Canada’s military hunting for seven new foreign bases
5 June 2012
OTTAWA—The military is hunting for seven strategically placed nations willing to host a network of Canadian bases aimed at cutting costs and boosting response times to future wars, disasters and humanitarian crises.
Two of those bases — in Germany and Kuwait — have already materialized, but the full extent of the plan to create overseas beachheads for military planes, ships and equipment has not been previously acknowledged.
Defence officials and diplomats, armed with a $500,000 budget, are now working to finalize agreements with governments in some of the most volatile parts of the world.
When the collection of operational support hubs is complete, Canada’s military will also have a permanent footprint in the Latin America and Caribbean region, on both sides of the African continent, in the swath of countries marked by the conflicts in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as in Southeast Asia.
Defence Minister Peter MacKay said last week that Canada is actively seeking a deal to set up one of those hubs in Singapore.
The bases will form dots along the line of what military planners refer to as the Arc of Instability — the parts of the world where future conflicts are deemed most likely to occur.
“It is expected that hubs will be capable of supporting a wide variety of operations including combat missions, peace support operations, disaster relief, humanitarian assistance and non-combat evacuation,” says a briefing note prepared last year for the Canadian Forces’ senior commanders.
The Star obtained the nearly 200 pages of material under the Access to Information Act.
Orders to start the search came in November 2008 from Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Walter Natynczyk. The bases will help military logisticians cut expenses by storing equipment and supplies at the overseas hubs. That way, resources will already be in place when they are needed for operations.
The documents suggest Ottawa put aside more than $500,000 for what’s known as engagement and reconnaissance — or paying for officials to travel the world, woo potential host nations and investigate on-the-ground challenges the Forces might face.
A skeleton staff of soldiers and civilians will work on site to set up local contracts and sustain the base on a “caretaker status.” But operations will be able to quickly scale up to a “cadre level” with a small permanent staff for limited operations, such as humanitarian assistance.
Operations like the Afghan war or the seven-month bombing campaign in Libya would mean an even greater expansion of the base to hold and process hundreds or even thousands of military personnel and their equipment. The agreement with Kuwait allows for up to 3,000 Canadian troops to enter the country.
The German hub at the Cologne-Bonn International Airport was established earlier this year following the military’s expulsion from Camp Mirage in the United Arab Emirates. Before that, about 100 Canadian military personnel were based in Spangdahlem, 150 kilometres south of Cologne, since April 2009.
The arrangement was saving the government $6 million each quarter while costing just $328,000 for operations and maintenance, the documents state.
That level of cost-savings will be vital if the Canadian Forces hope to maintain its record of operations and interventions (including the 2006 evacuation of citizens from Lebanon, responding to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, and conducting anti-piracy missions off the Horn of Africa) in an age of austerity and budget cutbacks.
But the request to help Canada launch low-cost, quick-reaction military missions has not won over everyone. After the deal to operate out of the Cologne airport was announced in February, the local mayor complained that he was never consulted and said the added noise of military aircraft in the skies above his city would be unwelcome.
The Defence Department documents note that Canadian military and foreign ministry officials also ran into difficulties when they approached the government of an East African nation — likely either Kenya or Tanzania — about hosting a military hub.
Local officials were suspicious and demanded to know Ottawa’s motivation for moving into the region.
“The team articulated that there is no Canadian Forces intent to establish a base within, merely to establish a capability that would be used when and if required,” says the report, written by Navy Capt. Alan Kerr.
“The team also stressed that no plans exist for Canadian actions in East Africa that would require the activation of a hub.”
An unnamed West African government that was approached about hosting a hub had the opposite reaction, seeing the potential to tap into Canadian military expertise with joint exercises, training and operations. Kerr recommended warships and aircraft visit the country to “demonstrate our interest and resolve.”
Officials with the Canadian Operational Support Command (CANOSCOM) declined an interview request and did not respond to a list of questions submitted last week. A public affairs officer said an official response would take time to prepare because of the sensitive diplomatic nature of the government’s plans.
There is no indication in the Defence Department documents when the network of hubs is to be completed.