JUST IN: Arctic Must Not Become 'Zone of Conflict,' Says Canadian Official
With the borders of a sovereign country violated earlier this year by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, North American allies must work together to ensure conflict does not break out in the Arctic as access to the region increases, a top Canadian defense official said.
The Arctic has warmed nearly four times faster than the rest of the globe since 1979, according to a study published in Communications Earth & Environment in August. The higher temperatures have led to increased ice melt in the region, raising sea levels as well as opening up the Arctic to “exploitation,” Canada’s Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Wayne Eyre said.
China released an “Arctic Policy” in 2018, declaring itself a “Near-Arctic State,” while Russia has ramped up its military presence on its Arctic borders in recent years.
“The Arctic is becoming increasingly important, especially coupled with the geopolitical situation and climate change, which makes it more accessible,” Eyre said during a Center for Strategic and International Studies event Nov. 2.
The United States’ 2022 National Defense Strategy outlined how the Arctic’s importance to national security is evolving.
“Climate change is creating new corridors of strategic interaction, particularly in the Arctic region,” the strategy said. “The United States seeks a stable Arctic region characterized by adherence to internationally-agreed upon rules and norms.”
“U.S. activities and posture in the Arctic should be calibrated, as the [Defense] Department preserves its focus on the Indo-Pacific region,” it added.
The Arctic is “an increasing focus” for Canada as well, Eyre said. While a threat to Arctic sovereignty is not imminent, readiness for potential conflict is key as the situation could change as access to the region grows, he added.
“We have to invest in those long lead … capabilities — infrastructure is one prime example — to ensure that we've got the platforms to be able to project capabilities from the south to the north, to be able to ensure that sovereignty,” Eyre said.
Competition in the Arctic would likely revolve around “resources,” he said. The region is known to have oil and natural gas deposits, as well as other potentially valuable mineral resources.
The Arctic is “one of the world's last untapped frontiers,” Eyre said. “And as resource challenges hit the world … this is one place where it could come under competition. So, being able to … collectively protect our sovereignty is important.”
In August, Canada hosted an Arctic Chiefs of Defense Conference that included representatives from the United States, Denmark, Finland, Iceland and Norway. Leaders reached many “broad agreements” on how to approach security challenges in the region, Eyre said.
“How can we keep the tension down in that area? How can we avoid miscalculation — not turn it into a zone of conflict — I think has got to be top of the priority list,” he said.
To increase its own continental defense capabilities, Canada announced in June it will invest $38.6 billion over the next 20 years into modernizing its component of North American Aerospace Defense Command, a bilateral partnership with the United States to provide aerospace warning and control for North America.
These advancements will improve Canada’s ability to detect and respond to advanced missiles such as hypersonics, as well as develop new capabilities, Eyre said.
“It's … important to have [a research-and-development] component so that we can continue to evolve our own capability at pace with adversaries,” he said. “You got to be able to detect, you got to be able to decide, and you got to be able to act.”