Canada as an Arctic Nation

Canada as an Arctic Nation

On November 17th, WSIC hosted our final event for the 2014 calendar year. Our guest speaker for the evening was Professor Franklyn Griffiths, Professor Emeritus at the University of Toronto, who led an engaging discussion on the topic of Canada’s Future as an Artic Nation.

With the Harper government emphasizing Canada’s sovereignty over areas in the Artic, the question we need to ask is what rights we have as a country over this region, and what impact the environment plays in enforcing these rights in the years to come. In answering these questions, Professor Griffiths highlighted 4 key factors for consideration: (i) Global Warming, (ii) Globalization, (iii) Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and (iv) Russia.

Global warming is happening at an alarming pace and causing real changes in the Artic region, with greenhouse emissions rising and ice caps melting at an ever rapid rate. To combat these problems, our government will need to look at new and novel ways to halt these changes, including employing engineering skills and cooperating with other countries in a meeting of minds in order to take emergency action. Global warming and ice melting is also opening new passageways and travel routes which were previously inaccessible. These routes and passageways are of increasing importance to the global community – especially as a result of globalization.

With increasing globalization, all kinds of new matters are coming into play. The Artic region is becoming a host for new transportation and military manoeuvres. Russia is one example of a country looking to build on military resources in the area. Chinese and Japanese vessels may also be coming shortly, in addition to the existing US presence. Increased military strength in the Artic may force Canada to assume a military presence in the area, which it currently does not have. Will this equate to a future militarized Artic? And how will this fare in light of much of the land in the Artic inhabited by, and belonging to, indigenous peoples? Existing indigenous communities must have some voice and say on the use of new travel routes and passageways in the region, as well as resource development and exploration of the Arctic seabed in the years to come.

Stephen Harper speaks enthusiastically about Canada’s connection with the Artic. Canada has significant frontage area in the region, but this is also shared with Iceland, Denmark (via Greenland), Sweden, Norway, the US, Finland and Russia. There are no clear and defined boundaries and no one country has sovereignty over the geographic North Pole or the Arctic Ocean surrounding it (beyond the 200 nautical miles extending from each country’s coast). However, the Harper government has recently ordered a rewrite of Canada’s international claim for Arctic seabed rights that extend beyond previous claims and now include the North Pole – a region that Russia has already claimed as its own. Russia is a country that presents itself as a geopolitical risk to Canada. Overlapping claims in the Arctic region will require negotiations between Ottawa and Moscow, the outcome of which remains uncertain.

Professor Griffiths was able to answer an array of questions from our WSIC members, and helped provide clarity on a subject matter that is both highly political and environmentally complex. Our WSIC audience showed a deep concern over the dynamics of the region and different factors at play. We remain grateful for Professor Griffiths for his ability to address these concerns at our event.

We look forward to seeing everyone again in the New Year, and wish you all a very happy holiday season!


Opening Remarks from Professor Griffiths


Thank you very much on this wintery night.  It’s winter already.

It’s an arctic topic so it’s nice and simple.  I’m not going to talk too long. I hope it’s going to be a good discussion.  I want to throw out some ideas about the future of the arctic and the future of Canada as an arctic country.  We need to deal with this subject.  Anyways, I want to talk about three or four challenges that Canada faces.  I’ll put them before you very briefly and then we’ll have a discussion. 

Number one challenge, just to list them, is a challenge of global warming. 

Number two challenge, is a challenge of globalization of the arctic which has a reach as the world is becoming more integrated into a wider world, having been separated for so long.

The number three challenge to Canada as an arctic nation is Stephen Harper and the fourth challenge is Russia.

I want you to think of the Arctic from the point of view, right above the north pole, about three hundred or four hundred miles up looking at the region and around it.  I want you to place yourself at the center of things with the whole world is looking at it and what you’re going to see is a polar Mediterranean if you like.

An ice covered ocean in the middle and around it are several countries with frontage rights of the ocean.

