I am very pleased to be here today. I do speak French, of course, but my English is better, so my remarks will be in English today.
You have benefited from testimony from the legal adviser at Global Affairs Canada, Alan Kessel, who is one of the finest international lawyers I know. I'm going to try to build a little on his work and perhaps explain a couple of the key issues in slightly different terms so that everyone understands the landscape here.
The first thing I want to say is that Arctic sovereignty is sometimes understood to be different things. For a lawyer like Mr. Kessel, Arctic sovereignty concerns our relations with other nation states, so it concerns maritime boundaries, it concerns our single land dispute over Hans Island, and it concerns the status of the Northwest Passage. For an international lawyer like Mr. Kessel, that is what sovereignty means.
For people who live in the north, sovereignty includes a broader range of issues. It includes search and rescue. It includes policing of things like smuggling, the drug trade or illegal immigration. It also concerns social and economic issues, the housing crisis and the health crisis. Sovereignty is a large concept, but for lawyers, it's a fairly narrow one.
I'm going to speak to the narrower form of sovereignty, but I am willing in questions to talk about issues like search and rescue or icebreaking.
To start, let's go from the least concern to what I think may be the largest concern. Let's start with Denmark. Denmark owns the largest island in the world that is not a continent, i.e., Greenland. Greenland has a degree of self-government, but for the purposes of foreign relations, Denmark is in charge.
We have two insignificant boundary or territorial disputes with Denmark. One is over Hans Island, 1.3 square kilometres of rock. The dispute does not concern the water around the island. We have an agreed maritime boundary right up to the low water mark on each side. We've had that boundary since 1973, so it's only the rock, 1.3 square kilometres in a region that is measured in thousands and thousands of kilometres.
The other insignificant dispute with Denmark concerns a couple of tiny, really small, areas in the Lincoln Sea north of Greenland and Ellesmere Island. This dispute has, for all practical purposes, been resolved by a working group between the two countries. It simply concerned whether you could count a small island as a base point for calculating the boundary. As I understand it, the two governments could announce an agreed solution at any time that it was politically opportune to do so, so it's not significant. Denmark is not a problem. They are, of course, a NATO country, and we have a very vibrant trading relationship with them, including in the new European-Canada trade agreement.
Then there's Russia. Some of you are aware that Russia has been behaving very badly lately, including in Ukraine and in Syria, and, it would seem, in the United States and the United Kingdom. I have no illusions about Russia, but in analyzing Russia's posture in the Arctic, I have some optimism, not because Vladimir Putin is friends with Canada, but because he is a rational actor. Russia is the largest country in the world, and it has a very large uncontested Arctic territory. Russia has very large uncontested exclusive economic zones in the Arctic.
Russia has roughly one-half of the Arctic uncontested within its jurisdiction. It doesn't want any more Arctic. It doesn't need any more Arctic. It also knows that the Arctic is an extremely expensive place in which to operate. In the Arctic, for rational reasons, Russia is therefore behaving itself.
This is really important to realize. The Russians cannot afford to militarize another front. They've already got problems along the borders with NATO countries in eastern Europe. They already have a very big commitment in the Middle East. They're worried about their land border with China and issues in the Russian far east. In an optimal world for them, they might have an interest in the Arctic, but this is not an optimal world for Russia. Russia is actually in economic and demographic crisis, so it co-operates.
The Arctic Council is functioning normally. It's remarkable, but it is functioning normally. To their credit, former foreign ministers Lawrence Cannon and Stéphane Dion made a real effort in working on Arctic co-operation with Russia, realizing that this was an opportunity to keep one part of that relationship calm.
Let's talk about the United States. The United States is, of course, our most important ally, including in NATO and NORAD. The United States has massive naval interests around the world. It has a very strong interest in freedom of navigation, and we have a long-standing friendly dispute with the United States over the status of the Northwest Passage. They regard it as an international strait that passes through Canada's waters—Canadian, but subject to a right of passage—and we consider it to be internal waters.
