The Arctic: to defend or protect
Canadian Forces head north to assert sovereignty over Northwest Passage
Scientists, northerners discuss the changing Arctic
COMMENT: The intersecting forces of climate change, opening of the Northwest Passage, Canadian territorial ambitions, Stephen Harper's militarization, and goodness knows what else, are coming together now. These three articles give a sense of the forces at play.
Question: should Canada take the position that the "Canadian north" is in fact Canada's to own, defend, exploit, even protect? Or should Canada work multi-lateral initiatives to "manage" (defend, exploit, perhaps protect) the region. Or should Canada work mightily to turn the so-far unexploited north into an international protection zone, off limits for all but research and low impact access?
Sure, he missed the AIDS conference, but Stephen Harper made waves in the Arctic this week. But were the PM's tough words on Arctic sovereignty anything more than just mere talk?
OTTAWASometime soon, Michael Byers fears, a single ship is going to define the limits of Canadian sovereignty.
"This week or this month or this year, a single tramp steamer could take a run through the Northwest Passage to save 7,000 kilometres," the University of British Columbia political scientist says. "We might be able to stop them but we might not."
For Byers, the real worry is that this could undermine Canada's insistence that the Northwest Passage and the waters of the Arctic archipelago are inland waters under Canadian control.
"I don't want Canadian policy to be decided on the fly, under a timeline that's been set by some ship that's been registered in Panama or Liberia with a Filipino crew," he says.
There were equally strong, almost defiant words from Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Iqaluit, a week ago today, when he said "Canada intends to enforce its rights under the law of the sea" treaty.
He called on all governments to sign the treaty, and accused previous Canadian governments of failing to enforce Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic and provide enough resources to monitor, patrol and protect Canada's Arctic waters.
"We always need to know who is in our waters and why they're there," he said. "We must be certain that everyone who enters our waters respects our laws and regulations, particularly those that protect the fragile Arctic environment."
Over the last week, Harper travelled to Iqaluit, Alert, Whitehorse, Yellowknife, and the Jericho diamond mine, talking about strengthening defence, encouraging tourism, and the fledgling diamond industry. But most dramatic and potentially most expensive was his vow to define, enforce and defend Canada's sovereignty over Arctic waters.
The issue is complex it is knotted with elements of Canadian patriotism, climate change, military activities and expenditures, and Canada-U.S. relations.
Politically, the issue enables Harper to capture an issue that cuts across party lines and resonates with some of the most deeply held views of Canada's identity as a northern nation. For the Arctic is a central part of how Canadians view the meaning of the country. It also has the political advantage of stressing an area in which Harper does not agree with the U.S.
Historian Jack Granatstein argues Harper is doing the right thing.
"The ice is melting. Most countries believe the passage is an international strait, and reject our claim," he says. "The Danes are trying to get Hans Island, and do not accept our claims in the Arctic they claim the North Pole. The protection of the Arctic is a key national interest."
The answer, Granatstein says, requires Canada to work on several fronts: occupation and use and political will.
But Byers is unimpressed.
"I'm actually quite disappointed by Stephen Harper," he says. "He talks the talk just fine but he has yet to walk the walk."
When Harper announced during the winter election campaign that there would be three new polar icebreakers built, Byers says he was elated and every Canadian Arctic expert thrilled. But since then, he says, there was no mention of icebreakers in the federal budget, or in the $17 billion in defence procurement announcements or in Harper's Arctic speech.
During the campaign, Harper promised to focus new resources on the Arctic, vowing to create a new Arctic national sensor system, build a deep water docking facility in Iqaluit, deploy new search and rescue aircraft in Yellowknife, establish a new Arctic army training centre, expand and revitalize the Canadian Rangers and purchase three new, heavy, naval ice breakers.
Tories acknowledge privately that the promise estimated to cost $2 billion was originally planned to be quietly announced, but that when polls showed the Liberals were gaining ground by arguing that Harper was dangerously pro-American, they decided to showcase the commitment.
Then, shortly after the election, Harper took the opportunity to publicly snap back at U.S. Ambassador David Wilkins, who had reiterated the U.S. opposition to Canada's Arctic sovereignty claim.
In May, the new government's budget set aside an additional $5.3 billion over five years to, among other things, "increase the Canadian Forces' capacity to assert Canada's Arctic sovereignty."
It was an issue that Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor had made a part of the party's defence policy while the Conservatives were in Opposition, calling it a "Canada First" policy.
"There certainly is a need for us to play in the world and represent Canada in the world, but we also had to make sure that at home we had enough resources to ensure reasonable security, and to protect our sovereignty," O'Connor says. "In the south, we've got to think about terrorism, but in the north, there are issues of sovereignty."
