Defence diplomacy: A direct impact on international peace and stability

Crowsnest - Fall 2013 / November 4, 2013

By Darlene Blakeley

A Canadian warship docks in Kuwait City. A sailor is posted to the United States. An exercise is held in the North Atlantic with ships of the United Kingdom. A flag officer sits down to talk with his counterpart in Chile.

What do these things have in common?

They are all part of the Royal Canadian Navy’s plan to engage in “defence diplomacy”, a term used to denote the peaceful application of defence resources to achieve positive outcomes in the development of a country’s bilateral and multilateral relationships.

Since 2011 the RCN’s defence diplomacy efforts have been guided by the Department of National Defence’s Global Engagement Strategy (GES), which, in line with Government of Canada policy objectives, is designed to bring focus and coherence to Canada’s defence diplomacy activities by providing strategic guidance across the Defence team. The GES and its related directives divide the world into regions, within which there are areas of focus (countries and defence institutions alike) that are assigned priority for engagement.

Among the engagement tools available to the RCN are high level visits, navy-to-navy talks, exercises, port visits, personnel postings outside of Canada, and training exchanges.

“Port visits are likely the most outwardly visible engagement tool,” says Commander Mike Cope of the Directorate of Naval Strategy in Ottawa, “particularly if a flag officer is involved. And, of course, in a foreign port a warship offers a ‘home ice’ venue for activities such as official receptions, bilateral meetings and industry exhibits.”

According to Cdr Cope, developing these relationships provides strategic effect for the nation and projects leadership abroad for the Government of Canada. “Every warship deployment, multinational exercise, port visit – indeed every navy-to-navy contact – creates an opportunity for development, diplomacy and capacity building in support of the government’s policy objectives,” he says.

Maritime forces provide the government with a unique and effective military means through which its influence and leadership can be projected on an ongoing basis. The same enduring attributes of maritime forces that provide governments with a wide range of diplomatic options to prevent or contain conflict also make them ideal instruments of a nation’s diplomacy.

“Operationally,” Cdr Cope adds, “developing relationships with those nations with which we normally conduct maritime business ensures that we remain interoperable and able to communicate freely.”

Currently, the RCN’s engagement efforts cover a broad range of nations, from allies such as the United States and Australia, to partners such as Chile, as well as countries of interest such as China, with whom the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) are now developing a Defence coordination dialogue.

“Of  particular interest is the expanded relationship with the Armada de Chile,” says Cdr Cope. “Our ships worked together during RIMPAC [Rim of the Pacific] 12, a number of high level visits were conducted over the course of the last year, and so were navy-to-navy talks.”

He explains that in 2012 the RCN sent a team to Chile to deliver unclassified-level operator and technical instruction on common ship weapon systems and sensors, and will do so again this year. As well, beginning in 2012 under the Regulus Program, RCN junior officers have embarked in Chilean ships to maintain their skills during the Halifax-class modernization program. Two groups of six officers have completed their deployments, with a third group’s deployment now under way.

Similarly, the Chilean Navy has been invited to send junior officers to the RCN’s Naval Officer Training Centre for further training and embarkation in its training vessels.

“In the near future our two navies will be partnering for capacity building in Guatemala, to better enable its small fleet to contribute to the campaign against transnational criminal organizations and narcotic trafficking,” says Cdr Cope. “For next year’s RIMPAC exercise, the RCN will undertake the role of Combined Forces Maritime Component Commander (CFMCC), while the Chilean Navy is expected to assume the Deputy CFMCC role.”

He explains that although North America, NORAD and NATO will continue to remain at the forefront of engagement efforts, DND and the CAF are committed to the nurturing of growing defence relationships in the Americas, and to the development of new defence relationships in the Asia Pacific region.

So when an RCN warship sails into port – whether it be in Kuwait City, Honolulu, Valparaiso, Sydney or Boston – it carries with it the profound ability to generate the goodwill upon which trust and confidence among nations is built.

“The dialogue created through defence diplomacy can have a direct impact on international peace and stability,” says Cdr Cope.

To this end, the RCN’s push forward in defence diplomacy provides a useful tool for the government’s foreign policy objectives.