Saturday, 10 November 2018



Once again as Remembrance Day, November 11, approaches we see the phenomenon of ‘poppy creep’. This is the growing trend of all the good and great to wear a poppy as early and as ostentatiously as possible. Before even the last trick-or-treater has disappeared, the talking heads of media and politics will have donned their yearly poppy regalia.

It has become something of a race in our culture to see who can show the greatest respect by being among the first to be adorned with the red flower. One hopes that it is not just because we all find it much easier to make the annual token show of respect then to actually think about or, even more unlikely, do anything for the military veterans of Canada’s wars.

Poppies themselves have symbolized death in war since at least the Napoleonic wars, but it was John McCrae’s poem “In Flanders Fields” that helped to popularize that meaning of that flower internationally.

The field poppy itself is an annual plant which flowers each year between about May and August. Its seeds are disseminated on the wind and can lie dormant in the ground for a long time.

The spring of 1915 was the first time that warm weather had begun to warm up the countryside after the cold winter at war in 1914-1915. In the region around Ypres in Belgian Flanders the months of April and May 1915 were unusually warm.

The once-rich soil in the fields along the Western Front had become infused with lime from the enormous artillery bombardments, leaving it barren where nothing would grow.Except for the poppies.

This is what happened in parts of the front lines in Belgium and France. Once the ground was disturbed by the fighting, the poppy seeds lying in the ground began to germinate and grow.

The bright red flowers, as delicate as they are, grew by the millions, thriving amid the destruction and often overgrew on the mass graves of soldiers.

In April of 2015, Guelph, Ontario’s John McCrae — a doctor and professor of medicine at McGill University who quickly enlisted with outbreak of war — had spent 17 gruelling days caring for the wounded and performing surgery on Canadian and Allied troops at the Second Battle of Ypres in western Belgium.

Exhausted and distraught by the loss of a close friend, seeing the sea of red poppies that had sprung up in the disturbed ground of the burials around the artillery position he was in, he jotted down a poem on a scrap of paper.

The familiar lines of McCrae’s poem have become some of the most famous words written in relation to the First World War.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below

While that poem has become famous his was not the only attempt to use poetry to find reason in the madness of war.

British poet, Isaac Rosenberg wrote the poem called “Break of Day in the Trenches” that implicitly contrasts the appearance of the poppy with its black center and floppy burst of red leaves to a gunshot wound frozen in time.

The darkness crumbles away.
It is the same old druid Time as ever,
Only a live thing leaps my hand,
A queer sardonic rat,
As I pull the parapet’s poppy
To stick behind my ear.
Droll rat, they would shoot you if they knew
Your cosmopolitan sympathies.
Now you have touched this English hand
You will do the same to a German
Soon, no doubt, if it be your pleasure
To cross the sleeping green between.
It seems you inwardly grin as you pass
Strong eyes, fine limbs, haughty athletes,
Less chanced than you for life,
Bonds to the whims of murder,
Sprawled in the bowels of the earth,
The torn fields of France.
What do you see in our eyes
At the shrieking iron and flame
Hurled through still heavens?
What quaver—what heart aghast?
Poppies whose roots are in man’s veins
Drop, and are ever dropping;
But mine in my ear is safe—
Just a little white with the dust.

The dark but realistic view of war embodied by that poem and that poppy behind the writer’s ear is, by the grace of God, not familiar to most of us who stuff  a few dollars into the tray at Tim Hortons and wear our plastic flowers to show our membership in the community of those who “care”.

So when you see a poppy on November 11th remember that it isn’t about the person wearing it or about you, it is about death and dying and a horror that you are spared from because of the men and women who stood on guard for thee.

School children in Canada are reminded every year of John McCrae's poem " In Flanders Fields" and the poppies that are worn for remembrance day. The poppies, and to a lesser extent the poem, are common on November the 11th all over the Commonwealth.

Those symbols and even the date, are not as commonly commemorated in the United States. This is unlikely because the wearing of the poppy and it's connection to "In Flanders Fields" are an American invention. 

