Sovereignty Solutions
Sep 15, 2008

Several years ago, a small piece of doggerel was passed around the DND Intranet, outlining the various nations of the world and their possible response to a challenge of their sovereignty. There were a number of humourous responses, as one might expect, but the “Canadian response” was very revealing. Canada would send a rowboat with six Mounties to politely tell the intruders to go home. On reflection, it was perhaps more revealing than the author had intended. I subsequently found later that our concerns about Northern ­sovereignty was as remarkably low key as the “joke” had suggested.

My interest in Canadian Arctic Sovereignty became obvious in September 2005 when I was invited by the editor of FrontLine to submit an “Op Ed” on a topic of my choosing. I subsequently wrote on an issue that was being vigorously reviewed in the national press at the time: Arctic Sovereignty (FrontLine vol.2 no.5). My submission suggested that Canada needed a far greater military presence in the North than the normal weekly over-flights, infrequent military and Canadian Ranger patrols, and a chain of unmanned radar sites. While all of these activities and the radar sites are, of course, important, there remains an absence of significant “military power” in the far North.

In essence, we have no projectable “hard power” to back up our claim to a significant portion of the Arctic Ocean and Archipelago. This absence of a “power presence” creates both an operational and a logistical conundrum for the Military – and for the Government. Any Canadian response using the current military infrastructure (which is located, for the most part, in the far South) coupled with the reality of the current shortfalls created by the “rust out” of current systems procured in the 1970’s and 80’s, paints a picture of an ineffective response to any intruder. In reality, we would likely be very effective during any single “nose-to-nose” encounter, but less so if we were to engage in less-­limited operations in the North.

I was not prepared for the reaction that followed the publication of that article. I received calls from Diplomats who cited international treaties, various conventions and the World Court. I was also coldly advised, by some DFAIT staff, that I had neglected to consider Canada’s position in the world and the likelihood of having nations coming to our aid should there be an incursion in our Far North. There were even comments from within the military that suggested that I was not current with new capabilities that were coming on stream. However, the clamour soon died down and life returned to normal existence as a “lab rat” in the NDHQ maze. I was asked to participate in a number of discussions on my views, which I happily did.

Thinking no more about the North, I turned my attention to a host of other interests and issues that I pursued and wrote about. However, I always had in the back of my mind that Northern sovereignty was an unresolved issue. I continued to wonder how we would respond to any challenges on our share of the Arctic.

This year has seen an increasing awareness by the Canadian public that it would be folly to blindly believe that our claim of sovereignty over littoral waters, and much of the Arctic Archipelago, would not go unchallenged. This first became evident when Russian scientists dropped a flag within Canadian territorial waters. Next, the Danes again asserted their rights in the Arctic, and a third alert was raised when our major ally, the United States, reiterated its views that the North West Passage was an international waterway that was open to both free passage and future exploitation should global warming keep it ice free all year round.

Suddenly, both the Government and the public became concerned about what action could be taken to protect Canadian interests given the huge projected gas, oil and mineral reserves thought to exist in the Arctic. The Government initially suggested three ice breakers and a stronger naval ­presence. However, fiscal realities forced a reduction the number of projected ice breakers by two and there has been no ­further mention of an Arctic military base.
HMCS Montreal’s starboard lookout, Able Seaman Sean Hayman, keeps watch in Pangnirtung Fiord in the Cumberland Peninsula area of Baffin Island.

It appears that, for the foreseeable future, it will be a “come as you are” affair to any challenge of defending our Arctic sovereign territories given the low likelihood of any military action taking place. However, there are a number of things that Canada could do to mitigate present circumstances.

The short-sighted nature of Canadian society is, unfortunately, a very limiting factor. Several opportunities existed for Canada to take action which could have forestalled today’s economic threats. The first being the public outrage to the sailing of the American Ship “Manhattan,” a crude-oil carrier, through the North West Passage without first asking permission of the Cana­dian Government. The government of the day proposed the development of a Class 8 Ice Breaker to be named the “Polar Star” which would actively patrol the North. Once the anger subsided, however, the next government quietly shelved the plans, stating that such an undertaking was too expensive.

