Despite the low chance of an imminent large-scale military conflict in the Arctic, as Russia remains an Arctic threat and China looks to exploit Arctic resources, the federal government must step up with more urgency when it comes to Canada’s Arctic security and defence, according to a recent Senate committee report.
In response to the report, issued June 28, northern leaders are urging Canada not to leave Arctic residents and communities behind.
The Senate committee on national security and defence was authorized to study and report back to the Senate on Arctic security and defence, including Canada’s military infrastructure and security capabilities. Shortly after the study began, Russia invaded Ukraine. Russia makes up half the coastline and people in the Arctic, per the report.
The committee undertook hearings with 64 witnesses in Ottawa and fact-finding missions to the Canadian Arctic and North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Significant threats to the Arctic the committee heard about include climate change, security challenges due to more international shipping through the Northwest Passage, global interest in the Arctic’s resources, the buildup of Russia’s Arctic military bases, the presence of foreign submarines in Arctic waters and the rate and sophistication of cyber attacks.
The Yukon’s infrastructure can make for a more “agile and sustainable” defence presence when it comes to Arctic security, Sandy Silver, still premier at the time, told the committee in a Dec. 5, 2022 hearing. Northern Yukon First Nations demanded inclusion on the topic.
The Arctic contains 40 per cent of Canada’s land mass and 75 per cent of its coastline, but it is home to less than one per cent of its population.
The report notes that climate change is compounding security risks in the region and impacting Indigenous peoples in the Arctic, thus, the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces are making efforts to ensure military infrastructure can adapt to the impacts of climate change such as melting permafrost.
In the report, the committee concludes the federal government should put money into security and defence capabilities, as well as in social and economic infrastructure, in the Arctic.
“We must not let this moment pass by,” reads the report.
Per the report, the committee applauds the federal government’s announced spending of $38.6 billion over 20 years as the country’s contribution to NORAD’s modernization.
The 23 recommendations in the report include coming up with sections on Arctic security and defence and underwater threats, as well as examining whether changes to the policy on ballistic missile defence are needed in the federal government’s next defence policy.
Other recommendations include evaluating whether changes to the size, locations or nature of the Canadian Armed Forces presence in the Canadian Arctic are required; identifying military infrastructure that needs repairs and upgrades north of the 60th parallel; addressing challenges related to recruitment and retention of Canadian Rangers; developing a plan for improving internet connectivity for civilian and military purposes and considering the extent to which multi-purpose infrastructure would be appropriate.
In her testimony, Assembly of First Nations’ Regional Chief for Yukon Kluane Adamek gave the committee examples of defence infrastructure projects that could benefit local communities: radar stations, telecommunications, multi-purpose buildings, housing, transportation and permanent roads.
However, Gwich’in Council International underlined the potential risk that more spending on defence infrastructure could take away from spending on social development projects.
The northern premiers commented on the committee’s report in a joint statement issued on July 7 on behalf of Premier Ranj Pillai, Northwest Territories Premier Caroline Cochrane and Nunavut Premier P.J. Akeeagok.
“We welcome the recommendations around multi-purpose infrastructure that meet local and territorial needs, improve broadband internet connectivity and provide social and economic benefits for Arctic communities,” reads the statement.
“The economic and social security of the people who live in the North is critical to our national security. Without substantial investment in the North, issues like the cost of living, particularly the rising cost of food and fuel, will eventually force residents out of the North, the same residents that support Canada’s efforts on Arctic security and sovereignty.”
The premiers expressed no surprise that the report highlights the risks and impacts of climate change.
“With Canada’s North warming at a rate up to four times faster than the global average, there are significant risks to delaying action any further,” reads the statement.
(In the report, the committee indicates it believes the Arctic is warming at three times the global rate.)
The premiers noted the Canadian Armed Forces’ goal for net-zero emissions by 2050 will require “major levels of investment in proven reliable, clean energy sources in a region that has historically been reliant on fossil fuels. Canadian investment in clean energy in the Arctic will not only bolster Arctic security, but it will also help reduce the cost of living for northerners who are bearing the brunt of rapidly rising fuel prices.”
“It is of the utmost importance that the Government of Canada not only actively listen to and involve local, territorial and Indigenous leadership from our three territories when developing defence policies around Arctic security, but it is critical that Canada takes action and invests in the Arctic,” the premiers said.
Contact Dana Hatherly at email@example.com