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The Canadian Arctic and the war in Ukraine as a multiplier of prior vulnerabilities

The Canadian Arctic and the war in Ukraine as a multiplier of prior vulnerabilities

Laura Borzi,
Analyst at the Centro Studi Italia-Canada and Arctic expert


The Arctic is directly affected by the interaction of two ongoing global crises, climate change and the war in Ukraine. 


Regarding the first issue, understanding and managing significant environmental changes such as melting sea ice, thawing permafrost, increased frequency of extreme weather phenomena at various latitudes, and a long forest fire season require urgent scientific and diplomatic collaboration despite the fact that the conflict in Europe has led to the suspension of relations with Moscow even on issues concerning the North. Moscow's aggression against Kiev has profoundly affected international governance and collaboration in the Arctic, so much so that the Arctic Council, a key intergovernmental forum in the region, in the 2021-23 Russian-chaired biennium, has been unable to fulfill its indispensable role of interaction and harmonization between science and policy. The Council's presidency passed to Norway on May 11, '23, could be a particularly favorable circumstance at this stage of deep tension between the parties, given Oslo's historic, pragmatic competence in managing relations with Moscow. Last February, the member states of the Arctic Council decided that the work of the working groups, the essence of the Council's operation, will gradually resume in virtual mode. This is essential to address the climate challenge and other pressing issues in the north. There remains the seriousness of Russia's challenge to the systemic order with the violation of mandatory norms of international law, acquisition of territory through the use of force, likely to render unstable a region that for nearly three decades has been considered dedicated to international peace and cooperation.


The big picture


In February 2022, the second phase of the war against Kiev, following the first episode in 2014 of annexation of Crimea and destabilization of the Donbass, caused a wave of shock that spread far beyond Ukraine. At stake in the confrontation between the belligerents is the architecture of security in Europe and the future balance of Eurasia. Having vanished the possibilities of value systemization through economic convergence and political dialogue, Russian aggression has had systemic effects, and the Arctic region itself, a traditional site of international cooperation, has undergone major changes in the overall security structure and military infrastructure that are being transformed as a result of Moscow's actions. Clearly, the reverberations of the war between Moscow and Kiev will continue to impact the international system in the medium and long term.


The annexation of Crimea, in 2014 had already constituted a revolutionary and regressive act, the triggering of a crisis and weakening of relations between Russia and the West with an initial system of sanctions impacting in the important economic activities in the Russian Arctic. The area, rich in natural resources including gas and hydrocarbons has since the 2000s been the driving force behind the country's economic fortunes that have consolidated Putin's leadership and fostered Russia's return to the international stage in an attempt to reestablish the country's power status and reclaim a consequent proper place on a global scale.


In July 2014, U.S. and European Union sanctions affected the transfer of technology for deepwater drilling below 150-152 meters, as well as exploration and development of hydrocarbon reserves. Yet in 2018 the area generated between 12 and 15 percent of GDP, and by 2020, 80 percent of fuel gas and 17 percent of oil were produced in the Arctic . In 2014, the annexation of Crimea and Moscow's attempts to destabilize western Ukraine had had the effect of altering, in the eyes of the West, the perception of Russia by prompting the United States and European allies to reconsider their approach to Europe, a region hitherto thought to be stable and secure. Nevertheless, the events had not changed relations in the North. These remained hinged on the activities of the Arctic Council, the intergovernmental forum that promotes economic development and environmental protection among the eight Arctic states , and the dialogue that continued in the most concrete terms.


In this regard, mention should be made of the establishment of the Coast Guard Forum to better coordinate search and rescue activities 2016, the Polar Code to regulate navigation (effective 2017), and the agreement for a moratorium on fishing in the Arctic Ocean (2018) effective 2021).


Russia's 2020 foreign policy document was also devoid of hostile language in reference to the Arctic, unlike what was reserved for other regions of the planet. In international politics, according to Russian scholar Natalia Viakireva , Russia displayed two aspects, aggressive revisionism in the post-Soviet space and a kind of liberal internationalism in the sphere of circumpolar relations.