The second major incident involved revelations that U.S. and Russian nuclear submarines were operating in Canadian Arctic littoral waters with impunity. The Russians and Americans apparently traded information regarding the general location of their submarines but did not think it necessary to advise the Canadian government as to what was going on in Canadian-declared waters. The government proposed that Canada acquire a fleet of nuclear submarines to patrol the North, West and East littoral waters. The program was spread over a long term and considered to be both technically and fiscally feasible. However, the “peace movement” balked at the idea of Canada owning nuclear submarines. They did not realize that the Canadian submarines would not carry nuclear weapons. A combination of left-leaning press, misguided and misinformed action groups, and opposition parties who felt that there was no threat to Canada, successfully persuaded the government to shelve the plans.

In hindsight, what is most distressing is the understanding that if the government had gone ahead with the plan, there would likely be no threats today of major incursions into Canada’s claimed sovereignty over sections of the Arctic Ocean and the Arctic Archipelago. Instead, we are now facing claims by other nations regarding what we perceive as our littoral territory, with precious little resources to defend our rights over these areas. What do we do in the interim?
A CC-177 Globemaster III lands in Inuvik to deliver supplies and equipment for the Forward ­Operating Location (FOL).

This speculative article allows me, a military historian and a strategic analyst, to wax eloquent on what I could do if I were in a position that gives unfettered access to National Level plans, strategic or otherwise. What follows, is my assessment of the problems and the likely remedies that could be applied “if push comes to shove.” This article is intended solely to provoke discussion and thought regarding a potential problem in our Far North.

Many of you will think that what I propose is well beyond the Canadian public’s appetite for turmoil, tempest and the expenditure of treasure. All I say is look at the change in public attitude one day after Pearl Harbour. My bet is that if the Russians, or Danes, or whoever were to invade Grand Byam Island, there would be a public outpouring of rage and demands that the government take action. Perhaps I am wrong.

Let us hope that it never comes to that. But, in the interim, let’s stroll down the lane towards solving the problem.

National Arctic Strategy
The Government is now faced with the need to take major steps towards guarding our national Arctic littoral regions and the Canadian portion of the Arctic Archipelago. The Government must develop a thoughtful, well-founded plan that involves all major avenues available for it to advance Canadian control over these areas. This plan must enable the Government to apply appropriate pressure, up to a significant level of punition, to nations that become aggressively engaged in attempting to assert their claims to our resources. But how would this work?

Five components to the “National Arctic Strategy” would be required. These sections must include: a diplomatic plan and advisory council; a legal plan rooted in International Law; a trade and commerce plan with which to forge new economic alliances; an international public relations plan; and the inevitable military plan to deal with confrontations and to inform the Government on available military options. Each of these components must work together in unison to apply as much pressure as possible to any “offending nations” in order to maintain current defined territorial limits. Let us consider the role of each component within the strategy.

In the normal ebb and flow of diplomacy, Canada, as a nation, has been called upon many times to support diplomatic initiatives of other nations. Some of these nations now seek access to our territorial littoral regions without permission. It is possible to envision proposals or drafts authored or championed by these nations as being significantly held up during the ratification process or a situation where Canada could tacitly withdraw her support and institute demands that additional work or studies be conducted before Canadian support is given. Each case would, of course, have to be carefully selected to ensure that areas requiring immediate remedy could still be acted upon and accepted as a diplomatic protocol. Other pressures could take the form of withdrawing our ambassador or declaring the other nation’s diplomats to be “persona non grata.” While mainly symbolic, it does serve to alert the world in general, and the nation in particular, of our collective displeasure regarding their claims concerning our sovereign territory. Actions could also be taken to institute the requirements for visas to enter the country or the withholding of funds for mutually supported events or programs. As a final resort, the Canadian Government may exercise a ­limited trade embargo.

In addressing the legal component, Canadian International Law representatives may seek redress through international legal bodies. They may propose changes to international law which could have significant impact of an offending nation’s activities or plans. For example, Canada may employ the right of inspection on all ships entering or leaving the North West passage. The Canadian Coast Guard may, under international law, search for any legal infractions or safety violations. While not significant, such actions are both costly and time consuming to the offending nation and can interfere with a nation’s commerce. However, Canada can make its case known internationally and bring the concerted force of many nations to bear on an illegal act against international law.
International trade and commerce will be instrumental in finding new locations that can provide for Canadian economic requirements during an embargo phase, should it come to that. The signing of international free trade agreements with other nations has a twofold effect – it lessens Canadian economic dependence on a single source, and it replaces the previous sources with new outlets for goods and services.

