Despite being almost overwhelmed with news and opinion about the trials and tribulations of Prime Minister Trudeau, and his government, on the one hand, and the estimable Ms Jody Wilson-Raybould, on the other, I also noted some news on the strategic and military fronts provoked by some comments made at a conference here in Ottawa just this week.
It goes back to something I discussed couple of years ago when I first asked: “Where are we?“ I was referring to Canada’s on-again/off-again plans to establish some sort of useful military facilities in the Arctic, over which we steadfastly maintain we have absolute sovereignty, but, even more steadfastly refuse to defend.
I talked about Prime Minister John Diefenbaker’s ‘Northern Vision‘ speech in 1958 … which led to nothing, and (same link) Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s 2006 statement that ““And trust me, it’s not only Canadians who are noticing. It’s no exaggeration to say that the need to assert our sovereignty and take action to protect our territorial integrity in the Arctic has never been more urgent.”” It led to a promise to build a real military base a Nanisivik, but that was, fairly quickly scaled back to a small naval refuelling point.
Now I see, on the National Newswatch site, a repot by Bob Weber of the Canadian Press which says that “Recent Russian moves in the Arctic have renewed debate over that country’s intentions and Canada’s own status at the top of the world … [and] … The newspaper Izvestia reported late last month that Russia’s military will resume fighter patrols to the North Pole for the first time in 30 years. The patrols will be in addition to regular bomber flights up to the edge of U.S. and Canadian airspace … [and Whitney Lackenbauer, an Arctic expert and history professor at the University of Waterloo said] … “It’s clearly sending strategic messaging … [and, he added] … This is the next step.”“
And what is Canada’s response to Russia’s strategic messaging? What’s Canada’s next step? While, the Canadian Press report says, “Russia has been beefing up both its civilian and military capabilities in its north for a decade … [but] … Canada has little to compare.” The report also says that “A road has been completed to the Arctic coast at Tuktoyaktuk in the Northwest Territories and work for a port at Iqaluit in Nunavut is underway. The first Arctic patrol vessel has been launched, satellite surveillance has been enhanced and a naval refuelling station built on Baffin Island … [but] … most northern infrastructure desires remain unfilled … [and] … No all-weather roads exist down the Mackenzie Valley or into the mineral-rich central N.W.T. Modern needs such as high-speed internet are still dreams in most of the North. A new icebreaker has been delayed … [and] … Nearing the end of its term, the Liberal government has yet to table an official Arctic policy.“
Also, CBC News reports that “The American commander of NORAD delivered a stark warning Tuesday to policy makers in both Washington and Ottawa, calling on them to think hard about whether they’re doing enough to address new threats — such as Russia’s recent military moves in the Arctic … [and] … U.S. Air Force Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy, speaking at defence conference in Ottawa, checked off a list of recent alarming statements and provocative acts by Russia — among them a confrontation between Canadian and American fighter jets and Russian Tu-160 Blackjack bombers near the North American coastline last month … [he said that] … “We face a more competitive and dangerous international security environment today than we have in generations.”” That’s very true but of course, even without domestic political crises, that danger was never obvious to Justin Trudeau and his puppet masters.
It’s not just Justin Trudeau’s fault, the blame goes all the way back to his father who loved the North as much as John Diefenbaker did, but saw it only as a vast national park and an adventurers’ playground, and who, equally, hated the idea of actually defending it against anyone, including the Russians. Before him, John Diefenbaker gave a great speech he kept the public purse firmly shut when it came to Arctic defence. Ditto Brian Mulroney and Jean Chrétien. Stephen Harper at least ordered the Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships which the Trudeau government is, to its credit, now producing.
But the Trudeau regime has no intention of strengthening Canada’s military resources in the Arctic which, some exerts say is ““a dreadful strategic mistake for Canada”.”
I have a few, probably disjointed, ideas.
Canada regularly, even routinely sends sailors, soldiers and air force elements into the Arctic, for training, but, in my opinion, that is far, far from enough. I would like to see three (small) Arctic bases, one at or near Tuktoyaktuk in the Western Arctic, one at or near Nanisivik in the Centre and one at or near Iqaluit in the East … each needs to be a bit bigger and better than just a refuelling station for ships. Each should have a modern, jet fighter and C-130 capable airfield and storage facilities and austere accommodation for about 1,000 soldiers to use while they prepare to deploy onto the land.
Canada’s new Harry DeWolf class Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships, which are, in fact, not warships at all, but are, rather, as described by the Royal Canadian Navy, only armed “to support [a] domestic constabulary role,” should be transferred to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Marine Division. They should aim to spend about half of each year patrolling the North West Passage.
Canada should have a “defence of Canada” force ~ likely a smallish airborne/air transportable force, somewhere between a large battlegroup (say 1,500 soldiers) and a small brigade (say, 3,000 soldiers) which is properly equipped to conduct independent operations in the far North at any time of the year. This will require special training and equipment and dedicated combat air and air transport support and naval support on an ‘on call’ basis …
Finally, Canada needs a surveillance and warning system that provides near real time coverage of ALL of our territory and of the air and sea approaches to it … that probably means that at least part of it is satellite based.