The picture of power relations in the Global North turned out, in fact quite different from that at the systemic level, with Moscow in a dominant role as the quintessential Arctic state. Russia has the world's longest maritime frontier, 24,140 kilometers facing the North Pole, with substantial economic and military interests in the region.


On the part of the other Arctic states, there had been no willingness to change the status quo, even avoiding an interest in the Arctic from the Atlantic Alliance, which was deemed unnecessary. A geographic area at once rugged and fragile, relatively isolated from the dynamics of global politics with regional governance and functional cooperation on issues of economic development and environmental protection prevailing until February '22.


Nonetheless, various trends had long indicated the presence of factors capable of influencing Arctic cooperation such as the increasingly complex relationship between Russia and the West, a growing rivalry between Washington and Beijing, as well as the widespread perception of the continued weakening of the international order built in the aftermath of World War II.


Militarily, a security dilemma was emerging in the Arctic region with increased military exercises and an update of the Strategies of the major Arctic countries. The various policy documents dedicated to the North continued to emphasize the unaltered commitment to cooperation in compliance with international law within the governance system of the Arctic region, with the promotion of economic activities that respect the delicate environment, in line with criteria of sustainable development and protection of local populations. While a shared goal was for the region to remain peaceful, it was now deemed necessary not to neglect aspects of hard security with the systematization of credible deterrence instruments in cooperation with allies and partners.


This trend characterized not only the European Arctic where, due to obvious geographical issues more tensions with Russia were perceived, but also the North American Arctic when the U.S. and Canada felt the need for a review of Northern policies.


The U.S., which had ceased to consider the North among its security priorities after the end of the Cold War, signaled a renewed interest in the North Atlantic-Arctic artery with the Trump administration in 2018: the U.S. reestablished command of the 2nd Fleet in Nortfolk and returned to Keflavik Air Base in Iceland.


In May 2019, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's speech at the 11th Ministerial in Rovaniemi represented in some ways a turning point in the history of the Arctic Council. He challenged Beijing on the concept of the Arctic neighboring state by advancing doubts about China's true intentions regarding the Polar Silk Road. He also denounced the modernization of Russia's military infrastructure and challenged the legal status of the Northern Sea Route and the Northwest Passage itself the latter a matter of perennial disagreement between Washington and Ottawa. 


After him, Vice President Pence during a visit to Iceland indicated how the Arctic had now become a security issue lamenting the growing Russian and Chinese influence in the area. In the summer of 2019, President Trump expressed a willingness to buy Greenland from Denmark, intentions already expressed in far earlier eras in 1867 and 1946.


The National Security Strategy drafted by the Biden administration in October 2022 in the section dedicated to the Arctic denounced not only the aggressive Russian attitude that generated risks of new conflicts, but also the Chinese impact in the area that through economic investments and scientific research conduct dual activities with intelligence and military applications.


With regard to Canada, Ottawa's Arctic policy has developed since World War II within the framework of the inseparable relationship with the United States and transatlantic allies by pivoting on institutions, international law and diplomacy. A political trajectory marked by caution and opposed to implications of external actors in Arctic affairs, including the Atlantic alliance.


Although since 2007, Iceland and Norway had been actively promoting the need for greater awareness of Arctic issues for the alliance as well, Ottawa, without questioning the role of collective defense even in the Arctic to which Article 5 of the NATO Treaty naturally applies, had opposed a role in emerging security challenges (security but primarily safety) for the region's communities that remained the preponderant dossier.


Suffice it to recall that still in 2014, Stephen Harper's Conservative government (2006-2015) emphasized that NATO had no role in the North and that non-Arctic states were seeking influence in a space that did not belong to them .

Yet, following the annexation of Crimea,it had been Canada that had visibly protested in the Arctic Council by boycotting activity in the various working groups.


In fact, during Harper's tenure, almost all bilateral contacts with Moscow had been suspended until, in 2015, the new Liberal government of Justin Trudeau through Foreign Minister Stéphane Dion pointed out that this overly rigid stance blatantly deviated from the same policy of the United States and that of the other G7 partners.


