The Policy Insights Forum (PIF) was pleased to welcome Charles “Duff” Sullivan, Managing Director of Boeing Canada, Marisol Maddox, Arctic Analyst for the Polar Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center and Colonel (Ret’d) Pierre Leblanc, on Wednesday, May 26, 2021. The event was hosted by Aliénor Peyrefitte, Policy Research Intern at Samuel Associates and moderated by Dr. J. Paul de B. Taillon, Vice-Chair of the PIF and Senior Academic Advisor at Samuel Associates. The topic of this event was “A National Security Strategy for the Arctic: A US-Canadian View.”
"There are two dimensions of the conversation about Arctic security," according to Ms. Maddox. The first one consists of what she defines as "actor-less threats." These emerging threats refer to climate change which is further described by Sherri Goodman, Senior Strategist and Advisory Board member at the Center for Climate and Security, as a "threat multiplier." Those threats challenge conventional ways of thinking about security and defence, moreover global warming is a threat that is present, damaging, and growing, according to Col Leblanc. He noted in his comments that the most significant impact of climate change is the loss of sea ice. This implies increased access to the Northern routes, stronger storms, and the implications from permafrost melting. Climate change thus generates multiple threats in an unprecedented way, and it creates "a remarkable opportunity for unprecedented international and multidisciplinary cooperation," according to Ms. Maddox. Col Leblanc added that the strategy to overcome this challenge is through an increase in science, technology, and best practices. Ms. Maddox indicated that, "more research and data sharing are needed, and that is an area for increased international cooperation."
The second dimension Ms. Maddox was referring to, in her overview, concerned state actors. All the speakers agreed that Russia is a legitimate state actor in the Arctic circle due to its geographical position. In his overview, Mr. Sullivan provided details into what a more invested Russia in the North looks like. He noted for example that the Arktika, a Russian icebreaker, able to cut through 9 feet ice, is one amongst the future 13 such ships that will be operating in the Arctic Ocean. With its newly exposed coastland thanks to global warming, Russia is seeking to realize the economic potential of its oil, gas, and mineral assets through a commercialized Northern Sea Route (NSR). Simultaneously, Russia is building its defences on its northern flank through remilitarization and the modernizing its former Cold War bases. As Mr. Sullivan clearly stated, "it is a priority for the Kremlin to dominate the Arctic." The other country mentioned was China. In her remarks, Ms. Maddox was very clear about separating China from Russia as both countries do not have the same legitimacy of presence. Calling itself a "near-Arctic state" does not bode well for the bona fide actors in the region. Indeed, China does not have a coastline nor territory in the Arctic circle, yet it invests in the Arctic for its mineral resources and sees it as a future sea route to Europe and the West. According to her, "the Chinese government has demonstrated their willingness and even strategy to leverage economic investments for political purposes, which is a concern when it comes to states with smaller economies." Col Leblanc added that China is modernizing its extensive military capability. This activity is viewed as increasingly aggressive. Moreover, China is making policy statements that ignore international law.
Lastly, the conversation focused on Canadian Arctic sovereignty and Canada's strategies for this area. Col Leblanc stated that "Canada needs to continue to increase its domain awareness in the Arctic," "its presence" and infrastructure. From a defensive strategy point of view, Canada needs to maintain its strategic alliances through NORAD and expand the early warning and monitoring through our intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities. The challenge is that the Canadian north is a large land mass, which includes an expansive Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). For Mr. Sullivan, Canada's foreign and defence policy imperatives are domestic security, Canadian sovereignty, and Canada's high Arctic. The new security environment comprises the Global Battle Space Digital Network, which underlines the need for constant development and continuous growth, and, most importantly, domain awareness which leads to domain dominance.
Additionally, the Arctic is not just a question of military domain; it is also an imminent and important commercial route. Currently, there are many flights from various countries that are routed over the Arctic. Mr. Sullivan remarked, "we are not alone up there." Ms. Maddox further suggested that "Arctic maritime activity is an area where it is crucial … [for] maximum cooperation." She continued, "what we need to be careful of is balancing the development of credible deterrence and operational capability in the Arctic with not triggering security dilemma dynamics any more than they have already been on display." Therefore, there is a need for Arctic cooperation through NORAD, NATO, and the US primarily, as well as cooperation with other Arctic coastal states, including Russia.