Canadian Arctic Security: preparing for a changing future.

Author:Huebert, Rob

The Arctic is in a period of massive transformation. The triple factors of climate change, resource development and geopolitical rivalries are recreating the Arctic in a manner that is confounding, exciting and troubling. It is possible that the Canadian Arctic may be entering a golden age of development the likes of which has never been seen before. Or the region may increasingly face international disputes and tensions that will return the circumpolar world to an era similar to the bad days of the Cold War. At this time it is impossible to know what the nature of the change will be. But the magnitude of the change cannot be underestimated, nor should it be trivialized, for Canada is at its centre.

Canadian decision-makers and Canadians face numerous decisions about how they want to have the Arctic developed. Some issues are beyond the control of Canadians, but many need Canadian leadership. Ultimately Canadian arctic interests and values are best protected if we are prepared now.

It is also becoming clear that the increase in Arctic activity will not be limited to the existing Arctic states. Already many non-polar states such as China and Japan are increasing both their interest and their activity in the Arctic. The question then is what is the nature of the international challenge that Canada faces and what does it need to do to ensure that Canadian interests and values are best protected?


Perhaps one of the greatest challenges facing Canadians is that the rate of change requires new thinking about the problems and issues that are now developing. As long as the climatic conditions prevented the large-scale entry of southerners (both Canadian and foreign) into the north, and as long as low resource prices meant the extra effort to develop resource projects in the north was not economically sustainable, there was little need for southern Canadians to think about the Arctic.

In addition, the Cold War also created false policy dichotomies for Canadian decision-makers. Canadian leaders came to associate issues of Canadian Arctic security only with the military threat posed by the USSR. Conversely issues of Canadian Arctic sovereignty became associated with legal threats from the United States. This situation was created because the Americans were willing to provide almost completely for North American Arctic security against the USSR. As a result successive Canadian Governments were able to avoid the costly challenge of building defences against the USSR. At the same time, even through Canadian officials were able to ignore the Soviet threat, they tended to be hypersensitive to actions taken by the Americans that threatened Canadian control in the Arctic. However, with a few very well known exceptions, the Americans were generally careful not to challenge Canadian claims...

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