The idea for the Flanders Fields Memorial Poppy was conceived by Moina Michael in November of 1918 while she was working at the YMCA Overseas War Secretaries headquarters. While reading a magazine she came across a page that carried a vivid colour illustration for the poem "We Shall Not Sleep" (as the poem was miss-titled in the United States)

The lush illustration in the Ladies Home Journal, an advertisement for the surgical supply company Bauer and Black, featured a Philip Lyford painting of American doughboys rising to heaven. It was, by current standards, overly sentimental. Ms. Michael's reaction to it was also more in keeping with the attitudes of that time then with our own. She made a personal pledge to ‘keep the faith’ and vowed always to wear a red poppy of Flanders Fields as a sign of remembrance and as an emblem for “keeping the faith with all who died.”

After the war was over, Michael returned to the University of Georgia and taught a class of disabled servicemen. Realizing the need to provide financial and occupational support for these servicemen, she pursued the idea of selling silk poppies as a means of raising funds to assist disabled veterans. In 1921, her efforts resulted in the poppy being adopted as a symbol of remembrance for war veterans by the American Legion Auxillery, and by Earl Haig's British Legion Appeal Fund later that year.

Moina Michael's response to " In Flanders Fields" is in stark contrast to the ideals which inform our own, more enlightened, age. It is widely understood now that the correct attitude to the current generation of  veterans is to wear a poppy for a week or so around the beginning of November and take a minute or two of silence on the eleventh. 

This is the most that can, or should, be expected of the general public. The government is in charge of caring for veterans, although to be fair it is not considered to be a particularly important issue during elections. As long as the whole subject is kept out of mind for the rest of the year, the government is seen to be doing it's duty and as for the rest of us, we wear a poppy in November.

Not content with "keeping faith" Moina Michaels was moved to write a poem in response to Capt. McCrae's ode. 

Oh! you who sleep in Flanders Fields,
Sleep sweet - to rise anew!
We caught the torch you threw
And holding high, we keep the Faith
With All who died.

We cherish, too, the poppy red

That grows on fields where valor led;
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies,
But lends a lustre to the red
Of the flower that blooms above the dead
In Flanders Fields.

And now the Torch and Poppy Red

We wear in honor of our dead.
Fear not that ye have died for naught;
We'll teach the lesson that ye wrought
In Flanders Fields.

 November 11 is the date we traditionally remember our veterans. The Red Poppies that are so commonly worn have come to mean less about the war that spawned them, or the wars that followed, or the political leanings of those who wear them, but rather they have become a show of respect for veterans.

 The truth is that things don’t change much for soldiers or veterans, including the way we think about them, or don’t think about them at all, when it isn’t November 11th.

 Siegfried Loraine Sassoon, born September 8, 1886 died September 1, 1967 was one of the leading poets of the First World War. His poetry described the horrors of the trenches, and attacked the patriotic pretensions of those he held responsible for the war.

Suicide In The Trenches

I knew a simple soldier boy
Who grinned at life in empty joy,
Slept soundly through the lonesome dark,
And whistled early with the lark.

In winter trenches, cowed and glum,
With crumps and lice and lack of rum,
He put a bullet through his brain.
No one spoke of him again.

You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
Sneak home and pray you'll never know
The hell where youth and laughter go.

When we take a little time to remember the men and women of our Armed Forces on November 11th, we should spend some of that time remembering that, for some, the battles go on long after the war has ended


 In Flanders fields the poppies blow
      Between the crosses, row on row,
   That mark our place; and in the sky
   The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
   Loved and were loved, and now we lie
         In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
   The torch; be yours to hold it high.
   If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
         In Flanders fields.

Lieutenant Colonel John Alexander McCrae, MD (November 30, 1872 – January 28, 1918)

McCrae served in the artillery during the Second Boer War. When the United Kingdom declared war on Germany at the start of World War ICanada, as a Dominion within the British Empire, was at war as well. McCrae was appointed as a field surgeon in the Canadian artillery and was in charge of a field hospital during the Second Battle of Ypres in 1915. McCrae's friend and former student, Lt. Alexis Helmer, was killed in the battle.

Lieutenant Alexis Helmer was an officer in the 2nd Battery, 1st Brigade Canadian Field Artillery. On the morning of Sunday 2nd May Lieutenant Helmer left his dugout and was killed instantly by a direct hit from an 8 inch German shell. What body parts could be found were later gathered into sandbags and laid in an army blanket for burial that evening.

