Thank you for the invitation and the opportunity to talk to you about Canada's sovereignty in the Arctic.
We cannot have a conversation about Canadian Arctic sovereignty, both protecting it and strengthening it, without turning our attention to the critical need for infrastructure investment in the Canadian north. The magnitude of infrastructure required, however, necessitates a new vision and strategy for the north. Rather than having a conversation about whether or not Russian battleships and submarines are making their way to Canada's north, the dual political conversation about Canada's Arctic sovereignty should be on building a strategy that lays out a long-term Canadian vision not only of the north in itself but as part of a grander vision of the future role of Canada in global politics and economics, and what the north has to offer in that respect.
Dave McKay, the president and CEO of RBC, repeated an interesting comment in numerous speeches about what Canada needs to do to remain competitive in the global economy following the April 2017 U.S. tax legislation. When I relisten to his words, it shouted “north” in every sense, yet I think we can fairly assume that the Canadian north was not on his mind at that time. In those speeches he said, “We need roads, rail and pipelines to continue to harness our natural resources, which pay for much of what we take for granted and connect our country together.”
In that vein, I'm going to begin today with my conclusion. I believe that Canada needs not only a northern strategy for the next 12 years but a Canadian version of China's road and belt initiative, a strategy of how the north fits into Canada's vision for its role in the world in the future.
There is an enormous opportunity for Canada to strengthen its sovereignty in the vast economic and geopolitical potential that is not yet being realized. There is a narrative to build that would both improve many Canadians' understanding of and interest in the north and that can be used for export that would reaffirm to the global community that Canada is a northern nation and takes its north seriously. I will explain where I'm going with this argument through the examples of Russia and China.
I'm going to begin with Russia. In 2009 Russia released its Arctic strategy and that strategy makes a case that the Arctic is critical to the future of the Russian economy. In part it's due to the abundance of natural resources that exist there and, particularly, oil and gas.
To exploit those resources and profit from them Russia is turning the northern sea route into a new maritime corridor so it can get its resources to global markets, for global markets such as shipping to pass through the NSR between Europe and Asia and for foreign ships to access Russia's resources. In addition the NSR has become a means for generating additional revenue through user fees paid by those who pass through the route. The user fees are for icebreaker escorts, which are almost always needed, and thus a fee is almost always paid.
The process to turn its northern sea into a viable and regulated maritime route included a grand vision, the completion of several economic feasibility studies, followed by a strategy. Accompanying this, Russia has and continues to make massive investments in icebreakers and other military equipment, human resources, ports, roads and the list goes on.
A maritime corridor that includes ships and tankers travelling across Russia's entire northern coast through waters where scattered ice is the norm, carrying people and products such as LNG or oil, requires civil-military investment from icebreaker escort services and search and rescue equipment, including surveillance, to identify, prevent and/or combat threats, whether they be terror-related or environmental. Thinking about the NSR in this context one could well argue that much of the military buildup in the Russian Arctic is to protect Russia's sovereignty in its own region rather than to challenge Canada's sovereignty.
Moving over to China, in 2013 China announced its new belt and road initiative, a long-term strategy for constructing a global infrastructure system where essentially all roads lead to Beijing. Sherri Goodman from the Council on Foreign Relations stated it well when she said that China is a like a spider and its road and belt Initiative is its web. Likewise China's strategy is not based on election cycles but on centuries.
Recognizing the geopolitical changes that climate change is already creating in the north, including enabling greater access to mineral and other natural resources, is compounded by interest in Arctic research to better understand the long-term impacts of climate change. In January of 2018, China released its Arctic strategy. The strategy included its polar silk road, which became China's vision to bring the Arctic into its road and belt initiative based on what it expects the Arctic will look like in the next 20, 30, 50 years and so on.
