Recent paper showcases some alternate models for navy-coast guard relationships

In a short paper entitled “The Canadian Navy and the Canadian Coast Guard: Cooperating Sea Services of Co-existing Federal Fleets,” published through the CDFAI last June, Vice-Admiral (ret.) Jean-Yves Forcier addresses the issue of organizational relationships between the Canadian Coast Guard and the Royal Canadian Navy. The paper can be viewed in its entirety here.

Forcier adopts a comparative methodology similar to what I employed in my monograph, The Global Navy/Coast Guard Relationship: A Mandate-Based Typology. He examines the arrangements promoting coordination and cooperation between the sea services in Australia and France, observing that “[w]hen looking at practices around the world, there are two main models for coast guards: one that focuses on a multi-role of Marine Safety, Search and Rescue, and Marine Environmental Stewardship; and one which, in addition, incorporates Homeland Security functions to its mandate and capabilities, often with a marine constabulary dimension” (p 6). I contend there are, in fact, three main models: coast guards with constabulary dimensions can be categorized as having military or paramilitary mandates, but the difference in our typologies is otherwise marginal.

Forcier observes several unique aspects of the Australian and French arrangements. For example, he characterizes the Australian approach as “very much whole-of-government” (p 8), in that Australia has produced a single unifying strategic document, the Guide to Australian Maritime Security Arrangements, encapsulating the roles, responsibilities, and legislation relating to the Australian sea services in a single document. Further, the Australians have established a permanent inter-agency office ­– Border Protection Command – overseeing the planning and conduct of offshore maritime security. Meanwhile, the French established the position of General Secretariat of the Sea in 1995 to coordinate France’s maritime policies, and similarly encapsulates those policies in Blue Book – a National Strategy for the Sea and Oceans.

These features found in the French and Australian models reinforce the concept that options are available to Canada beyond the false dichotomy between our existing ‘civilianized’ coast guard status quo and the American militarized model. Indeed, in the Canadian context, efforts to improve the coordination and cooperation between the navy and coast guard could serve as alternatives to the oft-heard and costly recommendation of arming the coast guard and empowering it with a constabulary mandate.

Ultimately, what’s offered in Forcier’s brief paper doesn’t necessarily ‘move the stone’ in this discussion very far. But the inventive and effectual arrangements he discusses demonstrate the need for Canadians to broaden their horizons and look beyond our neighbours to the south when thinking about how to reform the relationship between our navy and our coast guard. His concluding recommendation is an important one:

“The future balance of responsibilities between the Canadian Navy and the Canadian Coast Guard, especially as members of the National Security team, must not be decided based on today’s numbers of vessels in service, the immediate desire to increase our Northern presence, and historical roles of the government fleets. Like in Australia, the Government needs to articulate an overall Maritime Policy, provide Strategic Guidance, and state its Priorities. From there, the true domestic and territorial sea capability requirements of the CCG and the Navy can be examined and formulated” (p 10).

The recent buzz surrounding the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy seems to have temporarily invigorated the interest of Canadians in the future of their sea services. Now is as good a time as any to think about both Canada’s priorities at sea and how those priorities will dictate the future functions of the navy and the coast guard.