Lieutenant Helmer was buried on the 2nd May. In the absence of the chaplain, Major John McCrae conducted a simple service at the graveside, reciting from memory some passages from the Church of England's 'Order of Burial of the Dead'. A wooden cross marked the burial place.

 Lieutenant Colonel Morrison who served in the same unit later wrote about the small burial ground where Alexis Helmer was originally buried. As he described it: “A couple of hundred yards away, there was the headquarters of an infantry regiment and on numerous occasions during the sixteen day battle, we saw how they crept out to bury their dead during lulls in the fighting. So the rows of crosses increased day after day, until in no time at all it had become quite a sizeable cemetery. Just as John described it, it was not uncommon early in the morning to hear the larks singing in the brief silences between the bursts of the shells and the returning salvos of our own nearby guns.”

The day after the funeral for Lt. Helmer Major McCrae was seen writing the poem while sitting on the rear step of an ambulance the next day while looking at Helmer's grave and the vivid red poppies that were springing up in the burial ground. Some say that McCrae was so upset after Helmer's burial that he wrote the poem in twenty minutes in an attempt to compose himself.

John McCrae suffered from severe asthma all his life, In January, 1918, while commanding No. 3 Canadian General Hospital(McGill) at Boulogne, McCrae contracted pneumonia. He died six days later. His flag-draped coffin was borne on a gun carriage and the mourners – who included Sir Arthur Currie and many of McCrae's friends and staff – were preceded by McCrae's charger, "Bonfire", with McCrae's boots reversed in the stirrups.

Every generation has had their own interpretation of the last verse of the poem. Are we fighting for Peace, or just to defeat the Hun? Who is the foe? What do we owe the fallen?  Do we keep faith by simply asking the questions, or is more required of us?

Every generation has to find their own answers, on this Remembrance day we think about those who decided that the answers included making the ultimate sacrifice

November 11 is the date we traditionally remember our veterans. The Red Poppies so commonly worn have come to mean less about the war that spawned them, or the wars that followed or the political leanings of those who wear them but rather they are a show of respect for veterans. When we take a little time to remember the men and women of our Armed Forces, we can spend some of that time remembering how we think about them when it isn’t November 11th.

The poem “Tommy” by Rudyard Kipling was first printed in the Scots Observer in the first half of 1890, and later published in “Barrack-Room Ballads and Other Verses” in 1892.  While Kipling remains controversial in some circles for his defence of the British Empire much of his work is still surprisingly relevant.  With its language only a little updated his poem “Tommy” could easily apply to Canadian soldiers today.


I went into a public-'ouse to get a pint o' beer,
The publican 'e up an' sez, "We serve no red-coats here."
The girls be'ind the bar they laughed an' giggled fit to die,
I outs into the street again an' to myself sez I:
    O it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, go away";
    But it's "Thank you, Mister Atkins", when the band begins to play,
    The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play,
    O it's "Thank you, Mister Atkins", when the band begins to play.

I went into a theatre as sober as could be,
They gave a drunk civilian room, but 'adn't none for me;
They sent me to the gallery or round the music-'alls,
But when it comes to fightin', Lord! they'll shove me in the stalls!
    For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, wait outside";
    But it's "Special train for Atkins" when the trooper's on the tide,
    The troopship's on the tide, my boys, the troopship's on the tide,
    O it's "Special train for Atkins" when the trooper's on the tide.

Yes, makin' mock o' uniforms that guard you while you sleep
Is cheaper than them uniforms, an' they're starvation cheap;
An' hustlin' drunken soldiers when they're goin' large a bit
Is five times better business than paradin' in full kit.
    Then it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, 'ow's yer soul?"
    But it's "Thin red line of 'eroes" when the drums begin to roll,
    The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,
    O it's "Thin red line of 'eroes" when the drums begin to roll.

We aren't no thin red 'eroes, nor we aren't no blackguards too,
But single men in barricks, most remarkable like you;
An' if sometimes our conduck isn't all your fancy paints,
Why, single men in barricks don't grow into plaster saints;
    While it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, fall be'ind",
    But it's "Please to walk in front, sir", when there's trouble in the wind,
    There's trouble in the wind, my boys, there's trouble in the wind,
    O it's "Please to walk in front, sir", when there's trouble in the wind.