Since 1988, when Brian Mulroney negotiated the arctic co-operation agreement with the United States, we have agreed to disagree. They always ask us for permission to conduct scientific research while transiting the Northwest Passage, and we always give it.
This brings me to China. The good news here is that last year, when China sent its research icebreaker, the Xue Long or “snow dragon” through the Northwest Passage, it decided it had no interest in challenging Canada's claim. Some exceptional diplomacy took place between Canadian and Chinese representatives, with the Chinese asking for permission to conduct scientific research and Canada agreeing.
Why is this important? Regardless of whether it's an international strait or internal waters, you need permission to conduct scientific research. The United States and China have both sidestepped the dispute. They haven't acquiesced to Canada's position. They've simply chosen not to engage with the dispute, and to sidestep it.
That brings me to my final point. The United States will continue to behave as it has. It has certain interests in Canadian co-operation in the Arctic. I'm not worried about the United States in the Northwest Passage.
China has not taken a position with regard to the legal status of the Northwest Passage yet, but it's unclear how China will move in the future. Its main interest is in safe, efficient commercial shipping. It therefore ideally needs extensive Canadian co-operation. It needs search and rescue. It needs aids to navigation. It needs ports of refuge. Rationally, therefore, it will want to work with Canada.
It also has a somewhat similar dispute regarding Hainan Island and mainland China—the Qiongzhow Strait or the Hainan Strait—where it has one legal opponent, the United States, and where the Chinese position is identical to Canada's position in the Northwest Passage.
My final message from my introductory comments is that the one thing I see as diplomatically important right now in the Arctic is to actually engage with China. We may not come up with an agreement to resolve all of our differences, but we need to make it clear that we want to work with China with regard to Arctic shipping, so that we can prevent them from coming down on the opposite side from us regarding the legal status of the Northwest Passage.
Thank you very much.
Hello. I am very pleased to be with you here today.
As a specialist on the law of the sea, I'll confine my remarks to the issues identified in the committee's standing order, which raise legal considerations and concern the maritime domain: the Northwest Passage and, if time permits, the extended continental shelf.
In my field of expertise, the law of the sea, the Northwest Passage is by far the most sensitive issue in terms of Canada's sovereignty in the Arctic. I've prepared explanatory notes in regard to the debate surrounding the legal status and the implications for Canada. If they might be of assistance, I would be honoured to share them with members of the committee.
As Professor Byers has just explained, and as is well known, Canada claims all the waters of the Arctic archipelago as Canadian historic internal waters. Under international law, as the committee must know, a state exercises exclusive and absolute authority over its internal waters, including the right to control access. Thus, navigation through the Northwest Passage is subject to Canadian laws and regulations, and violations can be sanctioned through Canadian law enforcement agencies and mechanisms.
As was pointed out, however, Washington has long held the view—it has been depressingly consistent in this position—that the routes of the Northwest Passage constitute an international strait subject to the right of transit passage. As defined under part III of the law of the sea convention, transit passage means freedom of navigation for ships and aircraft, both civilian and military, of all nations.
It's important to emphasize this often-neglected aspect of the legal regime governing international straits. The regime guarantees a right of navigation for ships and submarines on and under the water, but also for aircraft in the international air corridor that exists above an international strait. Ships, submarines and aircraft, both civilian and military, enjoy a right of unimpeded navigation through international straits.
While this disagreement between Canada and the United States is long-standing—at least 40 years—it's been well managed, and Washington has never sought to undermine the Canadian legal position by, for instance, sending a warship unannounced through the passage.
The ice has always been an ally, isolating the Canadian far north and allowing the issue to be dealt with as a minor, occasional irritant in the special relationship between Canada and the United States. However, it is melting. This new access has transformed the Arctic and the Northwest Passage into a strategic affair at the heart of global interests.
The status of the Northwest Passage is no longer an esoteric, quirky little legal debate among Canadian and American academics. It's no longer a bilateral issue. In September 2003 the German federal foreign office released guidelines for Germany's Arctic policy, which announced that the German federal government was campaigning for freedom of navigation in the Arctic Ocean, which was defined to include the Northwest Passage. It is unclear what “campaigning for” means or entails in this context, but I was certainly very relieved to discover that the 2016 European Union policy for the Arctic had not been influenced by the German view.
