Nearly a year ago I commented on a new Russian Arctic military base and asked “Where are we?” I was referring, mainly to the aborted Nansivik military base which has been downgraded from the full scale military base that Prime Minister Stephen Harper initially envisioned to a mere fuelling facility. I think we can and should do more and better.
There is a recent article in the McGill International Review which is headlined “The Northwest Passage and Canada’s Claim to the North” in which the authors/editors begin by equating the Northwest Passage to the Canadian Pacific Railway, saying “The Canadian Pacific Railroad was an enormous investment. It cost a good portion of the young country’s budget, was plagued by the infamous Pacific Scandal that cost John A. Macdonald his first government, and, by some counts, it took as many as two lives per mile of track laid. But it was absolutely critical in establishing Canadian sovereignty, in securing and in making Canada a nation that spans coast-to-coast. Over 120 years later, we still have a single, unified Canada. It is clear that we have benefited from this fateful choice …[and] … The CPR made Canada a single, connected nation along an x-axis. That hasn’t changed to this day: we are still a country defined by its x-axis, with 90% of the Canadian population living within 100 miles of the U.S. border. Now, as Canada wrestles with issues regarding its sovereignty in the North, the Canada Pacific Railway provides a valuable historical lesson. Use it, or lose it.“
Use it or lose it
That’s the point: use it ~ and in the Arctic that means patrolling it ~ or lose sovereignty over it.
The US already asserts rights of passage in what we consider to be inland passages … China and others, including Russia, some bent on innocent passage others with less savoury aims, will likely join the US in challenging Canadian sovereignty. The McGill International Review article concludes by saying: “It’s high time Canadians unshackled our investment from the south, and develop a country that spans from sea to sea to sea; more than east to west. Over 120 years ago, Canadians made a country by binding together its halves by rail. Now, it’s time to invest in our North, and preserve this last frontier for future generations to come.” I agree, and I think there is an important (and doubtless costly) military component to that, including:
- First: a full scale permanent, year road, joint military base at Nanisivik: a sea-port, an airbase that can accommodate both giant C-17 transports and CF-18 fighters and their eventual replacement, a n Army training area and Arctic warfare school and staging area for troops;
- Second: a civil (Coast Guard) and constabulary (RCMP Marine Division) Arctic fleet made up of both: Polar Class 1 and 2 icebreakers ~ more than just the planned CCGS John G. Diefenbaker; and several of the (currently planned for the RCN) Arctic and Offshore Patrol Ships (Harry DeWolfe class) which should be in a revitalized RCMP Marine Division;
- Third: a military fleet of under-ice capable (air independent propulsion) submarines and some summer only surface ships that can transport small units to remote island; and
- Fourth: a small brigade group specially organized, trained and equipped for the Defence of Canada role.
Mainly, prime Minister Trudeau needs to wake up and recognize that we have a third ocean ~ the Arctic ~ and we need to safeguard it ~ environmentally, politically and militarily. Russia is building new, full scale Arctic military bases; China is testing Arctic routes; Canada needs to do more to assert its sovereignty.