Saturday, April 15, 2006

Arctic Sovereignty

I recently read a CNN article about Arctic sovereignty. Before reading it, I was inclined to consider the whole idea ridiculous. Now, however, the Conservative government's position seems more understandable. Here are two excerpts from the article:
"Canadian forces on Sunday wrapped up a two-week exercise designed to assert sovereignty over the Arctic at a time when climate change is fueling international interest in the desolate, mineral-rich region.

"Five patrol groups started off at separate points in the west and central Arctic and traveled a total of 2,800 miles (4,500 kilometers) by snowmobile over snow and jagged sea ice through a region that is almost totally uninhabited."
"Canada is embroiled in territorial disputes with the United States over the Beaufort Sea in the Arctic — the site of deposits of natural gas — as well as with Denmark over which country owns Hans Island off the coast of Greenland.

"Ottawa is also sparring with Russia as to how far its control stretches up to the North Pole. The result could be worth billions of dollars in oil and gas revenue.

"The rapid pace of climate change means the usually ice-clogged Northwest Passage — a shortcut through the Arctic between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans — could be free of ice in summer by the end of the century.

"Canada claims ownership of the waters in the passage and says it does not want to see foreign ships using it at will, believing this could increase the chances of a disaster in an environmentally fragile region. The United States and others reject the claim."
I had not realized that natural resources, and billions of dollars, were at stake. Still, I wonder whether this issue could be more cheaply, more effectively, and more safely resolved through negotiations. Admittedly, negotiations alone don't seem particularly promising considering the (ongoing?) softwood lumber dispute. In that respect, a military presence in the Arctic might help by showing that the Canadian government is serious about its claims. I do have concerns that the resources, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper's handling of the matter, might lead to serious conflict, but perhaps that is unreasonable of me. Surely civilized countries like Canada, the US, Russia, etc. can resolve disputes in a peaceful and mature fashion. :o)

Mind you, the Hans Island affair didn't indicate much maturity. Admittedly, there was some justification for the countries' interest in the matter (the island is in the middle of a potential shipping line, and "standing firm" over Hans Island might help Canada in more serious disputes). Nonetheless, I think it's stupid to squabble over the little 1.3 square km piece of land. Frankly, I am not convinced that the island is significant, nor do I understand why Denmark and Canada can't have joint ownership, or why one or the other (preferably both) can't be gracious.

Anyway, Harper's Arctic plans (from his speech last December) include:
  • Stationing three new armed naval heavy ice breakers in the area of Iqaluit which will include 500 regular force personnel for crews and support;
  • Building a new military/civilian deep-water docking facility in the Iqaluit area;
  • Establishing a new Arctic National Sensor System for northern waters which will include underwater surveillance technologies;
  • Building a new Arctic army training centre in the area of Cambridge Bay on the Northwest Passage staffed by an estimated 100 regular force personnel;
  • Stationing new fixed-wing search-and-rescue aircraft in Yellowknife;
  • Providing eastern and western Arctic air surveillance through stationing new long range uninhabited aerial vehicle (UAV) squadrons at CFB Goose Bay and CFB Comox;
  • Revitalizing the Canadian Rangers by recruiting up to 500 additional Rangers increasing their level of training, activity, and equipment; and
  • Providing an army emergency response capability through the new airborne battalion and airlift capacity stationed at CFB Trenton to provide a rapid emergency response capability throughout the entire Arctic region.
It seems that the above plans are still in the early stages. From the CNN article:
"the patrol groups totaled only around 50 people on snowmobiles pulling wooden sleds"
Ha ha ha ha!


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