At the moment China's main focus is on the NSR, and it moved quickly to fill the investment gap when the Russian sanctions took effect. Russia has since made some significant investments into the Russian LNG as well as infrastructure investments. That is not to say that the Chinese are not interested in the Canadian and broader North American Arctic. Investments or active efforts to invest in resources and infrastructure have already taken place and many others are in the process of negotiation.
Though the Northwest Passage is not close to becoming a reliable alternative maritime route, it is reasonable to argue that it is nevertheless becoming increasingly navigable and navigated. There's also a growing consensus that at one point in the near distant future it will be possible to go over the pole.
China's polar silk road policy is based on the assumption that major maritime changes are coming to the Arctic and those changes have strategic value for its larger belt and road initiative. The Chinese are essentially preparing now for an open Arctic Ocean. They are also investing today in the resources and scientific knowledge that they need and want.
In the North American Arctic and Iceland, active investments range from ports and research stations in Iceland to rare earth minerals in Greenland, to a gas pipeline in Alaska, and several mining investments in Canada.
The social ills from the lack of northern infrastructure in the Canadian north are well documented, as are the implications of the infrastructure gap on the economic viability of mineral and other natural resource projects there, further undermining northern communities' abilities to benefit from the development of those resources. Likewise, the reality is that if the federal government wanted to build all of the infrastructure needed for the north, it just could not afford to do so. Subsequently, communities are competing to attract the good graces of the federal government's limited resources to fund individual projects.
Currently, much of Bay Street has no idea about the potential value of the Canadian north. If someone asks a question, I can bring more up about that. Most on Bay Street do not think there is a rationale to invest in northern infrastructure. This is partly due to ongoing negative stereotypes about the north, as well as the lack of incentives to make it attractive or that would provide adequate rates of return. They argue that northern infrastructure is a social development and not an economic opportunity and thus it's the responsibility of the federal government.
Consequentially, the northern territories, indigenous development corporations, etc., look to China for capital investment. What does that mean for Canadian sovereignty? It means nothing, perhaps. It's like Norway. Its institutions and economy are strong enough to stand on their own in the sense that Norway has the necessary bargaining power. Is that the case in Canada's north? That's something I'm not in a position to say, but I will just say that the Chinese see the critical value of the Canadian and North American Arctic. I think all Canadians should as well.
I have a good example of this with the Chinese version of Google Loon, if someone wants to ask me.
Can an opportunity be created when, according to the Financial Times, the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board plans to invest double the assets it allocates to the emerging economy of China over the next seven years? At the current moment there is not a single Canadian pension plan fund that invests even a small proportion of its money in northern Canada. Could some of its investment dollars go north instead of the north asking the Chinese for capital investment?
For Bay Street to be interested in the north, however, it first needs to know and understand the north. That includes seeing the region's human value and its economic potential. Essentially, Canada needs its own polar silk road strategy, which would result in decisions for funding infrastructure projects based on an overarching rationale, rather than made in isolation, precisely what is required to attract private capital.
Bay Street and global finance agrees that China is an emerging economy, but we need to do more to advance the recognition of the North American Arctic as also an emerging economy. That narrative really needs to start somewhere.
Rather than battleships and missiles to fend off the Russians or Chinese, the largest threat to Canada's north is a real overarching lack of vision to bring about investment to build critical infrastructure. The infrastructure gap profoundly undermines northerners' own security, their quality of life, and the ability to protect and strengthen our own sovereignty.
I think we also need to reflect on Russia's northern sea route system, in light of creating a North American Arctic seaway, which I think was discussed a little bit in a previous meeting. I hope to discuss this more in the question and answer.
To summarize, Bay Street and global capital will not invest in the region without a grand rationale and a strategic plan. China is an exception because they took the initiative on their own to make their own strategic plan for the Arctic. If Bay Street capital is preferred to Chinese capital investing and owning the infrastructure of the Canadian north, or at least if it is preferred that Canada sets the terms of engagement for that investment, or if Canada wants to talk about its Arctic security with Russia, or to others about Russia, I think we really need a Canadian “belt and road and polar silk” vision.
