TML Weekly (Aug. 30) – From August 20 to 25, prior to departing for the NATO Summit to be held in Wales on September 4-5, Prime Minister Harper went on his extensive annual Arctic tour. Amongst other things, he participated in the military exercises codenamed Nanook. These exercises started on August 20 and ran until August 29.
Mixed messages came from the military and the Harper government regarding the purpose of the military exercises. According to the military, they are practising various scenarios to develop an ability to respond to emergency situations like the grounding of a cruise ship in Arctic waters. The Harper Conservatives on the other hand have declared that a Canadian military presence in the Arctic is important to assert “Canadian sovereignty” against what they call “Russia’s military expansion in the Arctic.”
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird told the Berlingske newspaper. “Obviously — obviously, we’re deeply concerned. We obviously want to see – you know, we want to protect and promote Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic. It’s a strategic priority for us. With respect to the militarization, we’d prefer to de-escalate it, but Canadian sovereignty, it’s very important that – that we protect and promote it.”
Meanwhile, Harper made threatening remarks against Russia which further contribute to destabilizing the region and raising the possibility of the use of force. He said:
“Peace and stability in Europe are being threatened in a way the world has not seen since the Cold War. Canada remains united with our NATO Allies and close international partners in calling on Russia to immediately cease its military aggression and provocative action, stop the flow of weapons and militants into Ukraine, and persuade insurgents to lay down their weapons and renounce violence. Inaction on the part of President Putin will only result in further political and economic isolation.”
Documents recently obtained by the Ottawa Citizen reveal the extent of the expansion of the Canadian Forces in the Arctic. The Harper government is developing a network of sites to stockpile equipment and move troops and gear quickly into the region. It puts everything in place to meet the needs of the “emergency preparedness” program being discussed at the NATO Summit in Wales. The military hopes to have the sites in place by 2018.
The locations of the main hubs are to be Iqaluit, Yellowknife, Resolute Bay and Inuvik.
“The planned Northern Operations Hubs are, by design, pre-negotiated arrangements to facilitate the movement of people, materiel, equipment and supplies into areas of operations for the Canadian Armed Forces,” military spokesperson Capt. Melina Archambault said. She noted that the concept would be tested in a table-top exercise during Operation Nanook.
NATO plays a big role in making the Arctic territory the subject of a military dispute. In 2009 at a conference in Reykjavik, Iceland, NATO declared the Arctic a “strategically important region.”
The U.S., Canada and NATO make no secret about why they need a military group deployed in the Arctic region. U.S. and some Canadian icebreakers are deploying to defend what are called the national interests of those members of the alliance who claim their right to the natural wealth of this part of the planet despite what studies show regarding ownership of the sea bed.
The Arctic contains about 90 billion barrels of unexplored crude and enormous reserves of natural gas, which could be comparable to those of Russia making up about 30 per cent of global gas reserves. Experts say that by 2030 Russia will be using many of its Arctic gas deposits to extract about 50 per cent of its natural gas. For example, the Shtokman deposit in the Barents Sea contains 4 trillion cubic metres of gas.
Russia’s marine doctrine, which was signed during Vladimir Putin’s presidency, singles out the Arctic territory as one of the major directions of the country’s naval policy. Russia’s Security Council is to unveil a new strategy of Arctic development at the end of January. Moscow also wants to considerably intensify the freight traffic activity along the Northern Seaway during the upcoming years and plans to build for this purpose six new powerful nuclear icebreakers before 2020.
It is more important now than ever to reaffirm what the whole world has learned at great cost… that border disputes and other differences must be settled through peaceful discussion and not through military aggression.
1. “The Arctic in NATO’s Cross-Hairs,” David Brian, Voice of Russia, January 26, 2009.