The Conservative government is negotiating to establish a series of military support bases around the world, Defence Minister Peter MacKay has confirmed (Tristin Hopper, Canada to expand military reach with new facilities across the globe, National Post, 2 June 2011):
The plan, dubbed the Operation Support Hubs Network, involves establishing a permanent presence in up to seven countries including Senegal, South Korea, Kenya, Singapore and Kuwait.
In addition, Canadian officials have already signed agreements with Germany and Jamaica.
Rather than large, sprawling U.S.-style military bases, the Canadian facilities are more likely to be “small storage facilities” comprising an airfield, a warehouse and two or three soldiers, says David Bercuson, a senior research fellow with the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute. “They will be what you would call ‘forward supply depots, strategically placed near parts of the world where Canadian Forces might be deployed in future,” he said. With the depots, the Canadian military will not have to “haul around” its gear everytime they deploy overseas.
In some cases, the Canadian presence would be nothing more than a “pre-negotiated agreement” or an “in-situ liason officer” tied to a foreign military, said a senior military official. “We’re establishing a network of contacts and possible facilities … to facilitate future deployments of the Canadian Forces in response to humanitarian disasters or other crises situations” he said.
“The focus of the planning, let’s be clear, is our capability for expeditionary participation in international missions,” said the Minister. Between relief efforts in Haiti and Canada’s current role in the air-war over Libya, Canada has become a “go-to” nation in international missions, he said.
In addition to further institutionalizing the Canadian Forces’ shift towards expeditionary operations, the plan raises questions about spending priorities at a time of government cutbacks. Steven Staples of the Rideau Institute argues that “We’re not the U.S. military, we don’t need that kind of expeditionary capability — so I think that this is an expense that shouldn’t be incurred by taxpayers.” He notes that it was only four years ago that the military acquired a strategic airlift capability in the form of four Boeing C-17s at the cost of $3.4 billion. Liberal Defence critic John McKay agrees that the costs of setting-up, securing, and maintaining a network of military facilities in far-flung locations should worry Canadian taxpayers.