This would detail Canada's strategic role in the Arctic and in the world through the 21st century, and moreover, we need to put that vision into motion.
I look forward to answer your questions.
Good afternoon. It is my pleasure to appear before the committee on this important theme.
Canada's Arctic sovereignty is a subject rooted in many misperceptions, and it's less sensational a subject than it's often made out to be. You heard last June from Alan Kessel, the legal adviser at Global Affairs, that “increased vessel traffic, if conducted properly and in accordance with Canadian law and policy, actually serves to reinforce Canada's Arctic sovereignty.”
That is correct, as is his assertion that no one disputes Canada's sovereignty over our Arctic lands, with the minor exception of Hans Island. The northern maritime disputes with the U.S. in the Beaufort Sea and with Denmark in the Lincoln Sea are well managed and will be resolved in accordance with international law when there is a perceived imperative to do so. In neither case do I anticipate an immediate need to solve these boundary issues. They really come down to an issue of political will to compromise with neighbours with whom we have a long history of co-operation.
If we went back a decade, I would spend most of my time countering what I saw as misplaced narratives about an alleged race for resources and threats of naval or commercial ships driving through the Northwest Passage and destroying Canada's legal position that these are our waters. Despite all the hoopla back then, this has not occurred, nor do I see activities of this sort posing a great threat to Canada's Arctic sovereignty today or in the foreseeable future.
You've heard from far greater experts than me, such as Mr. Kessel and Professor Lalonde, that Canada considers all the waters of our Arctic archipelago, including the various waterways commonly known as the Northwest Passage, to be internal waters by virtue of historic title. We have built up a strong legal position since the Second World War, and I do not feel that it is in particular peril today.
However, I'm sure you're less interested in blanket statements such as these than in my thoughts on the three main topics your committee is studying at present: Russian militarization of their Arctic, China's growing Arctic ambitions, and Canada's extended continental shelf claims. All are interrelated, but I'll take each one in turn.
First, in regard to Russia, although the end of the Cold War seemed to portend a new era of deep co-operation between Canada and Russia, lingering wariness about geopolitical motives and a mutual lack of knowledge about the other's slice of the circumpolar world are conspiring to pit our countries as Arctic adversaries. Furthermore, Russian aggression in the Ukraine and Syria, and strategic bomber flights to the limits of North American airspace, suggest a return of great power competition globally. These activities warrant careful monitoring and analysis in concert with the United States and other NATO partners. Although meeting near-peer competitor threats may require new or renewed capabilities in the Canadian Arctic, such as modernizing the north warning system, I would highlight that these threats are not borne of Arctic-specific sovereignty issues or disputes.
Russian military activities in its Arctic do not in any obvious way relate to environmental change or maritime corridors, or military threats in or to our Canadian Arctic. Commentators often make a false correlation by conflating Arctic issues, those threats emerging in and from the region itself, with global, grand strategic issues that may have an Arctic nexus but are appropriately dealt with at a global rather than narrowly regional level. In my view, this must be reflected in official Canadian policy, or the policy itself may create the very misperceptions that build mistrust and create conflict.
In short, Canada and Russia will find themselves on different sides in an era of renewed great power rivalry, but I do not think that this general state of competition portends Arctic conflict. Instead, there is still room for substantive co-operation and collaboration in the circumpolar world in areas of common interest, which I am happy to discuss, based on respect for each Arctic state's sovereignty and sovereign rights, as long as circumpolar co-operation is not held political hostage to broader geostrategic rivalries.
Although some media and academic commentators point to China as an emerging military competitor or sovereignty threat in the Arctic, I have argued in a recently co-authored book that this is based on speculation and I don't think it has any basis in verifiable evidence. Accordingly, I would suggest to you that alleged Chinese threats to Canadian Arctic sovereignty are a red herring that should not deflect attention or resources from more important issues.
