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Remarks by Randolph Mank

Security in the Asia-Pacific Region: 
What role for Canada?

Canadian Defense and Foreign Affairs Institute (CDFIA)

Symposium on Security in Europe and Asia

June 22, 2015

I gave a speech last week at the War Museum in Ottawa at a symposium on the Trans Pacific Partnership and Beyond: Opportunities for Canadian business in Asia.


Given the topics, the venues for that symposium and today’s gathering might have more appropriately been switched.


In any case, I’m honoured to join this panel today and would like to thank the organizers for bringing us together.


I would like to offer two main observations on security in Asia Pacific, both of which have implications for Canada:


First, economics and security are always connected and we are at a turning point regarding this nexus.


Second, technology and the methodology of warfare are also connected and we can already see some new features of future conflict.


On the first point – the connection between economics and security - the main argument put forward in my speech last week was that the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal is very important for Canada, but it is no substitute for an actual Asia policy, I gave my own Top Ten list of other things Canada should do to advance our interests.


I also addressed the rise of China and Xi Jinping’s ‘Belt and Road’ vision and strategy. Some excellent work detailing this has been done by Stuart Larkin and published by the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore.


The Chinese initiative to connect up the Eurasian landmass is a significant geo-strategic pivot, which could change the trade and economic dynamics of Asia and the world. There is nothing nefarious in this. It is simply the result of China’s massive growth and its desire to keep it going.


At the same time, it is further evidence that the Great Game is back on in this multipolar world. I would commend to you another paper, this one by Alfred McCoy of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in which he reminds us of Sir Halford Mackinder’s famous seminal speech on geopolitics given at the Royal Geographical Society in London in 1904.


Mackinder’s argument, which has stood the test of time and informed decades of geostrategy, was that whoever controls the vast landmass that he called Euro-Asia, and its resources, would dominate the world. That’s why I say that China’s moves on the economic front constitute a geopolitical turning point. Their actions in the South China Seas show that the competition really is already underway.


In addition to needing a fully elaborated Asia strategy, another implication for Canada is that we should try to revive the dialogue on the South China seas that we co-sponsored with Indonesia up until a decade ago. Funding should never have been cut. Law of the sea is something of intense interest to us, especially given our own issues in the high arctic.


My second observation today – that we can already see the technologies that will be employed in future conflicts – is something more in the purview of military planners than of diplomat/businessmen like myself.


Having done my Master’s research on nuclear terrorism, however, and having begun my career as a junior delegate to the Stockholm Conference on Security in Europe at the height of the Cold War, I can’t help but be happily amazed and deeply relieved that nuclear conflict or the use of a dirty bomb have both been avoided so far. Sadly, I don’t think we are out of the woods yet. Real risks remain and we should never forget it.


But there are also new technologies truly upon us, which will almost certainly be used more and more. They include cyber hacking and aerial drones. Other experts are better placed to detail the features of these technologies and what Canada needs to do militarily to prepare for them.


But, wearing my diplomatic hat, I would simply point out that this is a potential new area for Canadian multilateral diplomacy. Rather than waiting for these technologies to be unleashed, we should already be working on UN conventions to control or prohibit them.


In the interests of time, I’ll stop there hoping that I’ve stirred up some interesting debate.


Thank you for your kind attention.

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