In January 2018, China released a white paper that set out a perfectly ambiguous Arctic policy, at least in regard to the Northwest Passage. The most intriguing and nebulous passages can be found under part IV, subsection 3(1), entitled “China's participation in the development of Arctic shipping routes”. The key paragraph begins with a definition of what China means by Arctic shipping routes, and they are deemed to include the Northwest Passage.
The Chinese white paper goes on to state that as a result of global warming, the Arctic shipping routes—which of course include the Northwest Passage—are “likely to become important transport routes”, and then that “China respects the legislative, enforcement and adjudicatory powers of the Arctic States in the waters subject to their jurisdiction.”
That sounds great—an acknowledgement, it would seem, of Canada's sovereignty over the Northwest Passage. However, the remainder of the paragraph raises significant concerns, continuing as follows:
China maintains that the management of the Arctic shipping routes should be conducted in accordance with treaties...and that the freedom of navigation enjoyed by all countries...and their rights to use the Arctic shipping routes should be ensured. China maintains that disputes over the Arctic shipping routes should be properly settled in accordance with international law.
Of course, those last two sentences completely negate the support expressed in the earlier sentence. The reference to freedom of navigation in the Arctic shipping routes, which are defined to include the Northwest Passage, is of course in complete opposition to the official Canadian position.
The Chinese white paper also seems to give some legitimacy to the idea that a dispute exists as to the status of the Arctic shipping routes, which, again, include the Northwest Passage.
As Professor Byers mentioned, any hopes that the Chinese government might explicitly recognize the Canadian position as a means of strengthening its own claim to the Qiongzhou Strait were dashed when it chose to invoke the rules on marine scientific research to cover the transit of its research icebreaker, the Xue Long, which is a state vessel, through the passage in 2017.
Therefore, now more than ever, Canada must be present and exert effective authority over the passage. Over the last century, the Canadian Coast Guard has largely ensured that presence. The addition of the navy's Arctic and offshore patrol vessels will be a tremendous asset in showing Canada's resolve and determination in guarding its maritime boundaries and in defending its national interests. However, to be effective, the Canadian Armed Forces must be equipped with the best possible surveillance and detection technology, not only to track surface but also underwater transits.
To be clear, as territorial sovereign and in order to protect its legal position on the Northwest Passage, the Canadian government would have to react vis-à-vis any ship or submarine that had entered the archipelago unannounced and uninvited. The amount of time available for diplomatic negotiations between Canada and the flag state would be severely limited. The issuance of a formal letter of protest of flag state, while possible, would likely be seen as a fairly weak response and certainly would offer little protection from the potential harm that might be caused by such an offending vessel.
In my opinion, and in the absence of a political solution, Canada should be prepared and willing to intercept. The Canadian Armed Forces must therefore have the capability to interdict a foreign ship navigating through the passage without permission and, indeed, if it poses a threat. Given the distances and the conditions involved, this aspect of the forces' mission poses a significant challenge. I think it would therefore be appropriate for a specialized unit, at least one military aircraft—as Professor Byers has argued in other instances—to be stationed in the Arctic, at least during the shipping season.
However, claiming the Northwest Passage—and this is my last point on the Northwest Passage—as sovereign internal waters does not only bring power and prerogatives, rights and control. It also imposes responsibilities and duties upon Canada. Canada must act as a responsible sovereign over its waters. The oceans protection plan and the important sums allocated to the Arctic are strong and critical evidence of Canada's commitment to effectively governing its Arctic maritime territory, and I would say long overdue evidence.
If Canada's national interest lies in promoting safe and responsible navigation through its fragile waters, then it must make the necessary investments to provide adequate navigation needs and, most critically, modern and accurate nautical charts. It must designate places of refuge and provide at least a minimum of search and rescue capability. Given the immensity of the territory in question, I strongly support Transport Canada's initiative with the Coast Guard and local indigenous communities in the designation and establishment of Arctic marine corridors. I can only hope that after more than five years of analysis and consultations, a pilot corridor will soon be established.
