Plans for militarization of Arctic under US control


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In the final months of the Obama presidency arrangements are being put in place in Canada by the Trudeau government to give the United States a dominant position in the Arctic. This is being done in the name of so-called progressive values such as environmental stewardship, reducing green house gas emissions and addressing the longstanding social and economic problems which have affected the peoples of the Arctic, especially the Inuit and other Indigenous peoples. All of it is being done to depoliticize the people and disorient their opposition to the destruction of the natural and social environment by U.S. imperialism which will be stepped up under a new U.S. war presidency.

On March 10, on the occasion of his visit to Washington, Prime Minister Trudeau joined President Obama in announcing “a new partnership for Arctic leadership.” Its stated aim is to “embrace the opportunities and to confront the challenges in the changing Arctic.” They claim that this will be done through “Indigenous and Northern partnerships, and responsible, science-based leadership.”

It comes at a time when the United States holds the rotating chairmanship of the Arctic Council (a two-year term which began April 24, 2015) and has stepped-up its contention for control of the Arctic. It is taking place in the context of the opening up of the Northwest Passage as a new shipping route to and from Asia and the attempts of the U.S. to have this route declared an international waterway in which it hopes its military forces and shipping monoplies can do as they please.

It is also taking place amidst moves by the U.S. as well as Canada to lay claim to the strategic resources in the Arctic, in particular those in areas claimed by Russia. In this regard, the U.S. is also intent on placing its aggressive missile defence systems (especially a new generation of remote sensors to replace those of the Cold War period) and U.S. forward operating bases in the Canadian Arctic. Much of this also relates to bringing in new arrangements within the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD). Notably, on August 17 the commander of NORAD, General Lori Robinson, visited NORAD’s forwarding Operating Location in Inuvik, North West Territories to become familiar with “Canadian NORAD facilities” there.

Change from Harper-era strategy

The Harper government had open disagreements with the particular interests represented by the Obama administration such as following the 2006 federal election campaign when Stephen Harper pounced on comments by David Wilkins, U.S. ambassador to Canada at the time, who reaffirmed the long-standing assertion by the U.S. that the Northwest Passage is an international strait through which international shipping has the right of passage. Harper stated, “We have significant plans for national defence and for defence of our sovereignty, including Arctic sovereignty; it is the Canadian people we get our mandate from, not the ambassador from the United States.”

The Harper government made a big issue of visiting the Arctic annually and promoting the establishment of military bases and use of the Canadian Rangers in the Arctic. Annual exercises led by the military such as Operation Nanook were launched. (In November 2009, then US Secretary of Defense Gates and Defence Minister Peter McKay, in a meeting at the Halifax International Security Forum, announced that they had agreed the United States would begin an annual deployment of U.S. Marines in the name of “protecting sovereignty,” beginning in 2010. – TS)

Map of current military exercises in northern Canada – click to enlarge | Canadian Forces

Map of 2014 military exercises in northern Canada – click to enlarge | Canadian Forces

Now under the Trudeau government a new arrangement is being put in place in concert with the legacy President Obama is trying to cement. This includes aspects of its missile defence program that it uses to track activities in Russia, such as the same kind of sensors that the people of Korea are resolutely opposing due to their aggressive nature and risk to the natural environment.

What is being said

Under the new partnership, the two countries are said to be focusing on four areas:

“- Conserving Arctic biodiversity through science-based decision-making;

“- Incorporating Indigenous science [sic] and traditional knowledge into decision-making;

“- Building a sustainable Arctic economy” (This is described as including “shipping, fishing, and oil and gas exploration and development”); and

“- Supporting strong Arctic communities” (According to the two leaders supporting strong Arctic communities is linked to trying to assert their control over the Arctic. They state that “All Indigenous Peoples in the Arctic are vital to strengthening and supporting U.S. and Canadian sovereignty claims.”)

The areas outlined in the new partnership almost directly coincide with the Arctic Strategy of the Obama administration released in 2013, through which the U.S. sought to assert its domination in the Arctic in the name of preserving the environment, evidence-based decision-making regarding the exploration and shipping of oil and gas, as well as recognizing what they called Indigenous knowledge. This is supposedly in contrast to the Bush administration’s Arctic strategy which openly spoke about the Arctic as being important for U.S. national security interests, in particular the placement of its missile defence bases and the free movement of its military in and under the Arctic. Under the Obama administration’s Arctic Strategy, the U.S. continues to assert that the Arctic is vital to its national security and in particular that it requires the freedom of movement of its military forces in and under the Arctic. However, this is kept under wraps and talk is all about conservation and environmentalism so as to hide the militarization taking place and increasing U.S. occupation.

In launching “the new partnership,” the Trudeau government seeks to ensure the free movement and control of the U.S. military in the Canadian Arctic. This is what all the talk about environmental stewardship is meant to hide.

In launching “the new partnership,” the Trudeau government seeks to ensure the free movement and control of the U.S. military in the Canadian Arctic. This is what all the talk about environmental stewardship is meant to hide.

