Late last week, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper spent four days in the Arctic. Flying around military bases in the northern provinces of Canada Nunavut, Yukon and Northwest Territories has become a tradition over the years of his stay in power. The current Prime Minister has been in power for six years, and for the sixth time he appeared in the Arctic. Harper has repeatedly said that these visits are made in the framework of the “northern strategy.” It includes an increase in military presence, economic and social development and environmental protection in polar latitudes.
Strictly speaking, the military component was clearly in the first place. As soon as he arrived in the Arctic, Harper began to observe the exercises attended by land, naval, and air forces. Although the exercises are carried out for the fifth time, it is the first time when they are conducted at such a scale. Addressing the officers, soldiers and sailors, the Canadian Prime Minister said that the increase in military presence in the Arctic is particularly important for the protection of the national interests. However, he also did not forget about the economy and stopped by the gold mine that was started a year ago.
Increasing the presence in the Arctic was originally a cornerstone of Harper’s policy. As part of his strategy, he proposed to establish two new naval bases, upgrade the existing two, and build three heavy icebreakers. The economic crisis has slowed down the implementation of his Napoleonic plans a little, but has not made him abandon them. It is pretty clear who Canada intends to defend itself from. The U.S., Denmark and Norway have access to the Arctic, and they are NATO allies. Only Russia remains.
Here is, for example, Harper’ reaction two years ago to the emergence of the Russian strategic bomber Tu-95 in the international waters close to Canada. He then stated that he had repeatedly expressed the deep concern of the Canadian government caused by more aggressive Russian actions around the world and in airspace. He added that he intended to defend the airspace and respond every time when the Russians were aggressive against the sovereignty of Canada.
The Canadian authorities have strongly disputed the ownership of the Russian underwater Lomonosov Ridge. The reasons are understandable. If it is confirmed that the ridge is a continuation of the Siberian continental shelf, Russia would stake a large portion of the Arctic Ocean, along with the rich deposits of oil and gas. Last year it was openly stated by the head of the Canadian Foreign Ministry Lawrence Cannon during his visit to Moscow.
Harper preferred to talk not only about pure geopolitics, but also about the “higher issues” – freedom and democracy. He said that the geopolitical importance of the Arctic and Canada’s interests in the region were never bigger than now. He added this was the reason why the government has declared its ambitious North Course based on the timeless responsibility the country was entrusted with – to keep the True North strong and free. Obviously, the Canadian military vehicle is moving towards the north, closer to Russia, for the sake of freedom and progress.
The local media urges Harper to strengthen Canada’s military power in the northern latitudes. The leading Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail wrote that Canada may have preferred that the Northwest Passage remained a quiet backwater, as it helps to preserve the fragile Arctic ecosystem and the traditional Inuit way of life. However, if the Canadians are still in favor of sustainable development of the North and the creation of jobs for Northerners, they may miss their chance.
The newspaper wrote that the ice of the Arctic Ocean is melting faster than predicted by the UN commission of experts on climate change. According to the latest forecast for the next 30-40 years, the Arctic Ocean will start to totally clear of ice in summer. The North-west passage, presumably, will become ice-free even earlier – perhaps in 20 years. Changing ice conditions make the Northwest Passage an alternative route for commercial shipping, the newspaper explained the need for an “active policy.”
Toronto Sun was even more outspoken. It wrote that Prime Minister Harper must speak out harshly against any country that believes that they have the right to monitor Canada’s activities on this side of the Arctic Circle. The paper added that it was in the Canadian part of the Great White North where 25% of the world’s undiscovered oil and gas were located.
The newspaper continued that in addition to the need to talk tough with the Russian and Chinese who produce icebreakers at a scale the Canadians manufacture pickup trucks it was time to move from words to actions. They continued that Harper should defend the irrefutable fact that the Great White North belonged to Canada and was a ticket to the future for Canadian children and their children’s children.
In its publication back in July, Toronto Sun scared its readers with the “Russian threat.” The paper stated that the Russians were coming, and were planning to use force. According to the article, in the summer the Russians were planning to place two army brigades, up to 5,000 soldiers, in the Arctic, presumably to protect their interests in this disputed uninhabited region rich in minerals. The paper added that Canada was not going to let them do it.
What followed sounded like rhetoric of wartime. The newspaper stated that Canada was not about to give up. It would be silly to limit military exercises to a small scale because Russia clearly intended to gain a foothold on Canada’s Arctic territory. The paper added that it was hoping that the declaration by Canada of its intentions to strengthen its presence in August in the Arctic would show the Russians that their plan would face resistance.
Toronto Sun continued by saying that, unfortunately for Canada, the UN was likely to determine the legitimacy of claims of Arctic Canada and other polar countries, and decide who will own the Arctic waters that presumably contain 25 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil and gas. In fact, the newspaper encouraged the country’s authorities to ignore the international law saying that once the UN interferes with the Canadian interests, it can be neglected.
In turn, the publication of Global Research wrote directly about the “Russian trace” in the Canadian military maneuvers in the north. It wrote that Russia is simply doing what any country would do in its place -pursuing its national economic and other interests in the Arctic. “Operation Nanook” last year was conducted as a direct response to the renewed Russian claims in the Arctic Ocean. For the first time troops from other countries – the United States and Denmark – were involved in the exercise, the newspaper noted.
The latter circumstance is particularly noteworthy. Canada is going to stand up to Russia in the Arctic, along with its NATO allies. But, unlike in many other cases, Canada does not intend to give the Americans the fundamental part. There is still a competition between the nearest neighbors in North America, and they do not want to share hydrocarbons. Canada is trying to become a leader in the Arctic using belligerent rhetoric. The question now is how Russia will respond to the challenge.
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