You talk o' better food for us, an' schools, an' fires, an' all:
We'll wait for extry rations if you treat us rational.
Don't mess about the cook-room slops, but prove it to our face
The Widow's Uniform is not the soldier-man's disgrace.
    For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Chuck him out, the brute!"
    But it's "Saviour of 'is country" when the guns begin to shoot;
    An' it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' anything you please;
    An' Tommy ain't a bloomin' fool -- you bet that Tommy sees!

It is important to remember that things don’t change much for soldiers or veterans, including the way we think about them, or don’t think about them at all, when it isn’t November 11th.

Friday, 14 September 2018


 It can be argued that, as a “junior partner” since World War 2, Canada has followed the British and American lead in security and defence, subordinating its national interest to the goals of our allies and alliances.

There are good reasons for Canada to have followed this approach in the past. Following the lead of our allies appears to improve Canada’s standing in the world, especially amongst peer allied nations, and allows Canada to exercise some leadership in international affairs.  This increased leadership role allows Canada to further its interests through diplomacy. These policies also make it possible for the Government of Canada to highlight perceived successes abroad so as to increase popular support for its foreign policy and raise awareness of the role of the Armed Forces in maintaining security.

However this is not the only policy option available. As a sovereign power Canada can set its own strategic priorities.  Moreover, by continuing the historical pattern of letting alliance leaders determine its’ strategy, the case can be made that Canada is abdicating its responsibility to protect its own national interests.

The Canadian Armed Forces spend time and resources estimating the capabilities and kinds of forces they may confront in the future. The need to assess the probable opposition is driven by the requirement to determine what resources will be necessary to meet those threats. The time has come to start making the same estimations about the capabilities and intentions of those allies who, at least in the past, we have expected to be fighting alongside. These assessments should be driven by the same need to determine the resources necessary to meet the goals of the Government of Canada.

We are approaching the point at which it becomes necessary to take a more active role in safeguarding our own security interests.  As quoted in MacLean’s Magazine while discussing his book “America: The Farewell Tour” author Chris Hedges is quoted as saying: “America is an empire. So we’re much more fragile than nation-states, non-imperial countries. You see that throughout history: the ancient Greeks invading Sicily, and their entire fleet sunk, thousands of soldiers killed and their empire becoming unsustainable; or in 1956 when Britain tries to invade Egypt after the nationalization of the Suez Canal, retreats in humiliation and thereby triggers a financial crisis and the end of the pound sterling as a reserve currency, marking the death of the British Empire, which had been on a slow descent since the end of World War One. The dollar as the world’s current reserve currency is running on fumes. The moment that’s over, American financial supremacy is instantly finished. It will be very similar to the aftermath of the Suez disaster—something like that is always characteristic of late empire. And the fragility of an empire means that when collapse comes it’s almost instantaneous. You look back at the rapid final fall of the old Soviet Union. A failing empire is like a house of cards that just comes down—it’s not a slow descent. We know from history what happens. It’s not a mystery.”

This is not just speculation. The U.K.’s Global Strategic Trends describes a 2045 People’s Republic of China (PRC) with an economy more than double that of the United States ($62.9 trillion versus $30.7 trillion) and noting that even today, the PRC military may already be “close to matching that of the U.S., perhaps exceeding it in some areas.”  Studies show that the trajectory of PRC growth means that it poses a far greater economic challenge to the United States than did Soviet Russia, Imperial Japan, or Nazi Germany.

There is a growing understanding that the ability of the United States to afford the kind of resources it spent over the Cold War years on furnishing defense for its allies will inevitably become more challenging over the balance of the twenty-first century. From 1940 to 2017, U.S. government debt averaged 61.70 percent of GDP. For 2017, that debt ratio soared to 105 percent of GDP, a level not seen since 1946. The United States today has accumulated more government debt than any other country in the world and is approaching the point at which it can no longer afford to finance its allies’ post WWII traditions of not taking on more responsibility for their own defense.

Even absent the collapse of the American ‘empire’ the time of lone American superpower status is passing. Relative U.S. economic and technological decline may translate into significant strategic and military challenges more rapidly than many expect, leaving allies like Canada with the requirement to modify their foreign and defence policies.  