Now, lest I be accused of being naive about China's Arctic interests, I'd like to qualify that statement by explaining that there are security and safety issues that arise from the activities of China and other non-Arctic states in our Arctic. These could include espionage, resource development or shipping activities that harm the environment, and even the loss of Canadian economic sovereignty. I would argue, however, that these are not “Arctic sovereignty” issues as we typically discuss them, and are best considered in the broader context of Canada's relationship with China as an emerging global actor.
Finally, I'll offer a series of suggestions that I'd be happy to elaborate upon during the question and answer period.
While references to Arctic sovereignty and security have been conspicuously absent from official Government of Canada statements on the Arctic since November 2015, public opinion polls conducted over the last decade have demonstrated that these concepts resonate with Canadian audiences. Accordingly, it's important for official Canadian statements to refer to sovereignty and security, but to be very clear about how these concepts are being used.
Accordingly, I recommend that the Government of Canada adopt a legal definition of sovereignty in its public messaging to avoid confusion, particularly when it comes to international audiences. A state-based definition used with international audiences should then be complemented by messaging explaining how Canada exercises its sovereignty in partnership with its indigenous peoples as rights holders within our country who also have particular rights internationally.
Second, Arctic coastal states hold, under international law, specific interests and responsibilities in the Arctic Ocean region. In exercising these rights, Canada should undertake full consultations with its domestic stakeholders—provinces, territories, indigenous governments and organizations—prior to international meetings and negotiations. This does not change the legal reality that the delineation of the outer limits of the Arctic continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles is a process that is conducted by states.
Given the UNCLOS article 76 process, Canada's ongoing research to delineate the limits of its continental shelf is aimed at fulfilling its obligations as a coastal state. The rights to a continental shelf are already ours as a party to UNCLOS and have nothing to do with historic rights, occupation or usage. Presuming that the science supports our case, our continental shelf will overlap that claimed by our Arctic Ocean neighbours. Efforts to foster dialogue with all our coastal state neighbours, including Russia, should be encouraged, as the eventual resolution of this critical issue for Canada will necessarily involve negotiations between all the concerned parties. This is not a cause for alarm but a process that can serve the national interests of all the Arctic coastal states.
Finally, we cannot solve the Northwest Passage issue with the United States bilaterally. This is a pipe dream. Instead, I urge you to recall an important point made by Professor Lalonde last week that the difference of opinion on the legal status of transit rights through Canada's Arctic waters is an international one, not a bilateral one. Countries like China are playing their cards close to their chests, as she explained to you. There is no simple solution to this long-standing issue, and anyone offering one, I would argue, is ignorant of history and of evolving international political realities.
Nevertheless, our legal position is not in jeopardy. We should operate from a position of confidence. Our Arctic foreign policy should reiterate, wherever possible, that Canada welcomes navigation in our waters in the Arctic as we do elsewhere, provided that ships respect Canadian regulations related to safety, security, protection of the environment and Inuit interests. This includes vessels from countries like China and Russia, whether research icebreakers or cruise ships, that comply with Canadian regulations. This approach also means having robust capabilities to maintain vigilance in ensuring that these vessels are not undertaking activities that are against Canadian laws or counter to our national interests.
Finally, we need to embrace the benefits of working with our allies and circumpolar partners to maintain a rules-based order in the Arctic. This does not require amplifying safety and security issues into so-called sovereignty threats that seldom warrant a long-term investment of resources, both material and intellectual. Instead, I would argue, we need to convince Canadians across the country that we already have Arctic sovereignty. We just need the national will to help northerners realize their dreams for the region as fellow Canadians.
I have a separate question for you, Professor Lackenbauer. I don't have that much time. That's why I want to make sure... These two questions are important to me.
The second question I have is specific to you, Professor Lackenbauer. When the Kiruna Declaration was signed in 2013, there were six observer countries that were added—China, India, Italy, Japan, the Republic of Korea and Singapore—which I find an interesting bunch of countries that are interested in the Arctic.