After two years, Chrystia Freeland arrived at the Foreign Ministry and there was a return to a firmer line toward the Kremlin; after all, the climate for bilateral engagement with Moscow was far from propitious. So much so that with 2017 defense policy document Strong Secure Engaged, the Trudeau government took note of the situation of ongoing planetary changes, and the traditional concept of the Arctic's exceptionalism as a region dedicated to peace was joined by the notion of renewed strategic competition. The paper emphasized Moscow's role in the return of international competition to the global level with consequent implications in terms of peace and security.


NATO it is noted, has increased focus on Russia in its ability to project force from the Arctic into the North Atlantic given Moscow's ability to challenge the alliance's collective defense posture. Ottawa is committed to strengthening situational awareness and information sharing in the Arctic including NATO allies.


The document records a substantial change in the official Canadian position in that in 2017 the concept of the Arctic as a peaceful area no longer precludes recognition of Western alliance interests and indeed by linking the Arctic to the North Atlantic through the interconnection of the GIUK gap,the geographic and mental map of the Cold War is established . Challenges that were already undermining the stability of the international system, return of competition between powers, increasing complexity of conflicts, technological development and hybrid threats became more pronounced.


Six years after the defense document and two years after Russia's aggression against Ukraine, Ottawa had to undertake a process of updating with regard to national defense policy that led, on April 8, 2024, to the issuance of a new document with the most significant title ever, Our North: Strong and Free : A Renewed Vision for Canada's defense in which the key trends likely to affect Canadian security and prosperity-namely, the accessibility of the Arctic region due to climate change, increasing global instability, and rapid technological advances-are confirmed.


The most urgent task remains the "traditional" one i.e., the assertion of sovereignty in the Arctic and northern regions where changing physical geography and geopolitical dynamics make an approach that increases the presence, mobility and readiness of Canadian FFAA in the region and near the coast urgent. It also moves in the direction of remedying significant vulnerabilities related to situational awareness and limited military infrastructure that jeopardize the ability of the Canadian Armed Forces CAF and North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) to detect and repel threats destined for North America. Among the measures contained in the April 18, 2024 document: control and surveillance of the submarine and marine spaces with open possibility of renewal and expansion of the submarine fleet, creation of a new land satellite station in the Arctic, acquisition of more modern and more effective tactical helicopters, creation in the Arctic of operational support hubs with logistical facilities for a larger military presence, for longer periods of time and able to act in a shorter time frame in the most remote areas of the country.


Regarding the specific Arctic policy document, Canada Arctic and Northern Policy Framework, this was issued in 2019 and is designed to direct Ottawa's actions through 2030. It specifically addresses issues related to the aspect of human security that essentially translate into the need to close the gap in living conditions that distinguishes southern from northern Canadians. The document remains an indispensable guide whose updates are not expected rather it appears necessary in the current context to update its prism of interpretation.


Canadian vulnerabilities in the Arctic are not exclusively military in nature. The critical issues that make the standard of living of Canadians in the north lower than the rest of the population, socioeconomic inequalities, infrastructural deficiency and unresolved issues that in some ways still bear the imprint of colonialism, can be the subject of hybrid threats aimed at undermining, democracy and social cohesion and what has always constituted an inescapable issue for Ottawa: the anxiety of sovereignty. As will be seen below, it is probably the Chinese economic presence that materializes the hybrid threats to the North in the immediate term.


Consequences for the activities of the Arctic Council


The events of Feb. 24, '22 shattered the European security architecture by altering the calculus of risk, underlying the foreign and security policies of the neighbors to the North with a shift that reached all the way to the Arctic, a region considered exceptional and peaceful with three decades of intense uninterrupted international cooperation behind it.

Primarily since March 2022, the Arctic Council ceased functioning when 7 of its 8 members (excluding Russia) suspended their participation in official meetings. Moscow had assumed in May '21 the two-year rotating presidency of the Council (21-23) with a program under the banner of classic themes: Arctic peoples especially indigenous peoples, environmental protection, socio-economic development, strengthening of the Arctic Council.


