Experts say Canada must defend itself from the Arctic ambitions of China and Russia
Canada’s Arctic and sea levels continue to rise, countries like Russia and China are eyeing the shipping routes that have opened up as a result, and threatening our national security in the process, experts say. China and Russia view the North as a source of oil, gas, minerals, and […]
Published Jan 3, 2022
As global warming melts glaciers in Canada’s Arctic and sea levels continue to rise, countries like Russia and China are eyeing the shipping routes that have opened up as a result, and threatening our national security in the process, experts say.
China and Russia view the North as a source of oil, gas, minerals, and seafood. To access and defend those resources, both countries are investing in ports, satellites, ballistic-missile submarines, hypersonic missiles, and icebreakers. They also want to gain control of the Northwest Passage, which is the sea route along the northern coast of North America between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
Unlike Russia, China isn’t an Arctic state, but in 2013 it became a member of the Arctic Council — a forum for governments to promote co-operation in the Arctic — and has become more active in the region ever since. To support its shipping routes through Arctic waters, earlier this year, China unveiled more details of its “Polar Silk Road” plan to build infrastructure like ports, marine corridors, satellites, and ice-breaking tankers.
The biggest challenge for Canada and the U.S. is modernizing NORAD to prevent the possible encroachment on our countries’ sovereignty, says Troy Bouffard, director of the Center for Arctic Security and Resilience in Fairbanks, Alaska.
NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defense Command, is headquartered in Colorado and provides air security and an aerospace warning system for Canada and the U.S.
“We do lack effective defence systems in the North,” Bouffard said. “How do we deal with threats like hypersonic cruise missiles (from Russia)? Decision-makers, working together, have to commit a lot more dollars (to NORAD).”
Russia has been testing and launching hypersonic cruise missiles from warships in its northern waters for years. Tracking these missiles is difficult, because they’re manoeuvrable in flight and travel more than five times the speed of sound.
Even though opinion is divided on how much to increase its budget, Bouffard says Canada and the U.S. need to invest in NORAD “right now,” calling its underfunding “a very large problem (that will) affect both nations’ political systems.”
Conservative MP James Bezan says that, under NORAD, Canada has a responsibility for continental security.
Bezan was parliamentary secretary to the minister of Defence from 2013 to 2015, and has been his party’s Defence critic for years.
“Currently, the North warning system only exists on the continent of North America,” Bezan said. “It doesn’t include the Arctic archipelagos — consisting of 94 major islands almost entirely covered by ice — with the exception of Resolute Bay and Alert (in Nunavut).”
We need more satellites in the area, and we need to update our Air Force bases that have high strategic and tactical importance, he said. Once we buy a new surveillance system, whether for the Super Hornets or the F-35s, hangars and runways will need to be modernized, too. (The government is expected to announce next year which of the two fighter jets will replace its aging fleet of CF-18s.)
Meanwhile, foreign vessels are entering waters near Nunavut, and people in the North feel threatened by their presence, says NDP MP Lori Idlout, who won the riding of Nunavut in the September election. Furthermore, national discussions of security in Canada’s North need to include the people of Nunavut, she said.
“We know our lands,” she told iPolitics in November. “The best way to make sure that security is appropriate is to make sure it’s done with a strong partnership and relationship with the inhabitants of the Arctic.”
Ottawa says its Arctic and Northern Policy Framework, published two years ago, commits it to consulting provinces, territories, and Indigenous partners.
It also states that “Canada will enhance the Canadian Armed Forces’ presence in the region over the long term by setting out the capability investments that will give the Canadian Armed Forces the tools they need to help local people in times of need, and to operate effectively in the region.”
In a statement to iPolitics in November, Defence Minister Anita Anand confirmed Canada’s financial commitment: “In Budget 2021, our government announced initial investments of over $250 million in continental defence, which will lay the groundwork for NORAD modernization. Canada continues to work hand-in-glove with our American allies to protect our North and modernize our continental defence and deterrence capabilities.”
But to prevent China and perhaps Russia from encroaching further on the North, Canada and the U.S. must spend millions more than what they’ve already set aside, say Bezan and Bouffard.
“If we don’t start making investments and adapting to the changing threat, government has failed to protect Canadians from what could come in the future,” Bezan said.