No war in Arctic: Harper

Leaked U.S. diplomatic cables show that Prime Minister Harper’s frequent scare talk in support of a greater Canadian military presence in the Arctic is just for public consumption and does not reflect what he says in private (Campbell Clark, “Harper’s tough talk on the Arctic less stern in private,” Globe and Mail, 12 May 2011):

Despite the military photo ops and defiant words aimed at the Russian Bear in the Far North, U.S. diplomatic cables indicate that Stephen Harper doesn’t believe there’s a threat of military conflict there: He told NATO it is not wanted in the Arctic because there’s no likelihood of war.

The cables, released by website WikiLeaks, indicate that the U.S. embassy in Washington saw much of the Conservative government’s aggressive public statements on the Arctic as a partisan strategy to win votes rather than substantive government policies. In private, the cables indicate, Mr. Harper was more “pragmatic.”

The massive potential for oil and gas discoveries in the Arctic has countries scrambling for offshore turf, but those claims are largely being settled by United Nations legal arbitration. Nonetheless, Mr. Harper’s government has often hinted at potential military encroachment by Russia and stressed the need for beefed-up military hardware to defend the Arctic.

One cable drafted by U.S. diplomats in Ottawa portrays Mr. Harper as dismissing the need for a military response to Russia over the Arctic. It includes an account from a Canadian official of a January, 2010, meeting between Mr. Harper and NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen in which the PM said NATO has no role in the Arctic.

“According to PM Harper, Canada has a good working relationship with Russia with respect to the Arctic, and a NATO presence could backfire by exacerbating tensions,” the cable states.

“He commented that there is no likelihood of Arctic states going to war, but that some non-Arctic members favoured a NATO role in the Arctic because it would afford them influence in an area where ‘they don’t belong.’ ”

That contradicts the Conservatives’ frequent calls for more military tools to defend the Arctic, sometimes accompanied by bellicose rhetoric.

Last July, Defence Minister Peter MacKay claimed Canadian CF-18s repelled Cold War-era Russian bombers flying near Canadian airspace, and the Conservatives quickly sent their MPs “talking points” that said the incident showed Canada needs new F-35 stealth fighters.

Tags: Arctic sovereignty, Canadian Arctic, Defence policy, F-35, Peter MacKay, Stephen Harper, wikileaks