Luttwak says Canada should add its considerable middle power weight to buttressing the defence against threats from China and North Korea.
By Edward Luttwak, Jan. 31, 2017
As the world’s centre of gravity has increasingly shifted toward the Pacific, the gaze of Canadian security policy has been stubbornly fixed on the east, toward the NATO frontier and Russia.
Canada is today faced with a radically changed strategic environment that presents new threats and opportunities. It has a major contribution to make for its Pacific allies, for world order and for Canadian national interests.
Long-term strategic struggles — such as the less and less tacit confrontation between China and the United States with its key allies — are characterized by the constant weaving and unweaving of alliances. In this protracted competition, allies will be gained or lost on each side.
Canada could add much to the emerging coalition countering China. Indeed, it is the most globally significant of all middle powers.
Canada is today faced with a radically changed strategic environment that presents new threats and opportunities.
One indication of what Canada could do as a Pacific middle power, is what it did in NATO during the Cold War. For decades, a Canadian armoured brigade group was stationed in Germany, as were tactical air squadrons. Canadian naval forces had a major role in protecting trans-Atlantic shipping routes in wartime. Accordingly, Canadian officers were given large roles in NATO headquarters, where their professionalism and prevailingly lower-key style only heightened their influence—and bilingualism did not hurt either.
By contrast, the Canadian effort on the Pacific side of the Cold War was and is smaller, with only a very small part of the navy allocated to the Pacific, and even less of the air force.
In today’s conditions that is anachronistic. Even a regionally contentious Russia is not a threat to world order as the USSR was, and the Trump Administration certainly intends to greatly reduce tensions with Moscow.
By contrast China’s increasingly overt imperialism — it has built four large bases to claim control of 1.3 million square miles of the South China Sea — has naturally evoked the emergence of a tacit defensive coalition centred on Japan, Vietnam, and India. Australia strongly endorses this coalition while the US provides its security and nuclear guarantees.
China’s very successful “Peaceful Rise” foreign policy that lasted until the 2008 financial crisis, served it and the world well. But it seems that China’s leaders hugely over-estimated the power that they had gained, and that the United States had lost because of the crisis: by 2009 they were asserting loud and practically simultaneous territorial claims against Japan, the Philippines, Malaysia, the Sultanate of Brunei, Indonesia, Vietnam, and India. Newly aggressive forms of border and maritime patrolling, frequent territorial intrusions, and even outright occupations added greatly to regional concerns.
That is the new global context to which Canada should adjust by redeploying its military strength from east to west, and – as important—refocusing its diplomatic efforts as well. After all, the aim is not attack China but to persuade it to return to its own successful “Peaceful rise” policies, a worthy aim for Canadian diplomacy, which can be persistent and insistent without being overbearing.
North Korea’s threat to world order is far narrower but potentially deadly. It has already tested nuclear devices and is developing ballistic missiles that will be able to reach North America all too soon, unless something is done about it.
China leaders are unenthusiastic that North Korean nuclear weapons reside just up the road from Beijing, but they have never used their physical control of North Korea’s overland trade to induce its leaders to act responsibly—in spite of countless solemn promises.
It would behoove Canada to acquire a significant stabilizing role in the region.
What is needed is an entirely new policy –and Canada’s arrival on the scene could stimulate that too.
If it all seems too much for a country of 35 million people, it is enough to look at Australia’s 23 million , and its record of highly successful coalition-weaving from Tokyo to India. As a member of the Five Power Defence Arrangements (along with the UK, New Zealand, Malaysia and Singapore), Australia aircraft and some troops rotate in a Malay Peninsula base—important because neither Americans nor Japanese are present.
Nobody can reasonably suggest that Canada should entirely restructure its armed forces on the largest scale to become a major power in Northeast Asia. But, given the shift in the centre of gravity of world politics, it would behoove Canada to acquire a significant stabilizing role in the region.
Edward N. Luttwak is a senior associate at the Center for Strategic & International Studies. He has worked as a consultant to the US State Department, the National Security Council, the US Secretary of Defense, and the US Air Force, Army, and Navy, among other institutions.