Such a reappraisal is not just a prescription for increased defence expenditure.  A brave new world in which Canada takes a greater responsibility for its own security may well result in a decision that commitments should be more in line with capabilities.

In the past Canadian Forces have taken part in operations that were only vaguely related to Canadian interests, not committing to those kinds of operations in the future would free up resources to take part in more nationally-relevant operations. Maintenance and readiness have both suffered from over-stretch. Reducing the number of extraneous deployments would decrease costs and increase readiness.

More care in selecting operations, based on realistic commitments and driven by changing geopolitical realities, would let Canada set its own priorities and allow the Armed Forces and our allies to plan based on actual capabilities.

Canadians like to see themselves as citizens of middle power that ‘punches above its weight’. It is not true. There are 195 assorted nations in the world. In terms of economy Canada has roughly the tenth largest in the world. In terms of defence spending in dollar terms Canada is the fourteenth largest spender in the world. Even in population Canada is bigger than 157 of those 195 countries.

Canada is not a small country; we are not even a middle power. Canada is a large country that actually punches well below its weight. The time is rapidly approaching when we will no longer have the luxury of pretending otherwise.

America: The Farewell Tour

Global Strategic Trends – Out to 2045

Andrew Krepinevich, Preserving the Balance: A U.S. Eurasia Defense Strategy,

Reality Check: NATO's Defense Budget Woes Won't Disappear

Economy of Canada

List of countries by military expenditures

Countries in the world by population (2018)

Monday, 20 August 2018


After years of considering a manned airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (MAISR) platform to support Special Operations Forces, the Department of National Defence has announced that it intends to procure 3 Beechcraft King Air 350ER aircraft and associated mission systems including in-service support.

Canada intends to purchase the aircraft and associated mission systems through the United States government’s Foreign Military Sales program. This process was launched in April 2018, and is expected to take up to 12 months to complete, from the initial request to the acceptance of an agreement with the U.S. government. According to spokespersons for the Department of National Defence they do not have a timeframe for aircraft delivery or their entry into service.

The procurement is expected to include advanced, military-grade ISR mission equipment. Government spokespersons are quoted as saying “Aircraft such as these will help enhance the ability of our Special Operations Forces to improve their understanding of the operational environment, the aircraft will be configured with military grade advanced sensors and secure communications equipment. MAISR will have the capacity to be deployed on short notice and will provide the Canadian Armed Force with better situational awareness on the ground and thus positively affect the ability of CAF leaders to make decisions leading to mission success.”

It’s expected that the MAISR capability provided by these aircraft will economically complement services provided by the CP-140 Aurora long-range patrol aircraft, as well as its future replacement, the Canadian Multi-Mission Aircraft (CMMA), and remotely-piloted aircraft systems (RPAS), if and when they are acquired.

RCAF Shape doctrine states that armed ISR platforms provide advantage and flexibility noting that “A platform that is both capable of collecting information and acting upon it blurs the lines between intelligence collection (Sense) and operations (Shape), emphasizing the flexibility, versatility, and responsiveness of aerospace power

RCAF Sense doctrine states, “Surveillance and reconnaissance activities are normally conducted by units that have significant self-protection or stand-off capabilities. They are often assigned to support other combat tasks by providing combat information”

The acquisition of the new MAISR platforms gives the Air Force the opportunity to consider the advantages of providing a precision-strike capability to these manned, long-range/high-endurance intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms. By leveraging this new technology for targeting and adding weapons systems the RCAF has the opportunity to build upon its existing strike capability.

The use of Precision Guided Munitions in conventional, asymmetric and hybrid warfare has seen a significant rise since Operation DESERT STORM in 1991. It is expected that PGM use will continue to rise in the coming years, with the focus on air strikes as the primary delivery method. Currently RCAF strike capability is resident only within the CF188 Hornet fleet.

When furnished with a PGM strike capability these King Air 350E platforms would be capable of employing kinetic effects across a greater spectrum of missions. If suitably equipped then, as well as providing support to SOF in the form of aerial fire support and armed overwatch, they could also support counter-land missions such as air interdiction, aerial fire support, CAS, tactical security and direction and control of artillery fire.