The work of the Council without Russia's participation then resumed in June 2022, and as of last May, Norway finally assumed the presidency in the knowledge that eventual cooperation with Russia in the pre-February '22 arrangements remains a distant and uncertain prospect.


In September 2023, Foreign Minister Lavrov announced that Russia would formally withdraw from the Barents Euro-Arctic Council the regional organization uniting European Arctic countries and the European Commission given Finland's "reluctance" to hand over the biennial chairmanship of the organization to Moscow.


Part of the international scientific community warns of the importance of scientific cooperation with Russia, particularly on climate change , but at the moment the division between the collective West and the Kremlin is very sharp even in the Global North where hard security issues have become more prominent and, rather the dismantling of cooperation in the North seems to be continuing.


After all, at a time when the international order is also being challenged through the use of armed conflict, the logic of confrontation cannot be dampened in the face of the resolution of global issues that would require cooperation. The widespread belief that the aspirations of societies should prevail over the interests of states decomposes into the tendencies of revisionism on a global scale.


The mobilization of a myriad of actors and related significant resources in the laudable intention to let "the social question" prevail over the geopolitical one fails to curb national power wills. Even in the Arctic, states remain protagonists although for a thirty-year period it has been the circumpolar politics and societal issues that have prevailed, the result of a definite political will to isolate military issues in watertight compartments.


Finland and Sweden, have applied for NATO membership (Helsinki 31st member as of April 4, 2023 ) and this intensifies, if any were needed, the atavistic concept of Moscow's encirclement. The level of alarm has therefore increased in NATO countries in the European Arctic, among them Norway, which already in 2016 announced a major increase for its defense budget . By geographic location and reputation, the ability to operate in the Arctic is considerable, and a strengthening of the military apparatus will have positive effects on NATO's ability to conduct operations in the European Arctic. The 2023 budget already responded to the Russian threat likely to jeopardize the foundations of international security as expressed by Defense Minister ,Bjørn Arild Gram . Finally last April, the center-left government announced a "historic increase" in military spending 52 billion euros over the next 12 years

As for Washington, the October 2022 U.S. Strategy, which updates the previous 2013 document, emphasizes how the war unleashed by Russia increases geopolitical tensions in the North by diluting the risks of unintended conflict, a concept already reiterated in the National Security Strategy (2022). With regard to NATO, the Norwegian-derived political notion High North, Low Tension" that expressed a conservative view of the area had been the constant of the post-Cold War Atlantic posture, but since 2014 tensions have been rising steadily, albeit slowly. The strategic concept adopted in Madrid in June 2022 points to the Russian Federation as the most significant and direct threat to security peace and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area with reference to the Arctic: in the High North, its capability to disrupt Allied reinforcements and freedom of navigation across the North Atlantic is a strategic challenge to the Alliance . The concern is reiterated in the final communiqué of the Vilnius summit (July 2023) highlighting the substantial Russian military assets in the Arctic, consequently the alliance will continue to undertake necessary and relevant activities in the region.


The invasion of Ukraine represented a clean break for the relationship between the West and Putin's Russia therefore, even in the Arctic, the territorial and political boundary with NATO is more sharply delineated, not only in terms of geography with the addition of Finland and Sweden but, and most importantly, for a political trajectory, a vision of itself and the world a Weltanschauung, inexorably divorced from that of the West.


The geopolitics of the Arctic has currently, and for an indefinite period of time, left the path of cooperation, moving toward a divarication between the Russian Arctic and the European and North American Arctic.


Canada: Security threats in and across the Arctic


Among the Arctic states, Canada has been particularly affected by the changes of the last two decades in terms of climate change effects and geopolitical dynamics.  Increased commercial and shipping activities by state and private actors who do not necessarily possess adequate knowledge of the area can negatively affect the Arctic system as a whole. New economic opportunities have thus been accompanied by a significant increase in safety and security issues.


