I once met a bear while hiking in the Rocky Mountains. A big bear, who squinted at me and sniffed the air. When I backed away, he followed me, muscles rippling beneath a grizzled hump.
With no trees to climb, I began to talk. “Good morning, Mr. Bear,” I said, and asked about his health. I commented on the weather, told him of my plans and, after a minute of idle chatter, he shrugged and wandered off the path.
I was reminded of this encounter when, last month, Foreign Minister Stéphane Dion announced a shift in foreign policy. From now on, Canada will seek to actively co-operate with Russia in the Arctic.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Russia is committed to maintaining peaceful relations with Arctic nations while exploring the Arctic's largely untapped resources.
"The Arctic must be regarded as a space for an open and equitable dialogue...where there will be no place for geopolitical games by military blocs, backstage deals, or struggle for spheres of influence," Putin said in a message read to Arctic Council members on August 30 by Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev.
Russia is hosting a council meeting onboard a Russian nuclear icebreaker crossing the Arctic Ocean to the port of Pevek.
"Russia will remain committed to the peaceful development of the region, provided its own national interests are observed and the interests of all other countries unconditionally respected," Putin said. Stable development of the Arctic is becoming especially important, he said.
"As a matter of fact, the prosperity not only of the Arctic states but a number of other states depends on it," he said.
Patrushev said some differences have emerged over development of the continental shelves that extend beyond Russia, Canada, Alaska, and other areas into the sea, but these differences can be resolved peacefully.
Given Putin’s threat, the Obama-Trudeau talks need to address the U.S.-Canada Northwest Passage dispute.
By Scott Borgerson & Michael Byers
Wall Street Journal, March 8, 2016
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives in Washington Wednesday for a state visit with President Obama. Much has been made of Mr. Trudeau’s “movie star” good looks and liberal credentials. But top on the two men’s list of priorities should be a far less attractive subject: Russian President Vladimir Putin and his pivot toward the Arctic.
In addition to Mr. Putin’s military intervention in Syria’s civil war and his 2014 “annexation” of Ukraine’s Crimea region, he sees global warming as a benefit along Russia’s northern frontier and is realigning his country’s strategic priorities toward the Arctic.
Tensions with Russia provide a new reason for the U.S. to resolve the Northwest Passage dispute with Canada. Canada claims the channels between its Arctic islands that connect the Atlantic Ocean to the Beaufort Sea north of Alaska are the country’s “internal waters.” The U.S. maintains that the waterway is an “international strait” through which ships and aircraft from all countries have a right of uninterrupted “transit passage.”
With the U.S. becoming more engaged on Arctic issues as a result of its chairmanship of the eight-nation Arctic Council, and the Obama administration’s focus on climate change, this is an opportune time to address what has become a shared vulnerability to naval vessels from Russia and other unfriendly nations passing through the Northwest Passage, or terrorists and smugglers seeking to enter North America from there.
ABOARD THE COAST GUARD CUTTER HEALY, IN THE ARCTIC–
When you plow into a 4-foot-thick chunk of sea ice at 3 knots, even in a 16,000-ton state-of-the-art icebreaker like the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Healy, it’s hard not to notice. The whole ship shudders and seems to lurch sideways. Metal cabinets rattle. Californians swear it sounds and feels just like an earthquake, with deep rumbling booms and tremors. Others say it’s like hitting turbulence on a jetliner, the shivering and rattling accompanied by the overdrive whine of 30,000 horsepower. If you’re down in the galley, right on the waterline, what you hear is the nerve-wracking scraping of shattered ice along the side. Five stories up, on top of the bridge, you feel the bump of the collision over the strain of the engines pushing the ship through a sea of drifting white, blue, and dirty gray ice.
“I need to use the drones … to go on long patrols and be our eyes in the sky in the Arctic.”
So said the Commander of the Royal Canadian Air Force, Lieutenant General Yvan Blondin, in testimony before the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence.
Blondin went on to explain that he wanted a drone “that is flexible, that … when we go to Afghanistan, allows me [to] carry some weapons on it.”
Now here’s the thing. That latter statement, about the desire for drones that can carry weapons, was much more forthright than the asserted need for Arctic drones. Canada, in fact, already has reliable Arctic surveillance capabilities in place.
The country’s military is having trouble coming up with enough money to buy new rifles to replace the 60-year-old guns used in the Arctic by the Canadian Rangers.
Although Prime Minister Stephen Harper highlighted the work performed by the Rangers when he joined them in Nunavut in August for target practice with their aging Lee Enfield rifles, even that high level of interest is not enough to move the $10-million replacement project quickly forward, say military sources.
Some 5,000, mostly aboriginal reservists keep watch over Canada's Arctic
Sean Davidson, CBC News, 7 September 2013
Imagine maintaining a military presence over roughly four million square kilometres of exceedingly harsh terrain using the residents of just one small town — a place like Smithers, B.C., for instance, which boasts a little more than 5,000 people.
That's the tricky thing about keeping "boots on the ground" in Canada's Arctic, where the Canadian Rangers have, since 1947, been patrolling the front lines.
MURMANSK, September 3 (RIA Novosti) - A naval task force from Russia’s Northern Fleet is heading to the eastern Arctic, a spokesperson for the fleet said Tuesday.
The voyage is part of the Defense Ministry’s program under Russia’s Arctic policy and is designed “to uphold Russia’s status as a leading arctic power, strengthen its security... and ensure national interests,” the spokesperson said.