My last few points are these. I am also a strong supporter of the creation of marine protected areas in the waters of the Canadian Arctic, particularly where management plans for such areas are devised in collaboration with local indigenous communities. They are a manifestation of Canada's vision and priorities for its sovereign maritime territory.
Such collaborative initiatives also reinforce the truth that the Canadian Arctic waters are a cultural homeland. Canada must continue to robustly assert control, authority and, yes, exercise its sovereignty over the Northwest Passage, but it must also work to convince other interested states, through concrete actions and necessary investments, that it can be trusted to be a responsible steward of the Northwest Passage.
I would be happy to entertain any questions on the continental shelf issue.
You're speaking to the issue of what are called extended continental shelves. Under article 76 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, a coastal state can be recognized as having sovereign rights over the seabed only, beyond 200 nautical miles, if it can demonstrate that the seabed is a natural prolongation of its land mass.
As it happens, North America and Eurasia used to be a single continent. Russian and Canadian and Danish scientists believe that the Lomonosov Ridge is a natural prolongation of both sides, which is why in 2014 Denmark submitted scientific data to the United Nations showing that the Lomonosov Ridge was an extension of Greenland all the way across to the Russian exclusive economic zone, to 200 nautical miles from Russia.
Russia responded with its own submission in 2016, where it argued scientifically that the ridge was a prolongation of the Eurasian continent but quite remarkably did not extend its submission all the way across. It actually stopped roughly two-thirds of the way across.
I asked one of the Russian diplomats involved as to why they had done so, and they pointed out that all of the Arctic countries agree that there will be overlaps in our submissions and that those submissions are only about the science. The overlaps will have to be negotiated into boundaries through diplomacy.
If you go back to read Alan Kessel's testimony to this committee, that's exactly what he was talking about.
There has been a lot of misinformation on this from the media, because it is highly technical. However, it is an area where Russia is following the rules, and Canada has been working very hard with Russia to ensure consistency and collaboration on this matter.
Good afternoon. We're resuming the meeting.
We have our second panel, both on video and in person.
On video, we have Heather Conley, senior vice-president for Europe, Eurasia and the Arctic, and the director for the Europe program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. Welcome, and thank you for joining us.
We also have Adam Lajeunesse, who is the Irving Shipbuilding chair in Arctic marine security with the Mulroney Institute of Government at St. Francis Xavier University. He's in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. Welcome.
Last but not least, joining us here, we have John Higginbotham, senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation in Waterloo, as well as the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton.
After that long introduction, we'll begin with Ms. Conley, and then we'll go to Adam Lajeunesse. We'll save our in-house guest for last.
Please begin, and if you can keep your remarks to eight minutes, that would be great.
Thank you very much. It is a great pleasure to be able to be with you via video link.
I just want to speak very briefly about growing concerns that we have here in Washington about Russia's military presence in the Arctic. We've seen over the last decade that Russia has placed the Arctic squarely within its military doctrine and its new maritime doctrine. It has established a new Arctic strategic command. It has focused its military modernization efforts on its nuclear submarine deterrent in its northern fleet. It has [Technical difficulty—Editor] across the Russian Arctic. We are detecting where some of these airfields will increasingly have surface-to-air missiles placed on them and where they are focusing their special forces training among these airfields.
We have seen where Russia has certainly been exercising its Arctic capabilities. In March of 2015, we awoke to an unannounced snap military exercise in the Arctic where the Russians demonstrated, at full combat readiness, a complex air, sea and land exercise in the Arctic. This was then followed by recent exercises in 2017, the ZAPAD, or western military district exercise, where we've seen continued exercising in and around the Kola Peninsula. Then, of course, we all finished watching the Vostok exercise, which was the largest Russian military exercise since the 1980s and which also involved Arctic exercising in the western Pacific and the east. Again, there was rapid military mobilization. These were very complex combined operations.
