Canada is the only nation in the world whose mainland borders three of the world's five oceans: The Arctic, The Atlantic and the Pacific.
The United States only secured access to the Arctic Ocean with the acquisition of non-contiguous Alaska from Russia in 1867 and Russia can only access the Atlantic through the Barents and Norwegian Seas.
The three oceans in question are exactly those in and over which Russia has recently resumed strategic air patrols and naval and submarine deployments starting in late 2007 after a hiatus of almost twenty years.
Should East-West tensions parallel - or exceed - those of the Cold War era Canada will be on several frontlines and is now being actively prepared for just such an eventuality.
Instead the nation's role, given its unique geographical location, will be as the West's advance guard in a geostrategic showdown in the northern latitudes.
Not that Canada's service to the United States and NATO collectively is limited to its own coasts and the oceans they abut.
From supplying its former colonial master Britain with a disproportionate amount of troops in both world wars to following the lead of Britain and the United States in wars from Korea in 1950 to Yugoslavia in 1999 to Afghanistan at present, Canada has rarely balked at demands for political acquiescence and military complicity from its Anglo-Saxon big brothers and the NATO alliance of which it is a founding member.
If in early 2003 Ottawa refused to supply troops for the invasion of Iraq it aided that effort in other ways beforehand, including supporting NATO's deployment of Patriot missiles to Turkey on the eve of the war, and afterward by assigning personnel to the NATO Training Mission - Iraq.
Many suspect that then prime minister Jean Chretien's government avoided potential fallout on the home front by reaching a quid pro quo with Washington whereby Canada would avoid the Iraqi quagmire by stepping into the AfghanÂ crevice. It took over the International Security Assistance Force (which had been officially turned over to NATO) mission in the capital of Kabul in 2003 and two years later deployed over 2,000 troops to the southern province of Kandahar, Afghanistan's main battlefield from that time onward. The initial 1,950 troops Canada assigned to ISAF was the largest single contingent at the time.
Canada signed both a Faustian pact and a fool's bargain. Most all non-American troops have been pulled out of Iraq or will be soon, with the majority of the contributing nations focused on increasing deployments to Afghanistan for an expanding South Asian war, while Canadian forces have been bogged down in Afghanistan for almost seven and a half years and notwithstanding claims by Ottawa officials to have them withdrawn by 2011 may well be there indefinitely.
117 Canadian soldiers have been killed in the Afghan war, about 10 per cent of total Western military deaths, the number and ratio out of proportion to Canada's population of a little over 33 million.
The death toll is the highest the country has experienced since the Korean War (when 516 soldiers were killed) and the first combat fatalities in over half a century. The Korean War was the prototype for almost sixty years of US and NATO military campaigns fought far from North America and Europe by self-defined coalitions of the willing. Direct Western military involvement began in July of 1950, fifteen months after the formation of NATO, and Korea was the testing ground for the new alliance with, in addition to US forces, troops from NATO allies Canada, Belgium, Britain, France, Luxembourg and the Netherlands participating. All seven nations lost troops, as did Greece and Turkey, themselves having just been first subjected to the sanguinary effects of the Truman Doctrine and for whom participation in the Korean War was the precondition for their induction into NATO in 1952.
The model was replicated in the post-Cold War period with the two wars against Iraq in 1991 and 2003, the 78-day air war against Yugoslavia in 1999 and the endless war in Afghanistan that commenced in October of 2001.
Canada contributed 4,500 troops to the first Persian Gulf War, including 2,700 stationed in the area, and ran its own national complement to the US-led Operation Desert Storm, Operation Friction.
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