Last year, the academics Michael Byers of UBC and Nicole Covey of University of Manitoba published an article in the International Journal, in which they lay out the potential path for the maintenance of security of Canada’s Arctic region.
Their work received rather significant attention by the Canadian media and was publicised by the National Post and the CBC. Byers and Covey argue that the Arctic should remain demilitarised and that the Royal Canadian Navy should be kept out of the region lest we contribute to the security dilemma–provoking another state (in this case, Russia) into a military buildup by our own actions, which could lead us into an arms race or military confrontation.
They advocate for the increased use of search-and-rescue ships and aircraft for their direct purposes, and for law enforcement against non-state actors, like smugglers and illegal fishers. The authors believe that it is in Canada’s interest to avoid any kind of militarization of the Arctic for fear of agitating Russia and forcing it to escalate the tensions between our countries in the region. However, the authors of the article grossly misrepresent the geopolitical and military evidence at hand to make their conclusions, and should their recommendations be taken seriously they will do serious damage to our security and interests in the Arctic.
Russia is the most militarily active state in the region, and has undertaken a massive expansion of its Arctic military capabilities. Since the mid-nineties, the country has been concentrating a great deal of its military capabilities in the region. It has re-established the border guard units in locations where they existed before the collapse of the USSR.
This act alone merits attention–why would Russia need border guard units in remote northern locations where there are no actual international borders? The answer is twofold. One–it is the show of force, a statement to audiences foreign and domestic that Russia is a major Arctic power. The second answer is more disconcerting–in case of a military confrontation between Russian and NATO these units can act as advanced guard for the Russian Armed Forces in the North and be rapidly expanded and beefed up with both regular forces and reservists.
These units have a naval component. The return of the border guards to the Russian Arctic was not provoked by any direct act by the NATO power–it was the action that Russians undertook independently, and it should be treated as a component of potentially aggressive defence policy in the region.
Since 2013 the Russians have built seven new military bases in the region along the Northern Sea Route from Europe to Asia. These bases will allow the Russians to expand their power projection in the region to potential potentially encompass the entire Arctic Ocean should they so desire, while Canada and the U.S. will have little capability to counteract such an expansion regionally. In total, the Russians now possess two mechanised brigades, one which is trained and equipped specifically for Arctic operations, which have tanks, armoured personnel carriers and multirole helicopters and artillery, one brigade of marines, 14 new airfields, 16 deepwater ports and 36 icebreakers, some of them nuclear-powered, with additional nine vessels to be added before 2024.
The most serious cause for concern, meanwhile, should be the Russian Northern Fleet–the only major naval force specifically dedicated to operations in the northern seas and the Arctic. Headquartered in Severomorsk, at the edge of the Barents Sea, it has bases in multiple locations of the Russian Eastern Arctic, and one can draw an almost straight line from each of those bases to the Canadian Arctic shore. It is the most powerful fleet of the Russian Navy, with 84 ships. Forty-three are surface combatants, which include Russia’s only aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov and heavy anti-ship missile cruiser, Peter the Great, the fleet’s flagship, as well as multiple destroyers, anti-submarine warfare ships and amphibious assault ships, designed to transport troops to the enemy’s shore. Forty-one are submarines, including eight ballistic missile submarines. The Fleet also includes the abovementioned land troops and the air and anti-aircraft defence army, all under one unified command structure. The presence of this armada in the Arctic openly signals the Russian intent that the Arctic is its area of influence, and that its defensive capabilities in the region can be turned into offensive rather quickly in order to project Russian power.
In practice, that will mean the extension of the area in which the Russians can develop the Arctic seafloor’s resources. The fact that the Russian claims on the extended portion of the Arctic seabed will most likely have no grounding in international law, as was the case with the Lomonosov Ridge, which both Russia and Canada claim as an extension of their respective continental shelves, will mean little–the evidence supporting the claim will promptly be manufactured, whilst the claim will be enforced by the Russian Armed Forces. International law did not stop Russia from performing military landgrabs in Ukraine and Georgia. Byers and Covey’s claim that Russia already possesses half of the Arctic and has no wish to acquire more is plainly incorrect–the Russian military buildup demonstrates that it views the Arctic as its sphere of influence and can assert its power throughout the region if it wishes to. Its icebreaker fleet allows the Northern Fleet to navigate the region reasonably well, and it will become easier as the Arctic ice melts due to global warming, and the Northern Fleet is a formidable tool of power projection.
This bodes ill for Canada. The presence of large Russian military force in the region is a source of strategic volatility that gives the Russians a practically unrestricted freedom of action in the region. This, and not the Canadian Armed Forces in the Arctic, is a source of uncertainty, as one power has clear dominance and the other Arctic nations consider that a threat to their security.