You wrote specifically on India. I'm not going to use India as a test case, but there are certain themes that came out of that article that you wrote that I wanted to explore a bit in terms of the geopolitical ramifications of allowing those six observer countries to join the other observer countries.
India had an Antarctic model, which it was using, but through whatever reasoning, it's not going to be applicable to the Arctic model. Something that came out of that paper, highlighted by India, was the global commons—the idea that this area would be able to be used by anybody, not just the Arctic coastal states.
Something else that came out of there, which was equally important, was the fact that now we have different definitions of what is going on there. You highlighted those definitions by saying either Arctic race, Arctic saga, polar lows or polar preserve.
Not using India necessarily as an example, but talking about the geopolitical strategy of the new great game and looking at all the people who are involved there—Italy, Japan, Republic of South Korea, Singapore, and 34 or 35 other observer countries—just so it could be better explained, which way are we headed geopolitically in the definition that you prescribe in your paper?
Thanks for the question. It's a wonderful one.
Looking at India is fascinating, in that it shows how some of the preconceived notions that have been developed by non-Arctic states in the context of other parts of the world, in the case of India, during the non-aligned movement era of the 1950s, looking at Antarctica and transposing that model onto the Arctic, which is a very poor analogue to Antarctica—the Arctic of course being primarily an ocean rather than a continent, and also much of it falling within the sovereign space of different coastal states, and of course having people—is pretty key. Watching Indian commentators become more sophisticated in their understandings of the Arctic over the last decade and refining their appraisals of what the Arctic future should look like, to my mind, gives hope that we are indeed heading towards a polar saga, as opposed to a polar race.
One of the other lines of reasoning coming out of some of the Indian commentaries was that in fact it was the responsibility of non-Arctic states such as India to save the developing Arctic world—those smug Arctic capitalist countries—from destroying the planet by exploiting resources in a highly vulnerable area. In fact, India was almost beginning to position itself as being, as it did back in the days of the non-aligned movement, the voice for the marginalized, to ensure that the planet was going to be sustainable.
I think that India's becoming an accredited observer—and according to the rules of the Kiruna Declaration it's a very circumscribed role, by no means in any way giving it a role comparable with that of the Arctic states, such as Canada—has actually encouraged an education process. It's great to have questions coming from outside the Arctic world.
At the same time, it's a great opportunity for countries such as Canada to play a leading role, as we espouse we are doing, in educating the world about this future and ensuring that it's one that can actually create conditions from which everybody can benefit.
Wonderful, I agree wholeheartedly with your sentiment of people first. I think that seems to be coming out of the consultation process towards the new Arctic policy framework in terms of really affirming that message strongly. As well, I think it has come out of the northern consultations that the government has undertaken. I think they're pointing in the right direction.
Obviously, the social indicators and the health indicators in the north are dismal. This is very much a black mark on Canada's international reputation, and it's something that we should all be taking seriously. It's certainly worthy of our intention and our investment, not only in material resources but also in intellectual resources, to come up with new models of delivering.
Looking across to Greenland, realizing that it is a different colonial history—albeit a very colonial one as well—given the nature of how the North Atlantic flows up to those coastlines, a lot of those communities, ironically, even through they're just across the Davis Strait, are open for much larger parts of the season and have viable fisheries and different economic opportunities than have existed to date within the Canadian Arctic. There's a very striking visible reality when you go to a community such as Uummannaq in Greenland versus, say, one of our wonderful communities of Baffin Island. They have a different feel to them.
Again, looking outwardly, rather than inwardly as we've consistently done as a country, in looking at the Arctic and potential models I think we should look at best practices, and perhaps Greenland will be one of them. From the economic models, we can look at success stories like Baffinland and how they've made things work with limited infrastructure, and what that offers in terms of opportunity. They've undertaken quite a miraculous achievement in what they've been doing out of the Mary River mine in the last decade.