New non-Arctic states, chief among them China, have entered the waters of the Northwest Passage, fueling the anxiety about sovereignty that has always characterized the Canadian mindset. If since World War II, fears have been directed primarily toward the United States, engaged in military activities in Canadian territory to protect North America from the Soviet threat, critical issues now seem greater. Ottawa considers all waters of the archipelago to be historic internal waters over which it exercises full and exclusive authority, including therefore the power to decide access to foreign ships. This posture is not shared at the main ally, the United States, which considers the different routes through the Northwest Passage to be the same as an international strait with right of passage for ships. The same consideration is made by the EU, while Beijing and Moscow maintain different attitudes. Deliberately ambiguous for China, so as to carve out a space for greater political freedom of maneuver. Intent on building the Polar Silk Road, in its Arctic Strategy (2018) it emphasizes rights and freedom of navigation in general terms without specifying further. On closer inspection, Beijing's national legislation on the territorial sea is very restrictive, and its attitude regarding the South China Sea leaves little room for freedom of navigation. Russia, a coastal state like Canada is in line with Ottawa's attitude in that Moscow also considers the waters of the Northern Sea Route to constitute internal waters, and like Canada bases the claim on the concept of historic titles under Art 10 UNCLOS.


At present, the limited amount of trade is such that it should not warrant friction between allied governments. On the contrary, maintaining the Canadian legal posture at the time of increased strategic competition appears functional in countering the hybrid threats occurring in the maritime area especially from the Chinese side.


More generally, Canada must address the significant gaps in monitoring and identification/detection of hybrid and conventional threats in the region. Not to mention that persistent strategic vulnerabilities may jeopardize the country's own credibility with allies at a time dense with multidimensional crises for the West.


The complex framework of recomposition of the global geopolitical order, makes it urgent and indispensable for Canada to rethink Arctic security in a broad sense. The institutional and cooperative network revolving around the Arctic Council, and of which Ottawa has been a major promoter along with Finland since the days of the 1991 Arctic Environment Protection Strategy, has been significantly damaged.


The creation of an area of peace and cooperation in the Arctic had been, like many aspects of the contemporary world, a spin off from the end of the Soviet empire contributing nonetheless to the system of international order that since the end of World War II had settled on rules, institutions and the practice of multilateralism. Multilateral diplomacy at once a shield and a sword of Ottawa's foreign policy, has been the instrument on which the country has built its political security and economic prosperity in a sphere of "international security" now threatened by competition among powers, the decline of democracy on a global scale, and the challenge of keeping coalitions feasible on issues of global concern and nontraditional threats, all of which cannot but pass through cooperation. With regard to the Arctic, the imprint of Justin Trudeau's government, in office now for nearly a decade, has been to play a leadership role in circumpolar issues while advancing domestic policy priorities related to socioeconomic development, environmental protection to indigenous peoples' welfare by leaning on an international norms-based system by pro-actively engaging Arctic states and seeking to limit non-Arctic state and private actors who, facilitated by the greater openness allowed by climate change have expressed scientific and military commercial interests in the region.


In the post-February '22 scenario, Canada finds itself needing to adapt its Arctic posture to an amplified threat scenario and respond to past vulnerabilities with reduced prospects for cooperation in the region, in an uncertain and volatile strategic scenario. NATO Secretary General Jan Stoltenberg's visit to the Canadian Arctic at a radar station at Cambridge Bay in Nunavut,and an air base at Cold Lake, (Alberta) in August last year with the aim of inducing Canadians to (re)consider more carefully security in the Arctic, marks in a sense the end of an era that began in 1987, when USSR President Mikhail Gorbachev in the well-known Murmarsk speech made a call for cooperation so that the Arctic could become an area of peace and stability.


The Russian invasion of Ukraine brings to the surface in the Canadian government's Arctic agenda, issues and problems that had long been on Ottawa's mind but are no longer amenable to procrastination. War has hierarchized and polarized contemporary complexity with the multiplication of challenges and the acceleration of problems that make choices and responses particularly onerous and that now shrink the room for maneuver of medium-sized powers like Canada. Ottawa thus discovers that the protection of its geography no longer carries the weight it was given in the last century.