By introducing a significant military force to the Canadian Arctic, Canada will not be walking into a security dilemma–it will be responding to a clear increase of offensive military capabilities by the hostile power in the region of key strategic importance to Canada. We shall also avoid an appeasement dilemma. Reneging on our commitment to preserve Canadian Arctic sovereignty, if necessary, by force, and our Arctic ambitions, which will eventually be necessary to keep the Arctic demilitarised, will not induce Russia to respect Canada’s Arctic sovereignty. It is more likely that it will have the opposite effect–in both Georgia and Ukraine, Putin saw weak opponents, unable to offer resistance, and pounced at the opportune moment. Why should the same thinking not apply to Canada, particularly if our refusal to engage in the region militarily provides such an inviting target for imperial expansion?
Canada’s faith in the Article 5 of NATO and American military aid can no longer be absolute. Will the Americans engage in conflict with Russia over a chunk of sea if the American interests, as defined by the administration currently in office, are not directly threatened? Will the Europeans? The answer to these questions is, “We do not know.”
It is an uncomfortable uncertainty. On the other hand, by increasing our military capacity in the region, we will be providing deterrence against the Russian ambitions. The Russians will know that we possess sufficient capability to prevent them from achieving their goals and will thus conclude that the Arctic expansion enforced by the military is inadvisable. By doing so, we will be also practicing defence against help–we will be defending ourselves so that the Americans will not have to do it for us in case the Russians directly threaten our security.
Successful deterrence will require significant investment by Canada into its military capacity in the region. It should establish permanent air bases in the North-Western Territories and Nunavut, equipped with fighter aircraft to intercept strategic bombers, and naval warfare planes, particularly anti-submarine ones that can, if necessary, detect and destroy Russian submarines. The Navy should also establish a permanent presence in the Arctic Ocean and have a base that allows it access to the Ocean (Churchill can be used as one). The Army ought to establish a regular Brigade that can be based in Nunavut or North-Western Territories, tasked specifically with defending the Arctic frontier on land and trained and equipped accordingly. Further measures should be taken to increase the region’s population by internal migration and immigration from overseas and the development of the Arctic’s resources.
Canada may have taken the Arctic for granted and treated it as unimportant in practice since its inception as a country, but the days of this approach are numbered. Canada needs to decide what sort of role it wants to play in the Arctic, how it is going to play it, and whether it wants to have the Arctic at all and how it is going to defend it.
If Canada wishes to solidify its Arctic sovereignty and protect itself against future threats, it needs to accept that the Arctic is a militarily important region and adapt its military and economic policies accordingly, and form a coherent, long-term roadmap for the new strategic conditions.
The Trudeau government spent $326 million of taxpayer money keeping the entire Canadian fleet of submarines for a year on dry land, according to Blacklock’s Reporter.
The Department of National Defence, which is led by Liberal Minister Harjit Sajjan, admitted that Canada will have to spend more on refits and repairs than it cost to buy the entire fleet in the first place.
Speaking in defence of this use of Canadian’s taxes, Sajjan stated, “The Royal Canadian Navy’s four Victoria-class submarines are one of Canada’s most strategic assets for conducting surveillance of Canadian and international waters.”
“The submarine force’s far-reaching capabilities have also been invaluable in meeting Canada’s international objections and supporting NATO allies, and have been active at sea since 2003.”
In 1995, Jean Chretien’s Liberal government approved the purchase of four British submarines for the price of $750 million. One of these (despite being a vehicle submerged under water) caught fire—killing a Canadian crewman—while the others required expensive maintenance.
There was an emotional moment last night at The Rogers Place in Edmonton. The Oilers were matched up against the Calgary Flames for what is often referred to as the battle of Alberta.
This particular night has a special surprise however for the teams and fans alike. Eight-year-old Ryker was called to centre ice for the ceremonial puck drop alongside his dad, Sgt. Ryan Gagne. While the two were posing for a photo op his mom came up and surprised them, coming up from behind where they were facing.
Both of young Ryker’s parents serve in the military and had been deployed over the holidays. Warrant Officer Renee Gauthier had been serving over in the Middle East but managed to surprise both her husband and son for Armed Forces Appreciation night.
Canadians like to think of ourselves as living in a sovereign nation, to the extent that we are in control of our own destiny and make our own decisions.
However, that has become increasingly doubtful.
An important aspect—probably the MOST important aspect—of being a sovereign country is having the ability to defend your own nation.
If you don’t have that, nothing else really matters.
For a country like Canada, having a strongly-equipped armed forces wouldn’t really be much of a challenge, considering our high relative wealth and high level of technology.