I'm not trying to dodge your question. It's just to say, again, that in opening up our aperture a bit as a country, in looking outside our own borders and at some of the comparisons, we'll be realizing that we do have a lot of uniqueness in our north, and that a lot of our challenges are in some cases shared within the circumpolar world, such as abysmally high suicide rates, rates of tuberculosis that are scandalous and, in my mind, unconscionable for a country like ours to have. In essence, we have to be careful that when we're comparing apples and oranges, we're realizing that they're both fruits, but in some cases they're different fruits.
Thank you very much for the invitation.
I thought it might be helpful to pull together the testimonies heard to date. The conclusion I have reached is that there are two seemingly contradictory schools of thought on Arctic sovereignty, yet they are arguing for the same ends. For decades we have heard many arguments that Canada's Arctic sovereignty is in peril—or that it is not. What is fascinating, however, is that both schools are urging action to the same common ends.
The common theme is as follows. Successive governments fail to provide enough resources and/or policy guidance to either re-establish presumably lost Arctic sovereignty or maintain the status quo of just enough sovereignty. Both camps have raised valid concerns, but the solutions are lost because of the opaqueness, misunderstanding and misuse of the term “sovereignty”.
Southern Canadians use sovereignty as a shorthand replacement to suggest they have a general fear or concern about something but can't always articulate exactly what, or how to ameliorate the situation. What is more, successive Canadian governments have used sovereignty as a catch-all response to demonstrate concern about Canadian interests without needing to be very specific about what is being done or addressed. The term “exercising” sovereignty suggests all-or-nothing solutions, when what's been recommended are resources and nuanced responses that are not in the abstract or in theory. Furthermore, the term confuses and confounds allies and Arctic states, as Canada is the outlier in referencing sovereignty threats rather than threats to the homeland or capability gaps or surveillance challenges.
Here are four issues that both schools agree need to have continued support, now and in the future.
The first is all-domain awareness in the air, sea, land, space and cyber domains. Operation Limpid is part of that puzzle, as is the common maritime operating picture provided by the MSOCs. We have NORAD's two warning missions and the information provided by government departments and allies, yet a vital source of domain awareness, the north warning system, is coming to the end of its serviceable life. Resources are not earmarked for its replacement or reimagining. At the same time, we've heard that the RADARSAT constellations launch is now delayed.
Of course, all of these missions are under enormous resource and personnel pressures. What keeps me up at night is that I am not sure, for example, we'll be able to attract, train and retain personnel in all of Canada's safety, security and defence-related fields. This is not specific to the Arctic. Even the very successful ranger program and now the new Coast Guard Auxiliary program are in competition to attract the same individuals.
The second issue is the continuous governance challenges in the Arctic, such as the lack of services for the peoples of the Arctic—and for remote communities in Canada in general, for that matter. Housing prices are still too high, and the supply is too low. Nutrition North is not achieving the ends it seeks, which is to ensure that affordable, nutritious food is available. Businesses operate, but note that the growing bureaucratic red tape is making it difficult. Canada will not be able to attract or retain entrepreneurs if we can't guarantee the basic services. If projects like the retrofitting of an existing deepwater port take over a decade to materialize, this sends the wrong message.
It is perhaps not surprising, then, that Canada's Arctic is the only one of the eight Arctic states that has a stagnant Arctic GDP, as reported in the last “Arctic Human Development Report”. At the same time, we do know of some successes—for example, the new Arctic region announced today by the ITK, Fisheries and Oceans, and the Canadian Coast Guard. These are all steps in the right direction.
Third, every witness has been asked about Russia and China. These are questions that should be posed not only in the context of Canada's Arctic but in general. These potential near-peer competitors, coupled with the U.S., which seems determined to break or ignore international norms, rules and organizations that have allowed it and Canada to thrive to date, are not helped by discussions about sovereignty. Rather, we need analysis regarding intentions and capabilities.
NORAD and the Canadian Armed Forces have articulated their concerns about the capabilities that Russia possesses. They can reach Canada and the U.S. from Russian territory. China too has been investing in weapons that could threaten Canada, not the Arctic specifically.
