Avoiding needless confrontation in the Arctic and rebuilding Canadian disarmament diplomacy

The last thing the Canadian Arctic needs is British military meddling

An article by CBC senior defence writer Murray Brewster features the headline

Britain offers Canadian military help to defend the Arctic.

Bear in mind that we have an elaborate air, aerospace, land and maritime defence infrastructure with the USA — NORAD — to defend North America. The article suggests that much of Canada’s “reluctance” to accept increased Allied activity in the Canadian Arctic relates to “contested claims to Canada’s sovereignty in the Arctic”.

Since Canada has contested legal claims not just with the UK but also with the USA over the Northwest Passage, it defies common sense that this would be the reason for rebuffing British proposals for more military engagement there.

The plain fact is that there’s little agreement among NATO members on the role of the Alliance, or even of individual European members, in the North American Arctic, and its potentially negative impact on the productive non-military cooperation in the entire Arctic, particularly through the Arctic Council, which Russia currently chairs.  And this is reflected in the carefully worded statement by Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, referenced in the article, that

the Arctic is a zone of global cooperation …

that also demands collaboration and partnership with close allies.

For a good overview of the issues, see the NAADSN August 2021 policy primer by Mackenzie Foxall, available here. One comment from the introduction should suffice to illustrate the complexities involved:

Russia’s fear of being encircled means that NATO must ensure its engagement in the Arctic is clear and transparent to avoid a rapid rise in tensions between the different sets of actors.

Canada already beefing up surveillance capabilities in the Arctic

Note the following question and answer from the Brewster article:

With Australia planning to acquire nuclear submarines — which conceivably could operate in the Arctic as well — Perry was asked if Canada will have to rely more on its allies to monitor and defend its territory.

“I think the AUKUS deal is an indicator that there are some countries with whom we have been intimately familiar and intimately allied with. Some of our best friends on the planet are firming even tighter, smaller clubs,” he [Perry] said.

The direct answer to the question is that increased surveillance capabilities to monitor Arctic waters, as part of Canada’s shared responsibility with the USA for the defence of North America, have been a priority of the 2017 defence policy, Strong, Secure, Engaged.

In addition, as detailed in our post-budget blog, the defence portion of the 2021 federal budget includes specific expenditures related to Canada’s contribution to NORAD modernization in the amount of $163 million over 5 years for Canada’s niche area of “all domain situational awareness”, including through upgrades to the North Warning System using artificial intelligence and machine learning.

In the view of Ceasefire.ca,

Increasing Canada’s capabilities in this manner has the twin benefits of bolstering our Arctic legal claims and our contribution to the defence of North America, in a cost-effective and stability-enhancing manner — the very antithesis of an approach based on nuclear-powered submarines.

Indo-Pacific club of three not a snub to Canada at all

Perhaps the most outrageous aspect of the public discussion to date of the new “club” and the alleged “snub” to Canada is the failure to point out the glaringly obvious — the USA, under its excessively confrontational military strategy vis-à-vis China, is doubling down on forward deployments in China’s backyard — hence the attraction of Australia because of its geographic location.

In return for the technologically challenging and hugely expensive nuclear-powered sub deal (which raises serious nuclear non-proliferation and regional stability issues), Foreign Policy reports that, among other things,

The Biden administration is hoping to rotate fighters and bombers to the land Down Under.

And the price Australia will likely pay in terms of further limits on its defence autonomy is a problem Canada knows only too well and is wise to avoid needlessly worsening.

Shadow Foreign Minister Penny Wong posed the question for Australia as follows:

With the prospect of a higher level of technological dependence on the US, how does the Morrison-Joyce government assure Australians that we can act alone when need be; that we have the autonomy to defend ourselves, however and whenever we need to….

Since New Zealand won’t even allow nuclear-powered subs in its waters, their self-exclusion based on long-standing policy is refreshing evidence of independent decision-making on defence matters by a US and Canadian ally. Interestingly, in the expert discussion of the difference between the hawkish Australian view on China and the more nuanced New Zealand position, the similarity with Canada’s position is raised:

In recent years, Canada and New Zealand have had similarities in their orientation toward Beijing – condemning human rights breaches on specific issues in a case-by-case way, but avoiding strong statements on the country more broadly.

