Video Conference on Canada’s Arctic Policy

The University of Toronto’s Munk Centre for International Studies has posted a national video conference discussing Canadian policy in the Arctic. Presented by the Canadian International Council, the conference, entitled “Use It or Lose It: What’s Next for Canada’s Arctic Policy?”, brought together Canadian politicians, historians, and Arctic experts to discuss the future of the country’s policy in the High North.

Canadian senator Hugh Segal introduced the topic by noting, “The Arctic is something that is far away geographically, but not far away emotionally from our hearts. It’s a huge part of how we view our country.” Indeed, the Arctic is extremely distant from most Canadians, as over 75% live within 100 miles of the American border.

Perhaps the lack of dense settlements in the North, and the perceived vulnerability caused by such emptiness, is what led Dr. Whitney Lackenbauer of the University of Waterloo to remark, “The anxiety about losing or using our Arctic is more revealing of the Canadian psyche than of objective realities. And what it’s done is encourage a disproportionate amount of emphasis on national defense, at the expense of a broader suite of social and diplomatic initiatives.”

To be sure, though the country’s foreign policy is predicated on integrating defense, diplomacy, and development (the 3-D strategy), it appears that lately, defense has been the most visible issue. For instance, the Canadian government has just announced that it will form a new Arctic force that will be able to respond to any incident in the Arctic.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper

Dr. Lackenbauer continued, “We’re actually very fortunate the Russians are actually insisting that this is not an Arctic race.  They’re saying it’s the western world that’s being alarmist and provocative here; we’re all about international law.” This observation is at odds with the Canadian government’s reaction to the Russian jet expedition back in February.

Dr. Franklyn Griffith of the University of Toronto remarked that Canada should focus on adapting its Arctic strategy to a “3E” approach of elevation, engagement, and enlargement. Elevation would entail the involvement of countries’ prime ministers and presidents in Arctic issues rather than just foreign ministries and NGOs. Engagement would mean improving bilateral relations with the U.S., Greenland, Germany, and China in regards to Arctic issues. Finally, enlargement would concentrate on incorporating non-Arctic countries such as China and Germany into the Arctic Council, with a view that issues like environmental sustainability in the North affect everyone.

Additional topics discussed include militarization, Russia, the history of Arctic international relations, and indigenous people, among many others.

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