries. Surely, one of the opposition parties sees a better way to spend $40 billion dollars.

Comments Off on Who has heard of Canadian gunboat diplomacy?

Filed under Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy, Canada in Africa, The Ugly Canadian