In essence, what we're seeing is a focused effort by the Russian military to think about the Arctic and return it to its strategic imperative that it held during the Cold War. We're seeing a doctrine, a streamlined command structure, new equipment, new forces, and a repeated exercising of those capabilities.
I want to, though, caution that we don't over-sensationalize Russia's military footprint in the Arctic. This is not Russia as it was at the height of the Cold War. I believe what we are seeing is a return to some semblance of a Russian power projection capability that's highly concentrated for the north Atlantic and bastion defence around the Kola Peninsula. It has some [Technical difficulty—Editor] to the east with direct implications for the United States and Alaska as well as for Canada.
What makes it difficult for us to completely understand Russia's growing military footprint in the Arctic is that it sometimes is hard to decide, when Russia announces something new in the Arctic, whether they are reannouncing something they have not been able to achieve because they've fallen very far behind in their procurement timelines or in their announcements.
Sometimes we see Russia's military-industrial complex being used to help develop Russia's very ambitious economic ideas for the northern sea route. For example, the 10 search and rescue centres that Russia will be constructing along the northern sea route will be dual use military use. We will have to discern what is civilian and what is military.
We do have, I think, a very strong sense that this has been a priority for the Russian government for the last decade. It is a prestige project for President Putin. He is often on hand to watch Arctic exercises. He was on hand as they unveiled their first very modern special forces base on Kotelny Island just a few months ago. President Putin is very focused on the Arctic. They see it as their economic future base, and they also see it as a revitalized military opportunity.
We are also concerned about China's growing economic and scientific footprint in the Arctic. This is where Russia and China combined in some ways, very focused on the Yamal Peninsula, and that is for the Yamal LNG megaproject but [Technical difficulty—Editor] as the infrastructure, whether that's in Greenland, in Iceland, in their scientific research centres, railways, undersea cables, whether that's in Finland or in Norway, the port infrastructure and the LNG, we also need to now appreciate that China's growing economic role will also have strategic implications.
U.S. policy-makers are concerned. When China bid on airports in Greenland, what were the strategic implications for the United States for the Thule air force base in Greenland? There is a growing awareness, very much along the lines of our national security strategy and national defence strategy, that we have great power competition with Russia and China across the globe, and we are trying to understand how that manifests itself in the Arctic. It requires much more study and research, not hype. What is going on? What are the trajectories? What are the strategic implications for the United States? What are the strategic implications for Canada?
I will just finish my opening remarks by saying that NATO must have a greater awareness of both Russia's military posture in the Arctic as well as the strategic implications of China's economic role in the Arctic.
Now we are starting Trident Juncture, the largest NATO exercises centred on Norway, the Norwegian Sea and in the north. After this exercise, this is an opportune moment for the North Atlantic Council to receive a briefing, not only on how NATO operated in the north, but again, a detailed briefing on Russia's military footprint.
Now that NATO has decided to revitalize the Atlantic command in Norfolk, we are going to be concentrating on anti-submarine warfare and the GIUK gap, which is the gateway to the Arctic. We are seeing a revitalization of our Cold War muscle memory, but we're doing this in a different way, not a heavy footprint [Technical difficulty--Editor] U.S. navy officials are very concerned about Russia's nuclear deterrent in their submarine forces, which are quite lethal and quite capable.
We need to have this conversation in NATO. We need to revitalize the North Atlantic as a strategic region of importance, and we must also shift our attention to the Bering Strait, the Chukchi Sea and Russia's eastern Arctic, because we are also seeing changes in their posture.
I'd be delighted to answer any additional questions and, again, thank you so much for giving me this opportunity.
Thank you very much. It's a pleasure to be here, if only digitally.
I would like to take a few minutes today to share my thoughts on Canada's relationship with two of the states most commonly tied to contemporary debates on Arctic sovereignty. The first is our traditional partner and sometimes opponent in the Arctic, the United States. The second is the newest and perhaps one of the most assertive new entrants into the region, China.
While the United States has long been Canada's premier partner in the Arctic, it has also been the state with which we have most frequently quarrelled over the status of the region. The U.S. denies our historic waters claim and the applicability of the straight baseline doctrine to the archipelago, and insists on the existence of an international strait running through the archipelago.