Russia is the main one.  They have about 360 degrees of arc. Russia has almost half, pretty much 180 degrees of arc. As you look down almost half of all that stuff, and going way back, south Russian land, Russia would be the largest country in the world.  There’s Russia there.  Then as you start to move west you’re going to find a number of other countries.  You’re going to find Finland, you’re going to find Sweden, you’re going to find Norway, and just further south you’ll find Iceland.  A bit further west again, going west, you will find Greenland which is part of Denmark.  Then you’ll find Canada, the second largest country in the world and a country with quite a lot of frontage on the Arctic ocean and finally you’ll come to Alaska, which is the U.S. claim to its presence to the Arctic. As the United-States does not really understand itself to be an Arctic nation and just as the Alaskan don’t really feel like part of the union, they feel somewhat like Hawaii perhaps.   

The reason in which there is a lot of trouble but basically right now things are going very smoothly.  In the newspaper you’ll see comments on the race for resources, all kind of challenges to sovereignty, especially the Canadian sovereignty.  Russian military actions and Russian aggression will be further south exhibiting up in the Arctic.  They say those things are unlikely, at the moment anyways. But I want to talk to you about future challenges because I think the Arctic as a region is going to run into trouble.  And that trouble is going to reflect upon Canada and cause us a certain amount of trouble which I believe we should recognize and talk about now so as to take counter measures now while there is time before all this stuff closes in on us.  So I see bad weather coming in ahead.  It’s out there now. 

On the matter of global warming.  What I see is global warming going out of control.  We in Canada are setting a very bad example.  The world is heating up and not enough is done to contain greenhouse gas emission which is rising at a rapid rate.  If this whole thing of global warming starts of get away from us then we are faced with super charged teething there’s going to be a meeting of minds, I would think about emergency action to try to cut back on warming, maybe even stop it altogether.  How is this to be done?  This is again an emergency response where everything else has failed and we cannot seem to cope. The response is one of geoengineering.  This means finding ways to reduce the space of the sun’s rays on the earth.  To reduce the heat we feel from the sun.  One way to do this is to put sulfur into the stratosphere high above the earth and to put it there by high flying air crafts which will just blow sulfur powder out.  That sulfur will just dissipate into the stratosphere quite quickly and serve to bounce a certain amount of solar radiation back into space.  This will stop it from coming to earth and as a result will cool the earth.  In other words, we are polluting the earth with carbon which we are burning when we burn fossil fuels and there’s all sort of carbon pollution on the earth.  The answer for this kind of geoengineering is to pollute still further.  You add sulfur pollution and that basically we find a way to go ahead to burn as much of fossil fuel as we like as long as we shield the earth and keep it cool.  This is a crazy thing and I can talk more about it.  But how’s it going to happen?  It has caused lots of dangerous troubles.  It’s hard to predict how this sort of thing will play out.  In the Himalayas for instance, what do people do about the monsoons?  What we do for the lives of tens of thousands and millions of people down the stream from the Himalayas.  One of the approaches is to do a small scale testing.  One way for it to be tested, one might be in the arctic where the arctic countries where 198 whatever is represented will get together and decide, OK we’re going to test this out.  There’s an emergency effect and if it’s done right, I don’t know if it should be done at all, but if it were to be done it should be before the emergency to see if it works.  Test it out and to know it is there if you need it.  In which case Canada it might be a place where the use of sulfur in the upper stratosphere might be tested.  We might even offer to do it.  I would say this is in keeping with current government policy.  We are making ourselves out to be an energy superpower.  We’re keen on burning more and more natural gas, we’re keen on polluting the atmosphere, we’re keen on seeing global warming the way the prime minister has devised it.  I think what should happen as a minimum is that there should be a discussion of this type of thing in Canada before it comes down upon us.