Canada had its brief dalliance with nuclear-powered submarines back in the 1980s, as we outlined in last week’s blog.

In the view of Ceasefire.ca,

The truth is Canada was not in any way “excluded” from this potentially destabilizing new club and our resistance to bringing that increased Indo-Pacific instability into the Canadian Arctic should be applauded by all those interested in a Canadian defence policy based on Canadian analysis of Canadian defence and security interests.

A word about defence burden-sharing

In the Murray Brewster article featured earlier in the blog, Canadian Global Affairs Institute (CGAI) Vice-President David Perry is also quoted as follows:

The United States under successive administrations is being far less benign about allies that they look at as pulling — or not pulling — their weight … The United States is looking for people who will pull their weight.

Not mentioned in the article is the fact that Canadian subsidiaries of major American weapons manufacturers, including General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon, are regular financial patrons of the CGAI. Yet, surely this is relevant when, under the mantra of “burden sharing”, seemingly uncritical support is offered for American defence priorities, with their relentless focus on more expenditures and more weaponry.

See, for example, the infographic below with the headline trumpeting Chinese increased expenditures, that are dwarfed by those of the USA.

Infographic Courtesy of Visualist Capitalist

Whither Canada?

We applaud Canada’s military restraint in the Arctic, in accordance with long-standing Canadian defence policy under both Liberal and Conservative governments, and urge the opposition parties to constructively contribute to its continuation.

26 September — International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons

Achieving global nuclear disarmament is one of the oldest goals of the United Nations, and was the subject of the General Assembly’s first resolution in 1946.

In 2013 the General Assembly established this commemorative day to

advance public awareness and government action to prevent nuclear war and to achieve a nuclear-weapon-free world.

In the words of UN Secretary-General António Guterres:

As a global family, we can no longer allow the cloud of nuclear conflict to shadow our work to spur development, achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and end the COVID-19 pandemic. Now is the time to lift this cloud for good, eliminate nuclear weapons from our world, and usher in a new era of dialogue, trust and peace for all people.

Senior government representatives will attend a high-level plenary meeting of the General Assembly on 28 September to commemorate and promote the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons.

For further information on actions that legislators, civil society representatives and ordinary citizens alike can take in conjunction with the day, click here.

Whither Canada?

If Canada wants to be more than just a back-row supporter of nuclear disarmament, it will need to invest some diplomatic energy in this endeavour.

So begins an excellent article by two Canadian arms control experts, Paul Meyer and Cesar Jaramillo, entitled Nuclear disarmament must be a priority for the next Canadian government (hilltimes.com, 16 September 2021). It outlines concrete steps that Canada needs to take to help address this “entirely preventable existential threat” that “lingers over humanity”.

Their key recommendations for Canadian government action are:

For non-subscribers to the Hill Times, the article is available here in PDF format by the kind permission of the authors.

Many of us had hoped that the gratuitous attacks on the historic Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons would end with the incoming Biden administration, but that proved a false hope.

The latest ignominious example of this tone-deaf attitude can be found in a recent tweet by the new US Under Secretary of State for Arms Control, Bonnie Jenkins, summarizing her recent interaction with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) thusly:

Canadian expert Tariq Rauf, a former senior IAEA official, responded as follows:

This is patently unacceptable not to mention silly, as Article III.B.1 of the IAEA Statute clearly authorizes the Agency to support UN mandated disarmament measures:

B. In carrying out its functions, the Agency shall:

1. Conduct its activities in accordance with the purposes and principles of the United Nations to promote peace and international co-operation, and in conformity with policies of the United Nations furthering the establishment of safeguarded worldwide disarmament and in conformity with any international agreements entered into pursuant to such policies

So the lead American arms controller — for the self-proclaimed champion of the “rules based international order” — is putting pressure on the IAEA to ignore its statutory mandate to support such treaty gatherings.

Whither Canada?

In accordance with our once celebrated bridge-building role, we call on Canada to attend as an Observer the meeting of States Parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, as a first tangible step to narrowing the gap between treaty supporters and opponents.  

Photo credit: Wikimedia (Baffin Island Glacier)

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