Still, it's important to highlight that this disagreement has been very well managed since at least the early Cold War, largely because neither Canada nor the United States really stands to benefit from an open political confrontation. As such, a modus vivendi took shape in the 1950s that remains in place today.
This approach is best described as an agreement to disagree, a sort of tacit understanding that neither side will push the issue in a way that will damage the other's legal position. This set-up has long dominated Canadian-American Arctic relations and was even given legal form in the 1988 Canada-U.S. agreement on Arctic co-operation. This agreement and structure have worked very well.
Historically, the United States has actually shown very little interest in access to the Arctic waters per se. Rather, American concern has revolved around global freedom of navigation and the fear that acquiescence to Canada's interpretation of the status of the north might weaken America's position elsewhere. David Colson, the State Department official negotiating with Canada in 1986, put it very simply, saying, “we couldn't be seen doing something for our good friend and neighbor”—that's us—“that we would not be prepared to do elsewhere in the world.”
When the U.S. thinks about sovereignty and the Northwest Passage, it's thinking about the Russian Arctic and straits running through Indonesia, the Philippines, and other strategic choke points around the world. The fear of setting a precedent continues to be that country's primary concern, and it is represented in American policy documents.
Despite the political difficulties and somewhat tense exchanges, Canada and the U.S. have actually worked remarkably well in the region, putting sovereignty to the side to achieve practical objectives. The most obvious example is the activity of American nuclear attack submarines, which have used Canadian Arctic waters since the 1960s and likely continue to do so to this day. The available evidence actually suggests that far from being a sovereignty challenge, these missions were ones that Canada knew of and indeed participated in.
While this dispute is well managed, I would at least offer a word of caution on this note. The diplomatic balancing act that keeps the Northwest Passage from re-emerging as a political conflict has for decades and even generations been based on careful diplomacy, mutual respect and a willingness by both parties to avoid conflict rather than pressing for a legal resolution of the disagreement.
The current U.S. administration has a very different modus operandi than all of its predecessors, and is far more prone to seek short-term, even symbolic wins at the expense of long-term partnerships. It may be entirely speculative, but I think Canada should be ready for the question of the Northwest Passage to possibly re-emerge as a point of diplomatic conflict. To be frank, all that would be required for a renewed fight would be for the American President to learn of the dispute and to feel the need to attack Canada for some real or perceived slight. Five years ago this would have seemed absurd, but we live in interesting times.
One of the most important new actors in the Arctic, and the subject of much speculation, is China. China now calls itself a near-Arctic state, and there are concerns that Beijing may seek to challenge Canada's Arctic sovereignty, given its interests in northern shipping and resource extraction.
In January of 2018, China released its official Arctic policy, and its position on Canadian sovereignty was ambiguous. The relevant passage in that document says that China respects Canadian sovereignty “in the waters subject to their jurisdiction”, without specifying what those waters might be.
It goes on to say that China enjoys “freedom of navigation” in accordance with UNCLOS, which is a reference to the right of transit passage through international straits guaranteed in article 38 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
While this paraphrasing could be seen to imply a Chinese assumption of free navigation through the region and in the Northwest Passage in particular, there are other ways to read that statement. The ambiguity inherent in China's position is almost certainly intentional, with the waters muddied just enough to allow Beijing to skirt the issue, neither locking itself into recognition of Canadian sovereignty nor needlessly offending the Canadian government.
Domestic Chinese maritime interests actually make it unlikely that China will challenge Canadian sovereignty. China relies on straight baselines, as do we, to enclose the Qiongzhou Strait and the country's longest baseline. China's longest baseline is actually only eight miles shorter than the longest Canadian Arctic baseline, which stretches across M'Clure Strait. While the comparison here isn't perfect, it means that any challenge to Canadian sovereignty could be seen as a self-defeating precedent for China.
