As global warming melts glaciers in the Canadian Arctic and sea levels continue to rise, countries like Russia and China are eyeing the sea lanes that have opened up as a result and threaten our national security in the process, according to experts.
China and Russia view the North as a source of oil, gas, minerals and seafood. To access and defend these resources, the two countries are investing in ports, satellites, missile submarines, hypersonic missiles and icebreakers. They also want to take control of the Northwest Passage, which is the sea route along the northern coast of North America between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
Unlike Russia, China is not an Arctic state, but in 2013 it became a member of the Arctic Council – a forum for governments to promote cooperation in the Arctic – and has since become more active. In the region. To support its maritime routes in arctic waters, earlier this year, China unveiled more details on its ‘polar silk route’ plan to build infrastructure such as ports, maritime corridors, satellites and icebreaker tankers.
The biggest challenge for Canada and the United States is to modernize NORAD to prevent possible encroachment on the sovereignty of our countries, said Troy Bouffard, director of the Center for Arctic Security and Resilience in Fairbanks, Alaska.
NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defense Command, is headquartered in Colorado and provides aviation security and an aerospace warning system for Canada and the United States
“We lack effective defense systems in the North,” Bouffard said. “How do you deal with threats like hypersonic cruise missiles (from Russia)? Policymakers, working together, have to commit a lot more dollars (to NORAD). ”
Russia has been testing and launching hypersonic cruise missiles from warships in its northern waters for years. Tracking these missiles is difficult because they are maneuverable in flight and travel more than five times the speed of sound.
Even though opinions are divided on how much to increase its budget, Bouffard says Canada and the United States must invest in NORAD “right now”, calling its underfunding “a very big problem (which will affect) them. political systems of the two countries ”.
Conservative MP James Bezan says Canada has responsibility for continental security under NORAD.
Bezan was Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Defense from 2013 to 2015, and his party’s defense critic for years.
“Currently, the North Warning System only exists on the North American continent,” Bezan said. “This does not include the arctic archipelagos – made up of 94 main islands almost completely covered in ice – with the exception of Resolute Bay and Alert (in Nunavut).”
We need more satellites in the region and we need to update our Air Force bases which are of great strategic and tactical importance, he said. Once we have purchased a new surveillance system, whether for Super Hornets or F-35s, the hangars and runways will also need to be upgraded. (The government is expected to announce next year which of the two fighter jets will replace its aging CF-18 fleet.)
Meanwhile, foreign ships are entering waters near Nunavut and northerners feel threatened by their presence, according to NDP MP Lori Idlout, who won the riding of Nunavut in the September election. In addition, nNational discussions on security in Canada’s North must include the people of Nunavut, she said.
“We know our lands,” she told iPolitics in November. “The best way to ensure that security is appropriate is to ensure that it is done with a strong partnership and relationship with the people of the Arctic. “
Ottawa says its Arctic and Northern Policy Framework, released two years ago, commits it to consult with provinces, territories and Indigenous partners.
It also states that “Canada will strengthen the presence of the Canadian Armed Forces in the region over the long term by establishing the investments in capabilities that will give the Canadian Armed Forces the tools they need to assist local populations in times of need and to support them. operate effectively in the region.
In a statement to iPolitics in November, Defense Minister Anita Anand confirmed Canada’s financial commitment: “In Budget 2021, our government announced initial investments of over $ 250 million in continental defense, which will lay the groundwork for the modernization of NORAD. Canada continues to work hand in hand with its American allies to protect our North and modernize our continental defense and deterrence capabilities.
But to prevent China and Russia from further encroaching on the North, Canada and the United States must spend millions more than they have already set aside, say Bezan and Bouffard.
“If we don’t start investing and adapting to the evolving threat, the government has failed to protect Canadians from what may happen in the future,” Bezan said.
This article first appeared in iPolitics Holiday Magazine which went into print in early December.