A few weeks ago, he flew north to tell northern communities that the government was serious, and to look at what would be involved.
The dream of an Arctic shipping route through the fabled Northwest Passage, which drew generations of explorers, leading to the death of Sir John Franklin and his men in 1847 in a vain attempt to find a route to the Pacific Ocean, is now on the verge of being realized. But whether this will be a Canadian water route or an international waterway remains in dispute.
The issue has flared up in the past with the United States in 1970, and again in 1985, when the U.S. sent ships through the Northwest Passage without asking Canada's permission. The tension from the 1985 incident was resolved after prime minister Brian Mulroney and president Ronald Reagan talked: the U.S. agreed to ask, and Canada agreed to say yes.
"This compromise removed the irritant," Derek Burney, former ambassador to the U.S. and former chief of staff to Mulroney, recalls in his recent memoir. "Although the legal positions remain entrenched and unresolved, the dispute disappeared from public attention."
Now, it's back.
Despite the Mulroney-Reagan "compromise," the key issue for the U.S. remains the ability to send ships military vessels, including in particular, nuclear submarines through the passage without notification, which under international law is not permitted in a country's internal waters.
The Northwest Passage is not the only sovereignty issue. O'Connor rhymes off the others: the dispute with the Danes over Hans Island; a disagreement with the Russians over the continental shelf; and arguments with the Americans about the Canada-U.S. boundary in the Beaufort Sea, and the border at the bottom of the Alaska panhandle.
These questions of where the boundary line is drawn across Arctic waters may seem arcane and technical, but it will become increasingly important as the north becomes more accessible.
Where the lines are drawn will determine who can drill for oil, who can fish where, which pollution rules, if any, will apply in a fragile environment, and whether any ship will have to report its presence when it enters those waters.
"When the ice starts to melt up there, and it has already started, and opens up something like the Northwest Passage, we want to make sure that the laws of Canada are applied," O'Connor says.
Under international law, a country's sovereignty extends 12 nautical miles from the coast and the Northwest Passage, he points out, is more than 24 miles wide throughout its length. (The well-known 200 mile limit is an exclusive economic zone, but does not represent full sovereignty.)
"What we worry about is what happens if somebody goes in there with a vessel that's carrying toxic waste," O'Connor says. "And it's not properly reinforced. And we have a disaster up there and we have to clean it up?"
As it is, Canada's control over the region is tentative at best. O'Connor says that for years, foreign vessels have been spotted in the Arctic without the government knowing how they got there. And when ships or planes head to the Arctic, they often refuel in Greenland.
So when he visited the Arctic, O'Connor brought reconnaissance officials from the army and the navy to scout out the best locations for new port facilities and military training facilities. The results, he says, will be part of the defence capability plan expected this fall, which will set out the department's equipment purchases for the next 10 years.
In light of this activity, is it that important to have icebreakers amid predictions that Arctic ice is melting?
Michael Byers insists that it is absolutely critical.
"We need the capacity to go anywhere at any time," he says. "You need an icebreaker to do that."
Canada is rare among Arctic countries not to have icebreakers capable of operating year-round in the Far North. Russia, the U.S., Norway, Denmark, even South Africa all have them, and South Korea is building one.
"We really stand out," Byers says. "It's a glaring omission; the need is enormous."
The problem, he argues, is that the navy has never really wanted icebreakers. The icebreakers' functions are largely civilian in nature, providing supplies to Arctic coastal communities. They are also extremely expensive. Researchers estimate the cost could run much higher than the $2 billion the Tories calculated.
Byers acknowledges that O'Connor is deeply committed to his northern plans, but suggests that Gen. Rick Hillier, chief of the defence staff, is not nearly as enthusiastic.
"If Hillier doesn't want icebreakers, there won't be icebreakers," Byers says.
However, Harper's trip to the Arctic last week may prove to be significant. In the quiet war of office politics between the minister of defence and the chief of the defence staff, the fact that O'Connor succeeded in bringing the Prime Minister to visit Canada's Far North was in itself a victory.
The details of the defence capability plan will show whether or not O'Connor has been successful in doing more.
Canadian Forces head north to assert sovereignty over Northwest Passage
August 19, 2006
Aboard the HMCS Montreal -- Here in the ice-blue waters of the Northwest Passage, Bryan Simonee is fighting the swell in a small Zodiac boat.
He is dwarfed by HMCS Montreal, a Canadian frigate that has sailed here to assert Canada's sovereignty over a passage its sailors have now taken to calling "Canadian Internal Waters."
Reaching up, Simonee grabs a plastic bag filled with supplies dangling on a rope from the Montreal's side, before the Zodiac sets off toward the northern edge of Baffin Island.
