Canadians Not Welcoming UK Muscling in on Their Arctic Territory
28 September 2021
EIRNS—Not all Canadians share Chief of Britain’s Defense Staff General, Sir Nick Carter’s expressed “keen[ess] to cooperate” with Canada in “helping Canada do what Canada needs to do as an Arctic country.”
The most significant capability that the British are proposing to Canada to deploy in the Canadian Arctic, is their nuclear-powered submarines, which have the ability to operate under ice for extended periods of time. But when harshly criticized by political rivals in the lead-up to the September 20 federal election for Canada’s exclusion from AUKUS, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had downplayed AUKUS’s significance, calling it “a deal for nuclear submarines, which Canada is not currently or any time soon in the market for. Australia is.”
Although Canada is an Arctic nation with significant nuclear and shipbuilding capabilities, and thus has better reasons than Australia to consider the development of nuclear-powered ice-breakers and submarines, the last time such a proposal was seriously considered in Ottawa was in 1987-89 under the government of Brian Mulroney. The proposal then to spend $10 billion Canadian dollars on a dozen nuclear submarines, was defeated on the issues of cost, domestic unease, and ultimately by the end of the Cold War. Instead, Canada presently has four diesel-electric Victoria-class submarines, which perform a surveillance and intelligence- gathering function as part of Canada’s strategic relationships with the United States and NATO. They were purchased second-hand from the UK in 1998, and the Trudeau government has plans to modernize them; reportedly, procurement options under consideration for any new submarines are for non-nuclear only.
As noted in General Sir Nick Carter’s September 24 Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) interview (https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/britain-uk-canada-arctic-defence-submarines-russia-china-1.6187347), successive Canadian governments have been reluctant to allow anyone—even close allies—to become too active in the Canadian Arctic.
Much of the reluctance is due to contested claims to Canada’s sovereignty in its sparsely populated and largely undeveloped Arctic regions. The CBC interview cites the University of Calgary’s Rob Huebert, one of the country’s leading experts on Arctic defense. “We’re fearful any type of involvement with NATO would undermine our sovereignty,” said Huebert, noting that neither the United States nor Britain recognizes Canada’s claim to the Northwest Passage.
Ultimately, Canada’s sovereignty in the Arctic can only be defended through a process which uplifts the economic and cultural conditions of the inhabitants of these remote regions, at the same time as it contributes to the development of the nation, and defines a positive role for the nation in the world. Rather than nuclear submarines, Canada should proceed with the plan announced by Trudeau’s presently governing Liberal Party and supported by the opposition Conservative Party, as well as by the Premiers of four provinces (Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, and New Brunswick) to develop and deploy small modular reactors (SMRs) to provide reliable electricity, high-temperature process heat, and clean water to mines, agri-industrial complexes, and remote communities, in Canada and around the world.