Increased Chinese activity in the region and potential shipping in Canadian waters more generally shouldn't require a radical shift in Canadian strategy. That has long been to exercise control over the Arctic waters while allowing the passage of time to strengthen the state's legal and political position. In fact, Canada can leverage increased Chinese and foreign activity in the region to strengthen its position. The acceptance of Canadian control by new entrants like China offers Canada a precedent of implied consent.
One of the fundamental prerequisites of historic waters, on which we base our claim to sovereignty, is the acceptance of Canadian control by those most affected. Historically, this has meant foreign governments, particularly the U.S. In the future it will mean shipping companies and independent operators. If Canada continues to regulate and assist foreign shipping, it simply reinforces that sovereignty position.
Crucial to this assumption is the idea that Canada can effectively assert its control over foreign activity in the Northwest Passage. Effective control is important. Exercising this control and providing Canadian support for maritime activity in the region not only demonstrates Canadian sovereignty but allows Canada to leverage its assets to ensure compliance. Icebreaking services, ice reporting and other infrastructure can support foreign shipping, and if a foreign ship fails to comply with Canadian instructions or regulations, it can be cut out of this system.
Conversely, the absence of such support may incentivize foreign actors to operate outside of Canada's reporting and regulatory framework on the assumption that there is little to lose by doing so. If foreign actors see no advantage to working within the Canadian system, they may begin to treat the Northwest Passage as an international strait in which Canadian control is nominal at best.
Canadian sovereignty is therefore not in the midst of any sort of crisis. Our legal position is well established, and the disputes that exist are well managed. Moving forward, however, Canada will have to make a real effort to maintain its effective control over the region. It must also keep an eye on existing disputes, which, historically speaking, have a habit of cropping up when least expected.
Thank you. I'm happy to take questions.
Good afternoon. It's a great honour and pleasure to be here to meet you. I'm a sort of recovering public servant, or a retired public servant who has fashioned himself into a so-called Arctic expert in the last few years. I'm not an international lawyer, so I can't speak with the certainty that some of my colleagues do.
I want to talk about Arctic sovereignty in a wider, more existential sense, rather than a narrow legal one. I'm interested in Canadian nation building in the Arctic as the ultimate expression of Canadian sovereignty, as well as, of course, in the international and domestic regulatory machinery of sovereignty.
How did I get engaged in the Arctic? As a diplomat, I worked mainly in Washington, Hong Kong and China, for many years. These were great experiences that made me look at my own country in a different way, not necessarily as others see us.
In Ottawa, I had a number of jobs related to Canadian foreign policy planning and transportation. For five years, I had the great pleasure of working at Transport Canada, coordinating the Asia-Pacific gateway and corridor initiative. It was a successful example of multipartisan federal-provincial and private sector co-operation in facilitating Canada's international trade.
I learned first-hand to appreciate the critical historical and contemporary roles of the national government in providing direct or indirect support for major transport, energy and communications infrastructure. Our current web of economic infrastructure, built over centuries, has enabled very broad, deep economic and social development, public and private, in Canada.
In contrast, I also came to understand more deeply the huge infrastructure, economic and social development gap that exists between northern and southern Canada. Frankly, I was shocked by it. I found the lack of national political attention to Arctic economic and social development understandable but troubling, particularly given the changing international environment.
I was impressed in particular by the lack of Canadian attention to the melting of the Arctic Ocean. This huge geographic fact is driving unprecedented thinking, interest and investment in Arctic economic and social development in Alaska, Russia, Norway and Greenland, as well as rising interest in China, a country I know well.
The melting is also precipitating important geopolitical recalculations as global balances shift and shudder. However, Canada sleeps. We are falling further and further behind in investing in the core pan-Canadian Arctic infrastructure and policies that would enable the peoples, communities and regional government of Canada's Arctic and all Canadians to adapt and flourish in this new world. I see it as the maritimization of the Arctic archipelago looking forward 50 years—an astonishing vision that we should be thinking about now.
This infrastructure gap is particularly poignant at a time when the pillars of North American integration and co-operation are threatened by our neighbour to the south and the development of self-reliant Canadian economic development is increasingly urgent.
