The view from the ‘port lookout’

As we wonder what the next budget will bring for naval forces in Canada, we might ask if the present fixation on joint and expeditionary warfare is/is not blinding us to more long standing and traditional maritime concerns. Perhaps it is timely to see what the "other guy" is thinking. Despite our focus on Iraq and Afghanistan, the world is a restless place - and no where is there more restlessness than in the Far East and the growing and strengthening China. The Autumn 2006 issue of the Naval War College Review offers an intriguing insight into Chinese naval thinking - gone are the days of "deliberate absence". The author, Xu Li, is clear in his view:

"Historically, great powers struggling for supremacy have invariably focused their attention on the ocean and spared no efforts in pursuing their maritime geostrategic rivalries."

And these rivalries are alive and well in the Chinese opinion:

"Since the Cold War, the eastward expansion of NATO has once again erected a new "Iron Curtain" stretching from the Baltic to the Balkans. One may view England, the United States, and such maritime powers as the "spear," the sharp point of which is fundamentally directed at containing both flanks, surrounding Central Asia, and then infiltrating into the Indian Ocean. And France, Germany, Russia, and such continental powers constitute the "shield," supporting both flanks for the decisive battle in Central Asia and the ultimate advance into the Indian Ocean."

Having reviewed Chinas commercial interests and their dependency on the ocean, the author concludes:

"[China's] ocean technology and economy are constantly developing, [and its] national interests are spread all over the world ocean space. This requires the navy to defend a larger scope." "China faces a concentration of strategic power in the Asia-Pacific region on its maritime flank. The geostrategic tendency is dangerously uncertain."

We would be wise to keep a weather eye on the Pacific - not just a route for deployment but as a field of future competition. Maritime awareness and preparedness are long term investments which require careful nurturing.