The lessons learned in Afghanistan, those of a counterinsurgency (COIN) campaign with a permissive air environment where air power was able to be concentrated and operate at will without a credible threat from opposition forces, may no longer be applicable. To avoid the hazard of “re-fighting the last war,” any future capability should be useful in a near-peer, hostile-force engagement. Therefore it is essential that, as well as the ability to conduct kinetic strikes, enhanced countermeasures are included that will make it possible for these platforms were to be employed as part of a package in a non-permissive environment that includes hostile air forces or area defence systems like radar-guided surface-to-air missiles.

In this regard a quote from BGen Michel Lalumiere, director general of Air Force Development, saying “We will be in contested areas with this aircraft and sometimes adversaries have a vote, this aircraft needs to bring, definitely, a set of capabilities to be able to operate in those types of environments.” is of particular  interest. It should also be noted that preparation for a near-peer engagement insures that COIN, asymmetric and hybrid warfare conflict capabilities are still available.

While few of the many King Air surveillance variants now flying are known to be armed, with the acceptation of some maritime patrol variants, it is not impossible to do so. Cranfield Aerospace Solutions Limited for one has designed and developed a modification to the King Air 350 for the provision of hard points capable of supporting gravity dropped unpowered weapons and rail launched powered weapons. The King Air hard points are also designed to carry external loads that can enhance the role capability of the platform, extend that capability or change the capability into a new role and are suitable for use with different payloads, including targeting pods, countermeasures and sensors. This includes providing offensive and defensive capabilities to the aircraft.

As Major D.G. Jamond, CD, MDS has argued in the Canadian Air Force JournalThe future operating environment will continue to be dynamic, and the RCAF should be prepared to provide additional kinetic and non-kinetic effects to supported commanders in upcoming campaigns.”

If we are to establish this new capability in the near future, it should be in numbers great enough that the RCAF can bring depth to kinetic options for future operations, be they against a near-peer adversary or in a hybrid context. To do this will necessitate more than the current three aircraft envisioned. To bring the required depth it is essential that a squadron, i.e. ten to fifteen platforms, be acquired.  This would allow land force commanders at the brigade level to work with these aircraft as well as providing greatly enhanced resources at the national command level.

Establishing a strike capability within the King Air MAISR fleet will require significant efforts to overcome the barriers to implementation which include personnel, funding and, most importantly, the development of political will. However, establishing this capability in the near future will bring benefits both military and financial that should not be underestimated.


Procurement of new Manned Airborne Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance capability

King Air 350ER identified as solution for Special Forces ISR


Royal Canadian Air Force Doctrine: Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance



Saturday, 28 July 2018


Former president Carter’s national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski defined geopolitics as “a combination of geographic and political factors emphasizing the impact of geography on politics”, the word strategic, he believes, refers to “the comprehensive and planned application of measures to achieve a central goal or to vital assets of military significance” and therefore ‘Geostrategy’, he has written, “merges strategic consideration with geopolitical ones”. In other words, Geostrategy is the geographic direction of a state’s foreign policy.

Sir Halford John Mackinder was an early pioneer of geostrategic thought who proposed the Heartland Theory, also known as the ‘pivot of history’, in 1904.  Mackinder believed that whoever could control the ‘world island’, which was comprised of the interlinked continents of Europe, Asia, and Africa, would control the world.

 Mackinder summarised his theory as: "Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland; who rules the Heartland commands the World-Island; who rules the World-Island commands the world." Mackinder’s objective in publishing his theories was to warn Britain that its traditional reliance on sea power would become a weakness as improved land transport opened up the Heartland for both industrialization and invasion.

At that time, however, based on Britain’s commanding position offshore of Europe, the western edge of the world island, and her ability to apply pressure at all other points including the Pacific theatre using Sea Power, plus the relative lack of infrastructure and industry in the ‘Heartland’, Mackinder’s theory appeared to explain the pre-eminence of British power and her position as the world’s leading super power.

After the Second World War this position was inherited by the United States. With its pivotal influence over Europe, through financial and military institutions, along with its decisive power projection capabilities in the western Pacific it now controlled the “World Island” and that control brought dominance.