It's a place Simonee, a young Inuk reservist with the Canadian Rangers from the nearby hamlet of Pond Inlet, has come to protect.
The navy and air force have come, too, for Operation Lancaster, a three-week deployment to the Arctic in a joint operation that Canadian Forces said is "unprecedented" this far north. About 450 sailors, soldiers and air crew have descended upon the Far North for an exercise designed to bolster Canada's claim to its Arctic waters.
It's a claim some experts in international law expect to be quashed as a warming climate brings increased shipping to once-frozen waters, which could be free of summer ice in a few decades.
Canada has long argued that the passage is an internal waterway, giving Ottawa the power to regulate traffic through it. Most maritime powers -- including the U.S. -- call it an international strait, over which Canada has little power, and according to Morris Maduro, a professor of law at the University of Alberta, Canada's claim is "not likely to be upheld in international court.
"Operation Lancaster is laudable, but one has to wonder how we intend to effectively assert and protect our sovereignty in an Arctic area with only 150,000 people that comprises half of the world's second largest country -- in the face of a superpower -- that is desperate for the use of the Passage," he said in an e-mail.
Canada should instead form an international commission with the eight circumpolar nations to set user fees and "establish the conditions for passage, so that navigation is allowed, but certain safety or environmental regulations would be established," he said.
Ottawa has made a priority of putting its military in the Arctic, and when Operation Lancaster launched from Iqaluit, Prime Minister Stephen Harper was there.
To fulfill that commitment, the Conservatives have pledged to create an armed forces - including the navy - capable of Arctic operations "in the dead of winter and in the summer," Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor said this summer, as he toured the North.
"And the only way you do that is by moving them up here and getting them familiarized with the territory."
That means doing battle with an Arctic that is fierce even in summer.
Even in late summer, crew on the Montreal maintain a constant vigil to avoid running into the icebergs and smaller "bergie bits."
"When we prepared for this deployment we made sure that our people had some extra training making sure that if we do come in contact with any type of ice that we can react and take the proper procedure to plug the hole and basically stay afloat," said Mike Stevens, a hull technician on the ship. "Because you've seen the movie Titanic and how it opens like a can of sardines."
The Conservatives have pledged a new Arctic warfare training centre. Army engineers have spent the last few months touring the North to find suitable locations, and this fall will submit a list of recommendations to O'Connor that will likely include the Nunavut hamlet of Resolute Bay -- which already has federal space that could accommodate up to 50 soldiers -- as a short-term site for the training centre.
He will also choose one of seven locations recommended by the Nunavut government for a port. Among the contenders is Iqaluit, whose city council prepared a $48 million cost estimate for the port.
"We would have to increase that, so it might be in the area of $150, $200 million," O'Connor said.
"But this is the North. The North has vast resources of oil, gas, diamonds - you name it. And we've got to be able to protect our sovereignty."
© CanWest News Service 2006
Scientists, northerners discuss the changing Arctic
Daily Herald Tribune
Grand Prairie Alberta
TUKTOYAKTUK, N.W.T. (CP) - Vancouver-based ecologist Greg Henry studies the changes man and nature are wreaking on the North. Ron Gruben, who grew up on the Beaufort coastline, lives them.
But both have the same hope for a unique conference that opened Tuesday bringing together scientists, bureaucrats and aboriginals to look at ways to adapt to the changing Arctic coast.
''I hope that western science and traditional knowledge can come together to preserve the environment,'' said Gruben. ''Once you scar the land, it never heals.''
About 275 delegates from across the North - including scientists from nine federal departments and three territories, native hunters and trappers and aboriginal representatives - are meeting this week in an exploration camp built during the 1970s energy exploration boom to attempt just that.
Conference sponsor Coastal Zone Canada Association has held similar gatherings focusing on every coastline in the country. As climate change and oil and gas drilling bear down on the fragile northern ocean and tundra, it's high time the Arctic got similar treatment, said conference organizer Jack Mathias.
''This is the first (conference) to take a broad look at the coastal zone,'' said Mathias, a senior planner with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
''This will be the first time that we look across all these sectors in the presence of the people mostly affected.''
Those effects are real.
''Energy development is just starting up,'' said Gruben. ''You see a lot of seismic lines out there.''
You also see a lot of landslides, where permafrost has melted beneath the hills, and animals straying from their normal ranges due to subtle disruptions they already detect.
Henry dissects the changing North from a scientist's perspective. He's helped run a 12-year experiment attempting to find out what happens when tundra warms up. The increasing number of shrubs now growing in his greenhouses corresponds almost exactly with what's actually happening on the land.
''It's definitely due to warming and it's happening already,'' he said.
Posted by Arthur Caldicott on 20 Aug 2006