All of these agencies would provide input for an international public relations plan which could provide Canada with a forum to forcefully state her case against late claims. This plan could be instrumental in putting pressure on any nation who posts modern day claims.

Military Component
Now we come to the military portion of the “National Arctic Strategy.” The military is a key deployable asset at the government’s disposal.

A preliminary step would include overhauling the rest of the CF18 fleet (those that have not yet been refurbished) and reactivating several squadrons to provide a significant Air presence in the Far North. It is important to bear in mind that a sufficient number of air frames would be needed to enable rotation of crews and ­aircraft on a frequent basis.

Sustaining the various components of effective Air patrol of the North will require the development of a base that is capable of providing extensive maintenance support. In order to provide for a more robust patrolling schedule, the Air Force will also need to amend the number of maritime patrol aircraft being retained. Stand-off weapons and self-defence capabilities would provide robust tools for aircraft selected for Northern patrol.

It should be noted that Canada is one of the very few maritime nations without an anti-shipping missile in her inventory.  Norway, Sweden and Denmark all possess such weapons – not to mention the larger players. We may ultimately find it necessary match this capability.

To fulfill its role in the Arctic Strategy, the Canadian Navy will require both surface and subsurface platforms to provide the level of security necessary for the littoral regions of the Arctic Ocean and the Arctic Archipelago. This could involve a new class of ships with strengthened hulls and superstructures for operations in pack ice of up 1m-1.5m. These ships will need naval artillery and missiles, as well as close in weapons support and small arms for local defence.

The best vessel for surveillance is a submarine. The Canadian Navy will need a number of Air Independent Propulsion type submarines or nuclear submarines for surveillance and counter-submarine duties.

Of course, both of these new classes of surface and sub-surface vessels will need to be operations-capable for both littoral and “blue water” duties. Furthermore, sufficient numbers will permit the necessary frequent rotation of crews and vessels.

On to land forces. The Canadian Army will require a minimum of an air transportable brigade to discharge its duties in the North. This brigade should include a parachute battalion; a high mobility battalion that can be moved quickly into an Area of Operations to either reinforce the parachute battalion or to conduct parallel operations; and an air-transportable “all arms” battalion that possesses the wherewithal to provide not only significant combat power but also fire support to the other two battalions. It will be a larger organization that will contain, in addition to the three companies and the support company, elements of artillery, anti-armour, and tactical helicopter support. It will also act as host for the National Support Element.

I believe there should be a regular force unit of Canadian Rangers working in the Far North. The Rangers should have a larger role than their present light reconnaissance one. With appropriate training, weapons and equipment, they could be assigned duties such as collecting and processing intelligence, guarding important sites, and general area security.

Wrap Up
Any effective course of action to ensure true and effective sovereignty protection would most certainly be costly: a large ­personnel bill, a huge equipment bill, additional infrastructure to house support for these various northern ops – all a drain on limited resources of the Canadian Forces.

But at some point, we must accept the fact that we must do something, because the status quo is leaving us very vulnerable. Our northern regions host an abundance of natural resources and many other nations have been casting their eyes covetously at this northern wealth. Not all of them possess the means or inclination to confront us, however, some do, and we must prepare for that eventuality. In short, this nation must adopt a policy which will see Canada challenge every incursion into our declared territorial waters. One that will make it known that we are prepared and serious about defending our national birthright.

Although a somewhat fanciful process was used in arriving at the final conclusion, the end analysis does stand on its own merit. We will need to arrive at a national consensus soon. Failure to do so may open the door to a resource grab that will be difficult or even impossible to stop. It is time that governments, their agencies and departments, stop worrying about their various jurisdictions and instead work together towards protecting our lands, resources and citizens. Times have changed, and this country can no longer take half or quarter measures.
A former Air Force Logistics Officer, Major (ret) Rob Day is a military analyst.
© Frontline Defence 2008