For most of Canada’s history, the high arctic has been a mysterious frontier. The north was a land of legends, the setting for many true tales of exploration, heroism and tragedy, but not otherwise part of the day to day experience of Canadians. Great distances from the settled regions and a harsh climate contributed to the isolation of the north, and so long as these were the dominant factors of northern life, Canadians were content to ignore the arctic. Things have changed since the late 1980’s, and we can no longer afford to ignore our northern frontier.
promoting Canada's sovereignty in the Arctic. This is more than
nationalist rhetoric; there are valid political, economic and
environmental reasons for controlling the high arctic. Climate change
may generate increased interest in searching for and exploiting
suspected stocks of oil, natural gas and minerals in the arctic islands
and the Beaufort Sea. Increasing economic activity in Asia may increase
air traffic over the Polar Regions; and the possible emergence of the
North West Passage as a viable sea route could lead to increased
transits of the region. Canada must be able to deal with this activity
in the high arctic. There is currently not a single major player that
recognizes Canada's claim on the north, for that to change we as a
nation cannot rely on words alone.
Ruxted considers the
minimum requirements to enforce Canadian sovereignty are effective
surveillance and the ability to quickly and efficiently investigate and
deal with intruders or events such as trespassing ships or fallen
satellites like Cosmos 954. Canada already has some of these
capabilities in limited form, many because of other defence missions.
Ruxted suggests that aerial and space surveillance, interceptor and
transport aircraft and land forces capable of operating in the high
arctic as needed are possible within the planned force structure with a
modest expansion of the defence budget.
There are many
potential courses of action to establish and consolidate our claims in
the arctic; some have been proposed and others will no doubt emerge.
The proposals to create dedicated arctic forces such as icebreakers or
ice capable ships, to open both a deep water port and an arctic
training centre and to expand the Canadian Rangers all bear serious
While Ruxted commends the government for addressing the
issue, we feel some of the proposed solutions are ill-advised due to
the geography, distance and climate of the high arctic, and the
resulting costs of maintaining such specialized capabilties. We must
also understand the interests and concerns of our northern neighbors;
to proceed unilaterally without reference to continental security would
be a huge duplication of time, effort and resources. The United States
may be willing to support many of our claims if this serves to
strengthen the collective security of North America, and they may even
be willing to share costs and resources through existing collective
security measures. In this regard President George W. Bush's
acknowledgement of Canadian sovereignty over the arctic islands at the
recent Montobello Summit is significant. The issue must be addressed in
the light of the national self-interest of all the parties involved. We
can not rely on history, emotion or even the climate to enforce our
sovereignty; it is time to think outside the box in order to maintain
our control in the far north.
No nation currently recognizes
Canada's sovereignty of the Arctic, but whom do they expect to finance
any environmental clean ups in the Arctic? The announcement of the
expansion of the Nahanni National Park Reserve of Canada is a signal
that we can also play the eco card to protect Canadian sovereignty in
the north, and Ruxted believes this route might be equally effective at
ensuring our stewardship over the north as any military option.
Whichever option or combination of options is chosen, we must visibly
demonstrate our sovereignty over the territory as well as the waterways.
feels this is a political challenge, not a military one. No matter how
many troops we station in the north, the fate of our claim will come
down to the acceptance of Political authority in the region. As always,
Ruxted feels that laying out our options and having an informed debate
will allow Canadians to understand the issues and make informed choices
for the short and long term good of our nation.