Russian manu militari revisionism and Chinese manu militari revisionism, which aims to win wars by avoiding fighting them, by extending its political reach into an area more than 5,000 km from its own territory also question the future of the Arctic and the need to adapt to a new scenario in which geopolitical tension in the Global North now has the appearance of a strategic triangle with NATO Russia China at the apex.


There are basically two types of threats looming for Canada: one on the global level that requires responding to the challenge of competition between powers and essentially translates into the updating of NORAD.


A second, on the domestic plane, the management of hybrid threats i.e., destabilization operations by third-party state or private actors in the region that thanks to climate change has become more coveted and crowded.


Transversely, the issue of climate change with immediate impacts on the human security of indigenous peoples and with effects in the short and long term at other latitudes as well, i.e., across the entire planet. Awareness of this immediate reality in the global context should cast no doubt on the relevance of the concept of humanity's general interest to put in place global governance on the issue.  This would be possible through the available tools that remain international law, the institutions of multilateralism that have arisen since the post-World War II era, international organizations (EU AU) and the various groups of associations of states such as G7, G20, BRICS now with an expanded membership to reflect, and especially to affect, the "new world order" in the making, and of course the United Nations Conferences on Climate Change, the transnational method (Thierry de Montbrial, Ramses 2023, Perspectives).


The global trend is not in the direction of cooperation, and even on climate issues, states are proceeding at different speeds, and the protection of national interests often takes place in the same way as election deadlines, and it is difficult to prolong political rationality by reasoning in the long term. While in the future perspective it will be increasingly problematic to realize the national interest without the global interest being satisfied, in the immediate term the conflict in Ukraine and the war between Israel and Hamas mark a double setback on this issue as well:with anthropogenic emissions in the theater of war, already a climate-vulnerable area, and destruction of regional cooperation frameworks.


Climate Change


The Arctic region, a barometer of the planetary climate system, is experiencing climate warming four times faster than the world average and is experiencing an acceleration of threats related to the phenomenon in the sub-regions of the area as a whole.


First, there is a decrease in the ice floe and link between this circumstance and the increase in forest fires , in addition, the decrease in the snowpack, which makes the tundra greener is accompanied by a change in Arctic ecosystems.


Climate warming will continue in its progression in the short term (2021-2040) mainly due to the overall increase in CO2 emissions as reflected in all scenarios and models that have been considered by the scientific community and expressed in the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change under the auspices of the United Nations. The Arctic will continue to experience climate warming at a rate above the global average. By mid-century, the frequency and intensity of heat waves, heavy precipitation, floods, wildfires, destruction of marine food chains, 'sea level rise with coastal inundation, droughts and climate-related refugee flows are of likely increase. Arctic communities will be particularly affected by these phenomena with the need for displacement, adaptation with considerable cost and hardship. The pace of change will increase linearly over the next 30 years and may accelerate thereafter in the event of an environment that sees an increase in CO2 emissions.


The Arctic of 2050 will witness significant transformations in terms of climate and geography.


For Canada, the summer of 2023 was among the worst seasons for wildfires that devastated an area of 17 million hectares.


According to a study conducted by a group of scientists in Canada, Britain and the Netherlands,the climate crisis prepared the conditions that favored the development of fires and made them 20 percent more intense. That of more and more frequent fires, is likely to be the future scenario also for the North with a greater cadence of events that involve the soil and are more problematic to tame and extinguish,and more harmful in the sense of releasing pollutants into the atmosphere. Because of the characteristics of Arctic soils, fires can remain dormant during the winter and reignite as temperatures rise again, which is why they are known as zombie fires.  The Norwegian chair of the Arctic Council recently launched the Wildland Fires Initiative a project aimed at increasing circumpolar collaboration, knowledge, sharing and partnerships to address this climate urgency.


The initiative will be implemented in collaboration with the Gwich'in International Council that brings together the First nations of Canada and Alaska and the relevant Arctic Council working groups.