And yet, our armed forces are in a state of disrepair.
We have pilot shortages, we have recruitment problems, our air force is flying 40-year-old leftover planes other countries don’t want, our navy is miniscule, and the strategically valuable north is practically undefended.
In short, Canada lacks the ability to defend ourselves, placing the burden of defending our own citizens on our ally, the United States.
The issue is that it’s both unfair to the United States, and unfair to Canadian Citizens for our government to outsource our national defence.
It’s unfair to the U.S. because we should be pulling our own weight in our alliance with them, not putting it all on their shoulders.
And it’s unfair to Canadian Citizens because our own country is put at risk by being reliant on others to do the job we should be doing ourselves.
Unfortunately, Canada’s political establishment is unwilling to take any of this seriously.
In a dangerous world, Canada’s politicians continue to ignore the defence of our nation, just hoping that things will magically “work out” and we will never be faced with any real danger.
Of course, the world doesn’t work like that. The world is becoming increasingly dangerous, with China and Russia building up their arctic forces, and China’s military expanding at an alarming rate.
In that threatening environment, hoping for the best could lead to total disaster for Canada.
That’s why we need to start seeing this as the crisis it really is. The weakness of our armed forces is becoming a bigger and bigger threat to the future of Canada, and that threat must be addressed now.
For that reason, building up our military must take precedence over balancing the budget.
It’s a simple political reality that any party that proposed making big cuts to social spending in order to build up the military would be destroyed in an election campaign. There simply isn’t any appetite for that trade-off. So, that leaves deficit spending as the only politically-feasible path to building up our armed forces.
Considering that the budget deficit is at about $20 billion, considering that we spend roughly $25 billion on our armed forces today and that doubling that number would be a huge boost to our national defence, we would be looking at deficits of roughly $45 billion if we immediately embarked on a military build-up, while keeping other spending on the current trajectory.
$45 billion is a large deficit, but it is smaller than the deficits run by the Harper government during a portion of the 2008 financial crisis aftermath.
Additionally, much of that increased deficit would be going towards wages for more members of the armed forces, military-focused research and development at Canadian universities, and a huge surge in domestic manufacturing, all of which would strengthen our domestic economy, boost GDP, and make it easier to balance the budget down the road as the economic benefits spread throughout the nation.
The final point is this: It’s usually a bad idea to run budget deficits, but there are exceptions. And the crisis facing our nation due to our inability to protect our own territory is one of those exceptions. Canada needs a military build-up, and we need it now. And if that means running bigger deficits for a while, then that’s a price we must be willing to pay to ensure our nation is secure.
The United States has once again called out Canada’s underspending on defence.
Sources told Global News that the U.S. government recently sent a “blunt” letter to the Department of National Defence calling out Canada’s lack of spending on military, failing to meet the NATO target of two percent of GDP.
Global News didn’t obtain a copy of the letter, but were told by sources it was a “frustrated, critical tone”.
“There are very serious threats to our freedom and our security and if NATO is going to be effective, and if we want to put our money where our talk is, we got to spend that money to defend ourselves,” U.S. President Donald Trump’s national security adviser Robert O’Brien said at the Halifax International Security Forum on Saturday.
“The relationship with Canada and the U.S., the defence relationship, I think, is even stronger now, because they see a tangible plan that we have created,” Canadian Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said Sunday on The West Block, downplaying the significance of the letter.
In 2017 the Liberals announced deferred and incrementral increased spending on the Canadian military to $33 billion annually by the next decade, although it was also widely reported in 2017 that $8.5 billion in military procurement will be deferred until 2030.
In the 2016 U.S. election Trump ran on telling Americans he would get NATO partners to meet their obligations of spending two percent of their respective GDPs on military.
“It’s a legitimate concern, [Trump’s] empirically correct, we are not spending close to our contribution. And that’s been going on for a very long time,” said Sprott School of Business professor and public policy expert Ian Lee to The Post Millennial.
At the 2014 NATO summit Canada said it would reach the two percent target within 10 years, but Lee and other experts say that Canada is not on track to meet that promise.
According to NATO, Canada is set to spend 1.27 percent of the country’s GDP on defence this year.
The Trump administration has previously put tariffs on Canadian steel on the pretext of “national security” concerns during and after NAFTA renegotiations.
“He could, theoretically, because it is Trump, say ‘I’m going to invoke some sort of sanctions on your exports to the United States because you’re not playing ball over there,” said Lee.
“It’s an election year starting in January. If he’s feeling vulnerable he may be looking for some hot-button issues to rejuvenate his campaign. And if he starts arguing, ‘Those freeloaders up north, they not only cheat us on our milk, but now they’re free-riding on their defence. He can gin it up for political purposes.”