Number two: globalization.  The arctic is becoming integrated into the wider world in all kinds of ways.  It is becoming a source of oil and gas reserves.  It is immense.  All kinds of oil and gas reserve has been thought to be located in the arctic region.  By the way I should define the arctic for you as those parts of earth’s landmass that lies north of the tree lines.  That is the arctic.  Everything north of the tree lines and the lines out at sea.  As the world heats the tree lines move north and the arctic shrinks.  As world is changing the arctic is being transformed.  With globalization going on with all kind of factors coming into play.  The arctic is a scene for arctic marine transportation.  As the scene for new military maneuvers, the Russian in particular are interested.  The arctic is seen as a place to show their military strengths.  There is a lot of bravado the way the Russians are talking about the stuff.  They are proposing to find new resources, reactivate the arctic military bases and others.  And they claim they’re doing so to protect their own arctic resources.  I don’t think this is for real but nevertheless there is a danger these kind of things may turn into real commitments.  Canada right away has been making all kinds of sounds about being stronger in the arctic.  Harper proposed to equip us with arctic control vessels. He’s proposed to create a salt water port in the arctic.  That has not happened.  There’s all sort of things that’s been proposed and hasn’t happened.  I think the Russians are rather like that too. There is a risk of globalization going on and it includes the use of the ice-reduced arctic and as seen through military operations.  Some of that is going on but the ice is thinning in the arctic at a rapid rate and transportation by commercial ships is becoming increasingly likely.  But naval vessel are going to follow.  I expect before not too long that we’ll be seeing Chinese, maybe Japanese and Indian vessels in the arctic as well, the United States, the NATO nations and of course the Russians.  These things are going to create a situation where it is important to have strength in the arctic, military strengths, in a way that Canada does not have.  We have a problem with the North-West passage, in that we claim we have exclusive jurisdiction over all the waters that lie between the islands of the native arctic archipelago.  We say all those waters are internal Canadian waters.  They’re ours as much as lake Winnipeg is ours.  The Americans and almost everyone except the Russians disagree.  They say these waters are part of the international space that connects two high seas areas, the Atlantic and the Pacific, and that they as well as everybody has the right to navigate through the waters of the North-West passage.  And if you can imagine a militarized arctic down the road where there is a need for instance for the United States to shore waters to bolster a naval presence in the China sea to defend Taiwan, the gate to China, the United States may need to move vessels through the North-West passage to get there fast because the Panama Canal is not big enough to take a carrier-based task force.  We might then have a U.S. repressed use of the North-West passage or we might well have a need to give to the United-States to see to it that their vessels if they need to use the arctic and indeed the North-West passage, their vessels are going to be defendable.  We have to, in other words, be able to in this sort of environment be able to defend the North-West passage and all of passage ways in the arctic archipelago to which we do not have the tools.  There’s various ways to defend the North-West passage: number one is to mine it.  Put mines between the islands in the Canadian arctic.  This is crazy.  Nobody will do it.  But it has been suggested.  The only other way is to defend our shore. To defend against the foreign incursion and to maintain sovereignty over these waters is by defending our shore is to get an oceanic navy, which we don’t have.  A navy cannot deal with foreign nuclear powered submarines and all kinds of other vessels.  This will break the Canadian defense piggy bank and this is something we have to think of at other times and to guard against.  In other words, we have to be careful about avoiding the trend of events of the militarization of the arctic.  One way we might start thinking about this would be to think indeed of internationalizing the North-West passage.  That is to treat the North-West passage as an international strait and to assist it in all other space according to international law regarding international space.  This is a radical proposal but there is something coming up very soon called the polar code.  This is a code for navigation in ice covered waters.  Antarctic and arctic.  Canada started the whole process which has led to this code which should be out next year.  The provisions of this internationally adopted code will be in some ways probably superior to the provisions we have governing commercial navigation in the waters in the Canadian arctic north.  We could perhaps adopt and support the code.  We could use it as a base to call for a law of the nations we can live with governing the North-West passage that would eliminate all the conflicts we have with most of the maritime nations, the United States in particular.


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