At the last United Nations' regular assembly, Prime Minister Trudeau pledged to place a limit on CO2 emissions from fossil industries in 2023 as part of commitments to combat climate change. Not an easy challenge for a country that is among the largest producers of fossil fuels and has continued to expand projects along these lines In the Canadian North, not always adequate efforts to control climate change at the national and planetary levels combine with a lack of infrastructure that threatens the security of the people of the North.


This is despite the attempt to reorganize and prioritize federal activities in the North made by the central government, which with the 2019 Canada 's Arctic and Northern Policy Framework document the result of a long road map development carried out with indigenous peoples , has placed a number of domestic priorities at the center of policy action including infrastructure development including transportation, ports airports, road connections, and energy.


At the local level, the Government of Canada will fund development projects to address chronic problems such as housing and connectivity.


Overcoming the infrastructure gap at the 2030 horizon looks like a significant undertaking even though the 2023 budget earmarked resources for this with, for example, investments of $4 billion over seven years for urban and rural housing. The new budget also continues on the path of reconciliation between the Ottawa government and indigenous peoples with measures to ensure an improvement in the lives of northern peoples with regard to health conditions (including food and mental) access to education, especially university education, support for economic needs (with $388 million investment in entrepreneurship, indigenous tourism and clean energy) housing and of course the severe infrastructure gap with an allocation of $918 million in addition to the $5 billion already provided to communities in 2024-2025.


The infrastructure disparity was already highlighted in a 2020 report, which highlighted the significant inequalities of Nunavut's Inuit population.


Through the use of as many as 55 disparity indices related to 18 pivotal infrastructure areas grouped into three categories : energy and environment citizens and communities and connections. The priority areas refer to areas such as energy water ,housing, education ,health food along with facilities such as ports and telecommunications.

The climate crisis and lack of infrastructure have meant that in the past year 2022 the conditions of Canadians in the Arctic will be further degraded in terms of economy, health, safety and environment. In particular, the change in ecosystems related to thawing permafrost has a significant impact on access to food and drinking water.


The aspect of human security ultimately referred to by the Inuit Circumpolar Council in the 2022 Declaration where they set out priorities for the four-year period 2022-2026: governance, food security, health and well-being attention to language and culture, Arctic Ocean, environment, and infrastructure deficit.


There is consensus among experts on the gravity of the situation and Canadian vulnerability in this area. The challenge for indigenous peoples is one of finding a difficult balance between threats and opportunities, protection of their environment with the preservation of hunting grounds and land development for their benefit.


By November 2022 a mining expansion project on Baffin Island had been rejected in this sense at least the community security aspect seems to have taken a positive path although the long history demonstrates the complexity of finding balance between resource development, environmental protection and indigenous peoples' self-determination. During 2023, the concept of human security seems to have gained more ground among observers of Arctic issues and, what is more important, in the awareness of states. It is in this sense precisely the Canadian Senate that believes security in the Arctic should be interpreted more broadly to include social economic and environmental issues with the active inclusion of indigenous communities and governments. Finally, it is believed that local communities form a natural bridge between human/soft security, climate security and military security affairs. In this sense, the inclusion of Arctic peoples in land defense planning is a path historically undertaken by Canada itself with example of the Canadian Rangers. It is emblematic that the 2017 defense document reiterates the need to ensure targeted recruitment for the FFAA aimed at capturing the unique talent and varied capabilities inherent in the diversity of the Canadian population.


The global threat through the Arctic and the NORAD update


The North American North American Aerospace Defense Command -NORAD the world's only bi-national command established in 1958 is the result of a collaboration between Ottawa and Washington that began in the 1930s and deepened during World War II.


It marks, for Canada, the transition from an imperialist strategic culture (linked to the British empire) to that of a privileged relationship with the United States, i.e., a continental strategic culture that, in the Cold War era meant countering the Soviet air threat. Because Moscow made no distinction between Canadian and U.S. targets, Canada and the United States found it advantageous to treat North American space as indivisible, and to this day NORAD, far beyond the defense aspect, remains the cornerstone of the political relationship between the two countries.


NORAD was conceived at the time of the Cold War, when the Arctic was also the scene of bipolar conflict constituting, due to geography i.e. the proximity between the US and USSR (Bering Strait 51 nautical miles) the shortest distance between the two continents.