Canada to focus on Inuit

When speaking about “the new leadership model,” Canada emphasizes relations with the Inuit and other First Nations. On August 5, Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett appointed Mary Simon, an Inuit leader, as the Minister’s Special Representative responsible for leading “an engagement” that “builds on the commitments made in the U.S.-Canada Joint Statement on Climate, Energy and Arctic Leadership” and providing advice on the development of this new “shared Arctic leadership model.”[1]

It appears Simon has been tasked with getting other Inuit leaders to agree to allow the U.S. a bigger role in their territories in return for addressing various concerns of the people who live in the Arctic – a tough sell indeed.[2]

Oppose U.S. militarization of the Arctic!

151129-WindsorClimateChangeMarch-02Environmental stewardship, conservation and development of natural resources to serve the people who live in the Arctic does not require the intervention of the United States. In the experience of Canadians, the U.S. state stands for nation-wrecking and war and talk about the environment is for purposes of pursuing maximum profit for its monopolies in what are called “green industries.” The U.S. military is the biggest polluter in the world: it willfully destroys the natural and social environment in order to assert U.S. imperialist domination. The U.S. is an Arctic country given its claims over Alaska; however, in the name of environmental protection, it is now being handed a direct role on Canadian territory without the Canadian people being given any say in the matter.

Arctic territories are occupied by the U.S. (Alaska), Canada, Denmark, Russia and Greenland. The Inuit have lived there since time immemorial. They have the right to decide what happens in their homeland. The Liberals are entering into a “new leadership model” with the U.S. behind the backs of the peoples of the Arctic, who are supposed to accept such arrangements after the fact through “an engagement.” This will never erase the right of the Inuit to decide what happens in their territories.

Those who live in the Arctic are not favoured by the U.S. placing its missiles, sensors and military equipment there and will surely not accept it as a quid pro quo for the building of roads, schools or hospitals or other infrastructure they desperately require. They have resolutely opposed U.S. imperialism’s destructive role in their territories, including U.S. ballistic missile testing, in the past. The same is bound to be the case today if the U.S. attempts to place missile batteries or remote sensors there.

Through “engagements” and “consultations” the Liberal government is trying to present itself as having a better approach for the Arctic and First Nations across Canada than the Harper government, which did not consult or even try to get consent. The Liberals’ approach however will not give legitimacy to whatever the U.S. has planned. Embroiling those who live in the Arctic in discussions on how to allow the U.S. to use their territories for its own purposes is what the Liberals hope to achieve, however they are bound to backfire.

Make Canada a Zone for Peace!

Peace-loving people stand against the militarization of the Arctic. Whether by Canadian or U.S. forces or both, militarizing the territories claimed by Canada in the Arctic does not serve the interests of those who live there, or the cause of peace generally. It contributes to the destruction of the natural environment and leads to further militarization and contention – the conditions for war. To claim as the Liberals are doing that they can reconcile preserving the environment in the Arctic with acceding to the U.S. demand that its military be allowed to operate freely in the Arctic is a fraud worthy of contempt.


1.Simon was the President of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami from 2006 to 2012. She has held many significant positions for the Canadian government and Inuit organizations. She has been President of Makivik Corporation (a Land Claims Organization for Inuit of Nunavik), President of the Inuit Circumpolar Council, Canadian Ambassador for Circumpolar Affairs as well as to the Kingdom of Denmark. Ms. Simon also led Canada’s negotiations during the creation of the eight-nation Arctic Council in the mid 1990s.

Simon is currently co-chair of Canadians for a New Partnership. This group was established in 2014 and one of its main spokespersons has been Paul Martin. It was set up before the last federal election to make an issue of going back to the program of more funding for First Nations and Inuit and raised as concerns the unfairness of the treatment of First Nations and the need for “equity.” The organization’s board is full of members of the Order of Canada and key point people of the Canadian state such as former Prime Ministers Paul Martin and Joe Clark and Justice Frank Iacobucci. Its founder, Stephen Kakfwi, a former premier of the Northwest Territories and president of the Northwest Territories Dene Nation, said he created the organization in response to watching the emergence of the Idle No More movement. This shows the manner in which such groupings emerge out of efforts by the ruling circles to undermine the independent political movements of the people and divert them into giving up their own initiatives in favour of replacing “bad leaders” such as Harper, with so-called “good leaders” such as Trudeau who are then called upon to be “fair.”

2.In her capacity as the Minister’s Special Representative, Simon is to meet with territorial governments, Indigenous governments and First Nations, Inuit and Métis representative organizations, land claim organizations and co-management boards, non-governmental organizations, youth and youth representative organizations, scientists (e.g., marine, climate), researchers and research organizations and industry. She is to support a “collaborative approach” to advancing a shared Arctic leadership model. Her mandate states, “Given the constitutional standing of comprehensive land claim agreements (treaties), engagement with land claims organizations will be central to this process.” In this case it may well be about getting Inuit to give up or “modernize” their land claims so as to facilitate a “collaborative approach” – which is to say provide a place for the U.S. in the Canadian Arctic.

(Originally presented at the August 14 Seminar on the National and International situation held by the Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist) in Ottawa.)

Related Reading on this website

“Canadian military exercises in the Arctic,” August 30, 2014

Militarization of the Arctic – Canada: Battle line in East-West conflict,” June 3, 2009

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