Those conditions are subject to change. Although the United States is still the world’s major power its power is in relative decline. The very success American policies of free trade, stable markets, and (comparatively) liberal institutions have increased the world’s gross domestic product at a rate greater than that of the U.S. average. In other words, the U.S. is not necessarily getting poorer so much as the rest of the world is getting richer. The U.S. no longer commands a dominant part of the world’s economy.

China is one of the countries that have benefited the most from this world economic growth. With greater national wealth has come greater ambition. This ambition can be see most clearly in the gigantic infrastructure program known as the Belt and Road Initiative. This plan seeks to develop and construct a vast network of railroads, pipelines and shipping lanes between China and 65 other countries in Asia, North Africa, the Middle East and Europe. The result, it is believed, will mean enhanced trade routes and investment links between China and participating nations.

From a geostrategic view it also means that China could dominate Mackinder’s ‘World Island’ and, at least in theory, the whole world. These trends are not a secret. The rise of China and their attempts to expand sovereignty and control over parts of the Pacific Ocean that they consider to be contiguous are well known. Perhaps less well known are American responses to them.

Even though the U.S. dominated media obsessed about Barak Obama’s African heritage he was in fact a person of the Pacific. Born in Hawaii, having spent some of his youth in Indonesia and with a mother whose academic focus was in Asia, Obama was far more in tune with Asia and the Pacific then the Atlanticists who traditionally dominate Washington discourse. Obama tried to contain China, and reinforce U.S. dominance, through a combination of a shift in security and defense policy, the “pivot to Asia”, and trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Obama made little secret of the fact that these maneuvers were designed to “allow America — and not countries like China — to write the rules of the road in the 21st century.”  He was prepared to accept the consequences of market arrangements like the T-PP on U.S. industry and domestic policies in return for the ability to “write the rules”. Many were not. The rise of nationalist voices, like that of Donald Trump, in opposition to these policies was in some ways entirely predictable.

It is difficult to judge whether the ‘policies’ of the Trump administration have hastened an inevitable decline in U.S. power or simply reflect it. What seems likely is that with the abandoning of the T-PP, to be replace by the Chinese dominated trade agreements and the Belt and Road Initiative, in concert with what appears to be a loosening of ties with Europe, positioned as it is on the western edge of Mackinder’s “World Island”, there is little to stop the relative decline of the United States and the possible ascendency of China as the world’s greatest power.

Needless to say, this outcome is not inevitable. Edward N. Luttwak, for one, believes that any attempt by China to strengthen its position in relation to its neighbours, especially if accompanied by belligerence, will bring about reciprocal actions by those neighbours, in the form of trade and security arrangements, designed to contain China’s ambitions.  However even Luttwak concedes that there is a possibility of  less restrained conflict saying; “Because nuclear weapons cannot reliably inhibit any and all armed conflict between nuclear-armed powers, incidents could take place and they could escalate into localized combat, military strength retains its importance between nuclear powers.”

What does this mean for Canada? Even if one does not commit fully to the Geostrategic ‘inevitabilities’ of Mackinder it seems obvious that a conflict between China and the U.S. is going to be conditioned by the size and nature of the Pacific Ocean and  American power projection experience. It will resemble the traditional struggle between a land power and a thalassocracy, i.e. a state which is primarily a maritime power. In other words conflict, whether cold or hot, will involve naval power.

Canada’s response to a belligerent or aggressive China in an environment which includes a relatively weaker U.S. must be multi-faceted. It means spending more money for and putting more emphasis on foreign affairs, particularly in areas that strengthen multi-lateral institutions and support democratic values, especially in the Pacific arena. Future ‘coalitions of the willing’ with which Canada becomes involved will be more effective if they consist mainly of countries who espouse values that Canadians can identify with.

It will also mean getting serious about prioritizing defence spending. No matter what illusory percentage of the GDP is picked to represent a defence budget choices about how that money will be spent will have to be made. Canada may have to put a greater percentage of that budget into areas which support naval warfare. Other conflict domains; air, land, space and cyber, will have to consider how their resources can best support maritime operations and fund capabilities accordingly.

Geostrategic trends move slowly, until they don’t. The same can not be said of naval procurement programs. Equipment choices made now will reverberate for decades, into a world we can only dimly observe.  Even if we start immediately, re-aligning the Royal Canadian Navy for the future is a process that will take time, if we have it.