On Tuesday, April 20, 2021, the Policy Insights Forum (PIF) was pleased to welcome strategic advisor, analyst and author Joe Varner, CSTJ, MA, BAH, FRSA. The event was hosted and moderated by Dr. J. Paul de B. Taillon, Vice-Chair of the Policy Insights Forum and Senior Academic Advisor to Samuel Associates. The topic of this PIF event was "A Canadian Strategy for the Indo-Pacific Region," and the speaker gave anin-depth description of the current state of affairs for Canada in the region and its implications.
Mr. Varner gave an enlightening overview of the current situation Canada faces as regards its strategy for the Indo-Pacific region, or arguably lack thereof. He started his overview by presenting the strong ties that exist between Canada and the United States (US). He noted that President Biden is working on strengthening the key alliances the US is a part of by fostering renewed relationships to its Allies in NATO and through other organizations such as NORAD, which he described as being "a great strategic partnership." Interestingly, President Biden also carried on the hard-line against China that his predecessor President Trump initiated. According to Mr. Varner in the Indo-Pacific region, President Biden’ policy will be more engaged with a harder line against China.
A striking point Mr. Varner raised during the interview was that Germany, France, and the UK have all come outwith strategy documents about Asia-Pacific during the last two years. He thus concluded that "it is time for Canada to pivot to the Pacific." Mr.Varner commented. “If it is possible for Canada, joining the QUAD (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue) would be the best way to lead and get engaged in this critical region for Canadian interest and security." He added that "we need to have more than one ship out there at a time" and that "things are going to get tough in the Pacific." The QUAD brings together Australia, India, Japan, and the US. Should it have the opportunity presented to it, Canada should join the QUAD. "We are in that spot where we need to get more engaged," he argued. He further proffered that "we have to increase our spending on signals intelligence. It is viable. In the past, we are in this area where we can pick up a lot (information/indicators) because as Canada, we go around unnoticed."
During the interview, Mr. Varner made a few key incisive comments about China and its strategy. China has a very clear agenda. The Chinese wish to increase their role in international institutions in order to turn "them against Western democracies." Moreover, China has used the Belt and Road Initiative infrastructure not just for supporting China's commercial interests but also it gives them "incredible access to intelligence just about everywhere from Indo-Pacific to the Caribbean and Africa." China uses all means available to pursue its national interests. He amusingly offered that the Chinese "are not collecting for the Red Cross," and warned of the impressive expansion the Chinese naval fleet that continues to grow. He also added that "China and hybrid warfare are here to stay. It’s political warfare." A challenge Canada faces in the Indo-Pacific is that "we have a G8 appetite for it, but in real terms, we have a Dollarama budget." Joe Varner also added, quoting Louise Mercier, "we are a country that does not perceive it has any international enemies." In short, Mr. Varner argued that Canada has serious strategic interests in the Indo-Pacific region and thus should be more involved in order to protect them.