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Canada: Battle Line In East-West Conflict Over The Arctic

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Canada: Battle Line In East-West Conflict Over The Arctic
Rick Rozoff

Referring to newly released documents, though not revealing what they were, a major Canadian press wire service reported on May 26 that the government plans to acquire a "family" of aerial drones over the next decade. [1]

The dispatch was only two paragraphs long and could easily be overlooked, as one of the two intended purposes for expanding Canada's reserve of military drones was for "failed or failing states." Afghanistan is unquestionably one such deployment zone and Ottawa sent its first Israeli-made Heron drones there this January for NATO's war in South Asia.

Another likely target for "dull, dirty and dangerous" missions suited for unmanned aircraft is Somalia, off the coast of which the frigate HMCS Winnipeg, carrying a Sea King helicopter it's had occasion to use, is engaged with the Standing NATO Maritime Group 1 (SNMG1) in forced boarding and other military operations. The use of unmanned aircraft vehicles (UAVs) in a likely extension of military actions on the Somali mainland would, unfortunately, not raise many eyebrows.

The last sentence in the brief report, though, says that "Senior commanders also foresee a growing role for drones in Canada, especially along the country's coastlines and in the Arctic."

To provide an indication of what Canada's Joint Unmanned Surveillance Target Acquisition System (JUSTAS) has in mind for future use in the Arctic, a likely prospect is the "Heron TP, a 4,650-kilogram drone with the same wingspan as a Boeing 737," which can "can carry a 1,000-kilogram payload and stay aloft for 36 hours at an altitude of about 15,000 metres" for "long-range Arctic and maritime patrols." [2]
Project JUSTAS will "cost as much as $750 million and...give the Canadian military a capability that only a handful of other countries possess...." [3]

The day after the first news story mentioned above appeared the same press source summarized comments by Canadian Minister of National Defence Peter MacKay as affirming "The global economic downturn won't prevent the Canadian Forces from spending $60 billion on new equipment."

Although Canada's federal deficit is expected to rise to $50 billion this year from $34 billion in 2008, "MacKay said the government's long-term defence strategy would grow this year's $19-billion annual defence budget to $30 billion by 2027. Over that time, that will mean close to $490 billion in defence spending, including $60 billion on new equipment." [4]

It's doubtful that many Canadians are aware of either development: Plans for advanced drones designed not only for surveillance but for firing missiles to be used in the Arctic and a major increase in the military budget of a nation that has already doubled its defense spending over the last decade.

Of those who do know of them, the question should arise of why a nation of 33 million which borders only one other country, the United States, its senior partner in NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command), NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) and since 2006 increasingly the Pentagon's Northern Command (NORTHCOM) would need to spend almost half a trillion dollars for arms in the next eighteen years. And why in addition to acquiring weapons for wars and other military operations in Europe, Asia and Africa, Canada would deploy some of its most state-of-the-art arms to the Arctic Circle.

A French writer of the 1800s wrote that cannon aren't forged to be displayed in public parks. And the deployment of missile-wielding drones to its far north are not, contrary to frequent implications for domestic consumption by members of the current Stephen Harper government, meant to defend the nation's sovereignty in the region; only one state threatens that sovereignty, the United States, and Ottawa has no desire to defend its interests against its southern neighbor.

Recent unparalleled Canadian military exercises and build-up in the Arctic, of which the proposed use of aerial drones is but the latest example, are aimed exclusively at another nation: Russia.

A document from 2007 posted on a website of the Canadian Parliament states, "In recent years, Canada has been asserting its nordicite (nordicity) with a louder voice and greater emphasis than before. Such renewed focus on the Arctic is largely linked to the anticipated effects of climate change in the region, which are expected to be among the greatest effects of any region on Earth. By making the region more easily accessible, both threats and opportunities are amplified and multiplied. Canada’s claims over the Arctic are thus likely to emerge as a more central dimension of our foreign relations. Hence, it appears timely to highlight the extent of Canada’s sovereignty and jurisdiction over Arctic waters and territory, and to identify issues that are controversial." [5]

Canada's Arctic claims extend all the way to the North Pole, as do Russia's and Denmark's, as long as Copenhagen retains ownership of Greenland.

The basis of the dispute between Canada and Russia is the Lomonosov Ridge which runs 1,800 kilometers from Russia's New Siberian Islands through the center of the Arctic Ocean to Canada's Ellesmere Island in the territory of Nunavut, part of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Russia maintains that the Lomonosov Ridge and the related Mendeleyev Elevation are extensions of its continental shelf. Russia filed a claim to this effect in December of 2001 with the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS), renewing it in late 2007.

The answer to what is at stake with control of this vast stretch of the Arctic Ocean and that to the earlier question concerning Canada's military escalation and expansion into the Arctic are both threefold.

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Rick Rozoff has been involved in anti-war and anti-interventionist work in various capacities for forty years. He lives in Chicago, Illinois. Is the manager of the Stop NATO international email list at:
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