To step back a bit from the integration and globalization, we have prospered from the benign environment of the last 30 or 40 years.
The Arctic is one of our aces in the hole economically, as it is for Russia now, over the very long term. Think of the third option of the first Trudeau government, revisited under different circumstances that have illustrated our profound vulnerability to changes in U.S. policy. The third-option policy focused on national domestic economic development, not just the usual magical remedy of diversified trade, which I have heard about for 40 or 50 years of my career.
Who's responsible for our huge Arctic development gap? Successive federal governments have mainly focused for decades on important Canadian Arctic identity and governance issues. Nothing I have to say on the importance of infrastructure means that I am mindlessly pro-development or have any problem with a great emphasis on aboriginal reconciliation. Nor do I at all deny climate change.
However, there's been very little attention to parallel economic and social investment programs in these priorities that facilitate other national goals in the Arctic, from security to legal claims, indigenous reconciliation, robust territorial democratic governments and environmental stewardship.
The same complacency affects our approach to the geopolitics of the Arctic. We have ignored important emerging geopolitical challenges since Crimea in Russia and Trump in the United States, because of our very comfortable and complacent place under the U.S.'s security and trade umbrella. Now that trust is somewhat in question. We've seen it shattered in the trade and economic area—which, again, I have worked on extensively—and we're just pulling ourselves out of the debris there. We'll come out all right, but it's equally possible for those disturbances to apply in the defence, security and sovereignty area.
We see new Arctic strategic tensions and military activities all around us—as Heather has mentioned—starting with Russia's decades-long and very impressive military-civil buildup around the northern sea route. China's main Arctic “belt and road” partner is Russia, and China is funding Russian Arctic energy developments in Yamal and elsewhere, despite low oil prices and western sanctions. It's part of Putin's national will.
Threat is always a combination of capacity and intent. It seems to me that prudence demands an updating of our overall strategic analysis, taking the unexpected fully into account. There are also important continental security changes, as the north warning system ages, as new threats appear, as NORAD faces reorganization and as the United States considers a more active surface role in the Arctic Ocean.
As long as Trumpist nationalism reigns, we must put a footnote—a large footnote—under our excellent trust and co-operative relations over many years with the United States. One can only hope the President does not turn his powerful America First machine to the Arctic dimensions of Canada-U.S. continental defence, especially in the Arctic, including his charge that from a security point of view, Canada is a free rider.
We must remember that all of our machinery asserting our Arctic claims depends on a continuation of the liberal international order, which we have supported based on the foundation of United States' support since World War II. We must realize that that cannot be entirely taken as much for granted now as it was three or four years ago.
I think in some ways Canada and the United States share the same challenge of the North American Arctic—sparsely populated, with a deficit of infrastructure, but extraordinary energy and mineral resources. We haven't really given it more strategic thought, as opposed to our Russian or Norwegian colleagues, who see the Arctic as an absolute imperative, economically and militarily. After the Cold War, we in some ways lost our appreciation. It was a place for the Arctic Council. It was for environmental protection and sustainable economic development.
We've lost our strategic vision for this region.
My argument is that China and Russia do have a strategic vision and imperative for the Arctic. We need to decide what is in our nations' best interest. I think Alaska is experiencing the same challenge. In some ways, Alaska's energy was designed for American energy security and independence. The energy revolution has changed that. What is Alaska's energy for? Is it for export to China? Is that an engine of economic growth? What is its strategic purpose? The nation has to make that decision.
What worries me is that we will see an increase of commercial vessel traffic that will traverse the Bering Strait. There will be Chinese LNG carriers that will be going to the Yamal Peninsula and back. We will have Chinese container shipments traversing our waters. We need to protect the[Technical difficulty—Editor] coastline to make sure that we prevent any environmental degradation.
Norway, for example, had an instance a few years ago of a scientific vessel stopping off in Svalbard in the Norwegian archipelago. They didn't know who was coming off that vessel.
We have to be able to protect our people, our coastline and our waters, and to project territorial defence if required.
You are absolutely right. The question is, what is our vision and what is the national policy behind that?