International partnerships key to RCN success

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Navy News / October 12, 2016

On September 21, 2016, Vice-Admiral Ron Lloyd, Commander Royal Canadian Navy, addressed the 22nd International Seapower Symposium (ISS) at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. ISS is the largest gathering of maritime leaders in the world and provides a forum for senior international leaders to create and solidify solutions to shared challenges and threats. The theme of the 2016 ISS was “Stronger Maritime Partners,” and featured guest speakers and panel discussions exploring the common security challenges of maritime nations. Approximately 200 senior officers and civilians from 106 countries, including many of the senior-most officers from those countries' navies and coast guards, attended the biennial event.

VAdm Lloyd provided an update on the 27th Inter-American Naval Conference (IANC) a hemispheric naval forum held in Halifax earlier this year. The following article offers an in-depth analysis of IANC, and of the importance of partnerships to Canada. 


By Ashley Milburn

Partnerships lie at the heart of nearly every success story. In fact, the merits of cooperation and collaboration are widely acknowledged and commonly quoted across all aspects of life: no one succeeds in a silo; strength in numbers; it takes two hands to clap. Yet, in an increasingly complex world the basic, but important tenets of partnership inherent in such expressions are often forgotten, overlooked or overshadowed by other narratives.

In some cases, this is understandable. For instance, when it comes to matters of international affairs and national defence, a more comprehensive and strategic discourse is necessary. However, the foundational principles of friendship, relationships and partnerships are transferable across the spectrum of complexity. Moreover, they are paramount to positioning Canada for success, both at home and abroad.    

The Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) has long embodied these values of cooperation and comradery, and continues to lead the charge for Canada from at-sea and ashore. As a truly global service, the RCN is uniquely positioned to build capacity, generate good will and establish trust amongst international partners on behalf of Canada.  

This capability was on full display in June in Halifax when the RCN hosted the 27th Inter-American Naval Conference (IANC 2016), the leading biennial forum for maritime affairs in the Western Hemisphere. In a city accustomed to seeing Canadian and foreign warships alongside its waterfront, hosting IANC presented an opportunity to showcase another important side of RCN business at work: partnerships. Not only did IANC 2016 provide a platform for the leaders of North, Central and South American navies to exchange ideas on shared challenges and common goals that stretch from the tip of Cape Horn to the shores of the Arctic, it also provided an unparalleled opportunity to build relationships at the professional and personal level. 

At first glance, the connection between Canada and other countries’ strategic maritime objectives in a region as large and diverse as the Western Hemisphere may be difficult to discern. However, Vice-Admiral Ron Lloyd, Commander RCN, made a poignant observation during the opening presentation at IANC 2016. He noted how in conversations with Canadian citizens and partners abroad, he continually emphasizes that Canada is a three ocean nation, with considerable interests in the Pacific, the Atlantic and the Arctic. However, in the context of an increasingly globalized world, he suggested to his regional counterparts that the notion of a single world ocean may be a useful perspective to take.

Viewing the world in this context allows the RCN and its international partners to leverage their commonalities, rather than be divided by their differences. Understanding developments on the national and international stage, appreciating how Canada’s allies and partners are thinking about evolving issues, and discussing how to better meet potential challenges and embrace future opportunities are vital components to advancing the bedrock of these relationships: trust. It was within this framework that some of IANC 2016’s key achievements were made. Recognizing the importance of open and direct communication as a foundation of effective partnerships, IANC member states voted unanimously to endorse the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea, a voluntary agreement that outlines “the rules of the road” for the maritime realm. This milestone agreement was both a product of the level of trust between the IANC navies, as well as a reinforcing testament to the success of the multilateral partnership. Furthermore, in the spirit of inclusivity, another key component of robust partnerships, IANC members also voted unanimously on a procedure that will work towards incorporating additional navies of the Americas into the IANC organization.   

Given the success of IANC 2016, it could be tempting for Canada to close the file and move onto the next objective. However, building partnership capacity is not a specialized program or a single event, and the RCN is committed to staying the course. Meaningful contributions to international fora like IANC and other regional organizations provide the RCN with the type of experience and credibility needed in order to be a trusted and valued partner in the international community. 

Trust, however, is not a commodity to be bought and sold over time; it must be earned. Given that trust is shaped by our past experiences and expectations of future behavior, communicating our intentions clearly, standing by the plans that they prescribe, and doing so in a manner that assures our partners of our long-term dedication is critical. After all, relationships are a two-way exchange and all manners of trust are reciprocal. 

In matters of defence and security, these are important principles for Canada to uphold. No state in a globalized world is capable of being safe and prosperous if it does not embrace working with like-minded international partners to address issues of shared concern that occur beyond its national borders. The RCN’s continued support of anti-drug trafficking patrols in the Western Hemisphere, for example, is evidence of the IANC partnership at work. Such cooperation generates significant dividends for all countries in the region; however, it is important to remember that a trust deficit, caused by underinvestment in national capabilities and international partnerships, can have equally damaging and compounding consequences. 

While trust between countries is spent in times of crisis and shared concern, it is built long before and requires sustained investment and consistent maintenance. This reality has yielded a saying which has found particular support in defence communities throughout the world: “You can’t surge trust.” VAdm Lloyd reinforced this important sentiment during his closing remarks at IANC 2016, offering a simple yet powerful takeaway for all those involved. What this means for Canada and the RCN is that it is imperative to ensure that well-established partnerships, built on a solid foundation of trust and familiarity, are part of our national capability as we prepare for the challenges and opportunities that lay ahead.  

In a world of increasing complexity, it can be an occupational hazard to overlook some of life’s foundational principles in favour of quick solutions that produce immediate results. However, when it comes to international relationships and maximizing the strategic dividends for Canada, the RCN is well positioned to embrace the basic principles of trust and partnership, and help write Canada’s success story.