Where discussions become very muddy is with respect to intentions because of the sovereignty debate. It is clear that the Arctic has proven to be a zone of co-operation, and it is thanks to the Arctic Council, numerous international laws and rules, not to mention Canadian laws, such as the Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act, or tools such as NORDREG, and of course Russia's and China's adherence to those rules to date.
Canada's attention needs to be on encouraging and fostering this co-operation and these accomplishments, like the High Arctic commercial fishing moratorium, which was just signed.
Finally, with respect to the Northwest Passage, it seems to me that all of the witnesses, and even the world, agree that it is Canadian. The arguments are about the rules that Canada can or should adopt to facilitate responsible shipping, protect wildlife and promote Canada's economy, regardless of its status.
Both sovereignty schools have argued for similar solutions and these ends. Canada needs to operationalize the Arctic maritime corridors initiative, which then prioritizes the location for navigational aids, future mapping efforts and sets the path for bathymetric surveys.
By continuing to fixate on sovereignty with references to the Arctic, there are some very serious problems that are obfuscated, and discussions we are not having with regard to Canada's national interests that transcend the Arctic, i.e., Canada's economic future, its defence and the future of a rapidly deteriorating liberal world order.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair and members of the committee, for the invitation to speak to you today as part of your study on Canadian sovereignty in our Arctic.
For my opening remarks, knowing that I would be testifying alongside Dr. Charron, whose views on sovereignty I almost consistently agree with, I decided to focus on the aspect of your study addressing Russian militarization of their northern territories and the implications of that for Canada.
These hearings are happening at an important time, because the strategic environment in and around Canada's Arctic is becoming increasingly complicated. Advances in military modernization by Russia are presenting increasing levels of threat to Canada and our allies in and through the Arctic. These factors require Canada to treat the defence of Canada against conventional military threats more seriously than it has in the past and to enhance our ability to defend Canada and North America in the Canadian Arctic.
Canada's policy regarding the Arctic is strangely inconsistent however. With our NATO allies, we are strongly committed to the defence of Europe and the deterrence of Russia, including in the Arctic. In fact, at present we are currently sending roughly 2,000 troops, four ships and 11 aircraft to participate in NATO's exercise Trident Juncture in Norway. Part of the objective of that exercise is to “ensure that NATO forces are trained, able to operate together, and ready to respond to any threat from any direction.”
Yet, as previous testimony from Canadian officials as part of this committee's study has indicated, Canada's official position is that the Canadian Arctic is a zone for peace and co-operation. That is certainly a desirable outcome. To increase the chances of actually realizing that, I think Canada should strengthen its ability to understand what is happening in our Arctic and bolster our defences there in an effort to better deter Russia.
In doing so, we would be taking the same prudent approach in the Canadian Arctic that we employ in Europe and the North Atlantic with NATO of increasing our defensive posture and deterring Russian aggression. As our chief of defence staff, General Vance, has stated that it is difficult to conceive of a strategic threat to Europe that would not also manifest itself in North America. At present, the most likely source of such threats would be the Russian north. For this reason it is time for Canada to treat the entire Arctic as an integrated strategic region and to adopt a more consistent defence approach.
I say this because over the last several years, the Russian military has significantly upgraded its air and naval forces and continues to do so. Much of this activity, including that related to Russian strategic forces, has been concentrated in the Russian north. The Russians have demonstrated the effectiveness of this new equipment as well as a willingness to use it to advance their own interests.
In Syria specifically, they've employed a sophisticated class of conventional air- and sea-launched cruise missiles that have greatly increased range, are difficult to observe and are capable of precision targeting. Three aspects of this are particularly troubling. First, these weapons come in both nuclear and conventional variants, therefore complicating efforts to assess the nature of Russian activity and providing them additional options for escalation in a crisis, which could increase the chances of miscalculation. Second, these missiles can be carried by Russian long-range patrol aircraft as well as their newest and most capable submarines. Patrols of both these aircraft and submarines have increased in the last several years, with the latter now reaching levels not seen since the Cold War. Third, because of the increased distances at which these new missiles can successfully hit targets and their low observability characteristics, the current arrangements for defending North America will have to be upgraded to counter them effectively.
