Matthew Fisher, who is one of Canada’s (too few) journalists who writes with knowledge in insight on Defence and Foreign Policy matters, says, in an opinion piece for Global News, that “Western countries with an interest in the Far North, such as Canada, Denmark (Greenland), Norway, the United Kingdom, France and the United States, were unaware [that China and Russia were conducting combined military exercises in the Arctic], a former commandant of the coast guard told a recent virtual conference hosted by the Defense News.” Experts conclude that “Despite underwater monitoring systems … potential enemies are probably doing a lot more there than is generally known. A major shortcoming, according to Defense News, is that satellites tend to be oriented toward more target-rich environments that are a lot farther south.” (There’s a bit more to it than that ~ the “footprint” of satellites in geostationary orbit excludes much of the Arctic ~ that’s just the way it is ~ making it necessary to deploy “constellations” of several satellites in non-geostationary orbits to provide the needed coverage.)
I have commented, more than just a few times before, on Canada’s lack of a military presence in the Arctic. I need to affirm that the military, alone, cannot do all that is needed, but civil agencies (like the Coast Guard and Transport Canada) and civil companies cannot operate in peace and security unless they know that they are protected.
Without repeating myself in detail, Canada needs real Arctic bases ~ where ships can call, where fighter and patrol aircraft can be based and which Army troops can use as staging areas for training exercises and patrols in the High Arctic ~ and the appropriate mix of ships, Army units, aircraft and sensors (terrestrial, underwater and space based) to assert and affirm our claims to sovereignty over our territory, the adjacent waters and the airspace over both …
… and please note that is a British submarine (HMS Trenchant, a 30 years old Trafalgar class submarine) surfacing at the North Pole. The Americans and Russians are not the only countries able to operate, with impunity, under Canada’s Arctic icecap.
Matthew Fisher says that “Canada’s approach has been typical. During the five years that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been in power, there has been almost no talk about doing anything in Canada’s north, let alone consideration of an Arctic strategy, either with the military or in concert with the Inuit.” He adds that “Were Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole to become prime minister, he has said that he would make building up Canadian defences in the north a priority. The stumbling block for any government is that building and maintaining anything in the Arctic is hugely expensive and the national debt has been growing by the minute this year.“
He’s dead right; it is an expensive proposition. I have been told by someone who was, I believe, ‘in the room,’ that former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s acknowledged enthusiasm for a military role in the High Arctic …
… waned markedly when, in the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis he was, finally, briefed by naval and military engineering officers who told him the real, life-cycle costs of a real Arctic force, including, for example, the infrastructure costs (including for refuelling and so on) of even a very small nuclear submarine fleet.
I have heard, from what I believe is a well informed rumour net that the costs of just the detection component of a new (replacement) North Warning System ~ mostly radars which could be part of a continental ballistic missile defence programme, too ~ might easily exceed $10 Billion, as suggested by some analysts (page 4 of the link). But the current government says that the total cost of the jet fighter replacement project is only $15 to 19 Billion, so readers should always treat cost estimates for defence projects as mere quesstimates until after the Auditor General of Canada has spoken.
I have also heard ~ rumour net, again, but it has been reported in the media, too ~ that Official Washington, the Pentagon, especially, and the State Department, have been putting increased pressure on Canada to step up and do something about Canada’s share of the defence of North America. This is one area, maybe one of only a few, where Official Washington and the White House are in accord. President Trump has been after Canada (and other allies) to do more since before he became president. The pressure will not fade even if Joe Biden is elected to be the US president in November.
The global COVID-19 pandemic is a crisis. Hundreds of thousands have already died, the death toll will, almost certainly, exceed a million. Almost ten thousand have died in Canada. That’s a tragedy, especially given that with better national leadership ~ like, for example, the kind that Prime Minister Scott Morrison gave Australia ~ it would have been a preventable tragedy. Australia’s death toll is still in the hundreds, Canada’s approaches 10,000 ~ most of those deaths are directly attributable to poor decisions that Justin Trudeau made for purely partisan political reasons. Justin Trudeau failed Canada and Canadians paid the price with their very lives. But the global pandemic is NOT the only threat to Canada and a capable, competent government would be looking at and acting on the full spectrum of threats ~ including to our sovereignty.
Canadians need to ask themselves a question: when foreign countries, some friendly, some quite unfriendly can intrude, at will, on our sovereignty by sending warship and aircraft to test our capabilities to respond and we, sometimes, cannot even detect, much less intercept them, then is our government doing its job?
If your answer, like mine, is No, then there is another question: which team do you want to lead us?