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Sovereignty Requires More Than Lip Service

Sovereignty Requires More Than Lip Service

Canada’s Arctic has been in the news again. It has been suggested that climate change will reduce the range of threats to our sovereignty over Arctic waters because they (Canadian waters, per se) are less likely to be highly desirable transit routes, thus lowering the relative importance of e.g. Arctic/Offshore Patrol Vessels. At the same time, through a new National Security Presidential Directive and Homeland Security Presidential Directive, the USA is reasserting its claims of right of free passage in the Northwest Passage, making the need for a real Canadian presence more important.

Disputes between Canada and the USA are nothing new but they all have one thing in common: they are, inevitably – over the past century or so – resolved by negotiation.

But our sovereignty is not ‘threatened’ by just the USA.

Further, ‘sovereignty’ can no longer be confined to rigid zones. What a neighbour does or fails to do in its ‘sovereign’ territory and contiguous waters can have grave impacts on Canadians going about their lawful business in our sovereign territory – a ruptured oil well in Russia’s Arctic waters, for example, can (almost certainly will) pollute Canadian waters. Human smugglers in international waters may pose a real, immediate threat to Canada. Arbitrary lines on maps cannot be allowed to threaten our sovereign rights to manage our own affairs and resources in our own territory.

In many cases Canada can negotiate with those who ‘threaten’ our sovereignty. In some cases negotiation will fail.

Our sovereignty must be both asserted and protected. Asserting and protecting our sovereignty is a job for the whole of the Government of Canada, including DND. Diplomats, lawyers and various uniformed services (like the Coast Guard and the RCMP, as well as the Canadian Forces) are in the ‘front lines’ when it comes to asserting and defending our sovereignty.

The Department of National Defence is just that: the agency charged with defending the nation. The defence of Canada starts at those arbitrary lines but may well extend beyond that. The lines on maps define our ‘area of responsibility’ – the area in which Canada, without question, may assert its sovereign rights – even as they are being challenged in various international fora. But we also have ‘areas of influence’ where we may make our presence felt and ‘areas of interest’ where we will want and need to ‘see’ what is going on.

When we are in our ‘area of responsibility’ it is, broadly, most appropriate that regulatory and constabulary organizations (e.g. Coast Guard and RCMP) lead in the assertion and protection of our sovereignty – backed up and supported by the Canadian Forces. When we are in our ‘areas of influence’ and ‘areas of interest’ then agencies like Foreign Affairs (DFAIT) and DND will need to be in the lead because they have international recognition of their international roles and responsibilities.

Canada needs to be able to meet its sovereignty protection roles in all our areas of responsibility, influence and interest. That means we need strong, capable diplomatic services and equally strong and capable uniformed services, like the Coast Guard and RCMP, able to operate on the ground, in the air and at sea in and all the way around Canada. The Canadian Forces needs to able to support other agencies in Canada and play a leading role elsewhere to fulfil their role of monitoring, identifying and, ultimately, preventing unauthorized penetration of our territory, contiguous waters and the airspace over both.

To do this, the CF needs:

1.   A capable intelligence gathering apparatus to monitor things happening in our areas of interest, influence and responsibility;

2.   A real time surveillance and warning system that covers all our territory and the ‘approaches’ to it, all the time;

3.   Ships, units and aircraft to patrol our territory and the approaches to it and to intercept, identify and deal with intruders of any and all types.

Parts of these requirements exist but none is complete.

The costs of ships, satellites, aircraft, ground stations and people are high but unavoidable if we want to maintain our sovereignty over and above the land and sea we claim, today, as our own.

Now, in a financial crisis, is not the time for false economies or lip service. Short term financial ‘gains’ achieved by reducing defence spending in 2009 could saddle Canada with some real long term ‘pain’ in the years and decades beyond 2010. 


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