By all accounts Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s trip to China continues to go along very well, indeed. He was, as a Globe and Mail report says, being described on Chinese social media as “an “international Internet celebrity,” and as an “explosively hot” leader who is “so tall and hasn’t gotten fat yet.”” Sure there are some people who don’t like what he’s doing and saying, or how he’s doing and saying it, but they are, I think, in a distinct minority. There are rumours that he is easing the way towards a Canada-China free trade deal and will join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, a China-led institution that the United States opposes but which Australia and Britain have already joined. Both are good, smart moves: good for Canada and, potentially, good for the Liberal Party, too. If he is, indeed, doing that then he deserves our thanks and congratulations.
But many people, including, even, the pro-Liberal Toronto Star fret because Prime Minister Trudeau has broken with Prime Minister Harper’s tradition of visiting the Arctic at least every year during the military’s Operation Nanook. He campaigned there but has yet to make a trip as prime minister. This is a bit worrisome because the Arctic is increasing in importance to us and to the Americas and to the Russians and even to the Chinese.
As a year old Globe and Mail article points out, “Canada and the United States disagree about the weight to be given to Arctic economic opportunity and environmental risks (both countries are split internally on this issue), and also disagree on how much the Arctic should be insulated from geopolitical tensions elsewhere, and on how influential aboriginal and Arctic inhabitants should be on Arctic issues.” (See also: here.) The problem is that no matter what President Obama and Prime Minister Trudeau might wish, the Arctic cannot be “insulated” from other geopolitical issues … it’s not about the environment, it’s not about economic development, it’s about sovereignty and power and, even there, Canada and the USA are at odds.
Russia is asserting itself everywhere from the Black Sea through Eastern Europe and in the Arctic. Russia is advancing new, expansive claims to the Arctic, and it is rebuilding the military forces to give weight to those claims ~ which may embrace 10% to 15% of the world’s oil reserves. There are neither boundaries nor limits to Putin’s opportunistic adventurism and I have no doubt that he sees America’s current fiscal problems and Canadian, Danish and Norwegian military weakness as signs that he can do as he pleases in the far North.
Even China is building new polar icebreakers as it prepares to exploit potential new, shorter trade routes through the Northeast and Northwest passages. The Chinese will, likely, also be interested in searching for resources in the Arctic, either in international waters, or, by entering into joint ventures, in national ones.
Prime Minister Harper made the Arctic one of his “themes” back in 2006, when, in one of his first statements, he asserted Canada’s claims to our Arctic waters. Arctic sovereignty remained a theme throughout his nine years as prime minister and he was a regular visitor to military exercise in the Arctic.
I’m certainly not suggesting that Prime Minister Trudeau should, slavishly, copy Prime Minister Harper’s every move, and I affirm that a trip to China is more important than a photo-op with the Canadian Forces on Operation Nanook. I also do not accuse the Liberals of ignoring the Arctic. I see welcome reports that the steel cutting has begun for the second of the DeWolfe class Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships, but I note, with some worry, that plans, even if only names, have only been made for five of those ships. The RCN wanted eight; plans were made for six; perhaps we can only afford five. The Canadian Armed Forces are doing a full and fair share in the Arctic; the treasury is funding new ships; now the prime minister needs to step up and, once again, assert our sovereignty to the Russians and to the Americans and, indeed, to the whole world.
There are some real, serous threats to our national sovereignty out there, from friends, foes and others. Part of the necessary response is military: we need ships, army units and aircraft that can operate, at will, anywhere in the Arctic, any time. And we need elected political leaders who believe in our sovereignty and are willing to lead the country in proclaiming and defending it against all comers. M Trudeau needs to come home from the G20 meeting and turn his attention to the Canadian North and to the political, diplomatic and military tools he has (and needs) to protect it.