Given the basing arrangements for many of these Russian assets, the Canadian Arctic will be heavily implicated in any future arrangements to successfully defend North America against these threats.
The increased Russian military activity in the Arctic requires that Canada enhance our understanding of what is happening in all of our air and maritime approaches and especially those in the Canadian Arctic. To that end, progress should be made to further upgrade and extend the life of existing platforms that conduct intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and to acquire new means of doing so to improve our ability to maintain awareness of any activity in our own territory. This should include upgrading the Canadian component of the north warning system with something better suited to both current and future threat environments.
In addition, the government should move quickly to replace our fighter aircraft with a fleet of highly capable fighters that are fully interoperable with the United States Air Force, with whom Canada defends North America often over the Canadian Arctic and its approaches.
Further, the government needs to invest in anti-submarine warfare capabilities to be able to detect and deter Russian submarine activity. Canada's submarines, our most capable anti-submarine warfare assets, are approaching the end of their current lifespan. The modernization and life extension of that fleet should be expedited and a project to acquire new submarines that could patrol all three of Canada's ocean approaches should be launched as soon as possible.
Finally, Russian developments require Canada to improve its ability to operate across the entire breadth of our Arctic. While Canada has a number of military assets that it can deploy to our north, they are almost exclusively based in southern Canada.
The transit time to the Arctic is lengthy, and the infrastructure in our north is limited. Advances in Russian military technology mean that Canada needs to improve its ability to quickly move forces into the Arctic and project them further north than we have previously. This all requires significant improvements in Canada's logistical footprint in the Canadian north.
Canada's “Strong, Secure, Engaged” defence policy has made a number of commitments that would directly address many of these issues, once those initiatives are actually implemented. To date, though, aside from the recent launch of the first Arctic and offshore patrol ship, it is difficult to find evidence of progress in actually implementing these initiatives.
To respond to Russian militarization of their northern territories, Canada should expedite the implementation of the Arctic initiatives in “Strong, Secure, Engaged”, and adopt a consistent approach to defending against and deterring Russia in the entire Arctic region, including the portion that is Canadian.
Thank you both for your presentations.
I would be remiss if I didn't give a shout-out to Professor Charron as a fellow Manitoban. It's nice to be hearing a Manitoban voice on the committee.
One of the messages that I'm hearing loud and clear, from this panel anyway, is that it's a mistake to think of the Arctic as a separate entity. When we're talking about threats in the Arctic, we're really talking about larger strategic threats to Canada overall. We shouldn't be distinguishing between what we perceive as a threat to the Arctic and what we perceive as a threat in the larger Canadian context.
Nevertheless, we've heard a serious call for development in the north, which hasn't been happening. There's a need to be able to invest in the north, whether that's in defence infrastructure or civilian infrastructure.
When we talk about trying to have a strategy to bring that infrastructure into the north, perhaps especially on the civilian side by developing resources, etc., there's been a consensus among the parties that have governed, over the last 25 or 30 years anyway, to be pretty hands-off when it comes to trade, to be pretty hands-off and quite permissive when it comes to foreign capital coming into Canada, and to be pretty hands-off in terms of creating intentional strategies that have to do with Canadian presence and ownership—not necessarily public ownership but Canadian ownership, whether public or private. If we're trying to understand these threats that we see in the Arctic as threats that affect the entire country, but in the south have a very hands-off approach to development and inviting capital in, how do we square that with wanting to take a more intentional, Canadian-driven approach within the Arctic if we're trying to not hive it off and treat it as something separate and distinct?
I'm happy to start with Professor Charron and then go to Mr. Perry.