(OTTAWA) Canada’s exclusion from the military alliance involving three of its closest allies is symptomatic of a larger problem in how the country is viewed by its friends, experts say, as Americans, Brits and Australians are moving forward with their deal.
US President Joe Biden joined the British and Australian prime ministers on Monday for a meeting at a naval base in San Diego to confirm the next steps for their tripartite military alliance “AUKUS” (“Australia-UK-US”) ).
The update will notably formalize US and UK plans to help Australia develop a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines, in response to growing concerns over China’s actions in the Pacific.
Justin Trudeau’s government has played down the importance of this “AUKUS” partnership for Canada, saying Ottawa is not in the market for nuclear-powered submarines. But some voices in military circles at home and abroad argue that Canada should be on board.
A senior Canadian Armed Forces commander, Vice-Admiral Bob Auchterlonie, expressed concern in a recent interview with The Canadian Press that Canada does not have the same cutting-edge technology as three of its closest allies.
Canada’s exclusion is seen as further evidence that its allies do not believe Ottawa is serious about pushing back Chinese ambitions, despite the recent release of a new “Indo-Pacific Strategy” late last year.
“Due to the pace of events unfolding in the Indo-Pacific region, our partners are essentially moving forward with a clear direction in mind,” said Paul Mitchell, a professor at the Canadian Forces College and an expert in naval strategy and policy. American defence.
“Canada has published its Indo-Pacific Strategy. But I think Canada’s problem right now is that even though it has a strategy, it really hasn’t decided what it wants to achieve in the Indo-Pacific. »
The strategy aims to strike a balance between confrontation and cooperation with China, saying Canada will “challenge China in areas of deep disagreement” while working together on areas of common interest such as climate change.
This position contrasts with that of Washington, where Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, in a defense strategy released earlier this month, described “an increasingly aggressive China” as a “generational challenge” and the top priority of the US military.
“What are we trying to accomplish here [au Canada] ?, asks Professor Mitchell. This is the thing that really mystifies a lot of people. With the United States, there is clearly an end there in terms of safeguarding its regional hegemony in the region and supporting a rules-based order. »
Former Canadian Ambassador to China David Mulroney credited Australia for launching the ‘AUKUS’ partnership after seriously considering its future as a middle power in a world – and a region – other than China. seeks to dominate.
This not only reflects Australia’s more realistic and innovative diplomatic approach, Mr Mulroney said, but also the product of Canberra’s willingness to invest the resources needed to make this partnership a reality.
Figures remain uncertain, but Australia is reportedly set to spend billions under the deal to buy new submarines. Britain and the United States are also expected to invest in the deal for technology development, training and other areas.
Canada was once a source of equally brilliant and ambitious ideas, and it was always willing to help bring them to fruition. Sadly, we’re not even part of the conversation anymore.
Former Canadian Ambassador to China David Mulroney
Defense analyst David Perry of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute points out that the United States, Britain and Australia all spend at least 2% of their gross domestic product on defence, compared to less 1.3% in Canada.
These countries also have solid plans to build new submarines, while Ottawa has yet to even commit to replacing the Royal Canadian Navy’s four ailing Victoria-class ships, let alone possibly replacing them. of his fleet.
This is despite military commanders repeatedly stressing the need for submarines, including Chief of the Defense Staff General Wayne Eyre just last week.
“It’s an indicator that even among some of our closest allies, shared past experience and common history will not continue to bring us to meetings as they have in the past,” Perry said.
“This is not a chat room or a forum to meet and hold meetings. It is a place for countries looking to make serious investments to address serious problems in their security relationship. »