NORAD's missions have evolved relative to changes in the geo-strategic and technological environment but remain centered on aerospace warning, space-based air control against "air-breathing threats," including the use of aviation by terrorists and, since 2006, maritime warning as well.


For mission accomplishment, NORAD relies on a network of airborne radar satellites and fighters based in northern Canada and Alaska. The first defensive system dates back to the 1950s when three lines of early warning radar were built the DEW (distant early warning) line, Mid Canada Line, and the Pinetree line.


During the 1980s, based on the northern air defense modernization plan, North American Air Defense Modernization, (NAADM) agreed upon by the two governments, it was deemed necessary to develop policies capable of countering the new Soviet capabilities the Air-Launched Cruise Missiles (ALCMs) capable of hitting key targets if launched from long range raising fears about a "decapitation" strike" against the C2 system and/or the U.S. leadership.


In 1985 began the installation of new NWS North Warning System radars and the construction of a series of forward operating bases for the deployment of USAF (US Air Force) and CAF (Canada Armed Forces) fighters to counter Moscow's bombers and cruise missiles.


With the end of the Cold War and the exhaustion of the Soviet threat began an era of inattention to continental defense just interrupted by the events of September 11, which constituted a failure of the core mission, prevention of air attack, and which had as an immediate consequence the 'integration of civilian radar and federal aviation personnel into NORAD headquarters in Colorado Springs and the creation in October 2002 of USNORTHCOM

However, little attention continued to be paid to the North American Arctic from which strategic interest shifted such that there was, at least for Canada, a real atrophy of the military component in the North. The situation was well outlined in a 2000 study for the Canadian Ministry of Defense Arctic Capability Study. (ACS). At the beginning of the new millennium, climate change was the issue that brought attention back to the Arctic because of the possibilities offered by shipping lanes, unexplored resources, and also, potentially new conflicts. The ACS reported that while the north constituted an 'area of multiple security and sovereignty challenges, Canada did not possess the capacity to monitor much less respond to these challenges. The situation was such that it did not meet even the minimal requirements enunciated in the 1994 White Paper, which barely mentioned the Arctic where the ACS was required to respond effectively to emergency situations in the maritime and air area of Ottawa's jurisdiction and within the territory. In other words there was a lack of the basic capabilities expected of the Armed Forces in any other part of the country SAR (search & rescue) environmental protection ,humanitarian assistance and aid to civil powers.

The post-Cold War period had been characterized by a reflux of conflicts between major powers and dominated rather by the threat of violent extremism with Western armies trained to conduct counter terrorism and counter insurgency (COIN) operations. This era is over and the current scenario is the one described by the Biden administration in the National Security Strategy, (NSS 2022) in which a competition is underway between the major powers to shape what comes next.


The adversaries of the United States (and Canada) intend to win the U.S. military by first and foremost preventing its deployment in the theater of operations. In fact, given the impossibility of organizing a sufficient force in the battlefield in Europe or the Western Pacific, they aim to act with the objective of altering Washington and Ottawa's calculus and decision-making by jeopardizing the economic infrastructure or affecting the mobilization of forces to restrict options and consequently inhibit the deployment of the military device abroad.


The goal is to generate horizontal escalation to strike unprotected targets in North America. With conventional weapons, since striking North America with nuclear weapons to resolve a regional conflict would amount to self-destruction.


The challenges for NORAD in the current context are provided by two circumstances:


1) the challenge posed by the revisionist powers Russia and China as well as North Korea and Iran;

2) The development by Russia and, to a lesser extent by China of a new generation of precision weapons including cruise missiles, long-range and stealth bombers (stealth) nuclear weapons with low explosive power and conventional weapons.


As far as Ottawa is concerned, the 2017 Canadian defense policy document, Strong Secure Engaged identifies the three trends likely to affect the world system: the changing balance of power, the changing nature of conflicts, and rapid technological evolution.


In contrast, NORAD has received limited attention such that many observers have referred to it as the missing chapter in the 2017 document at a time when competition among powers and military technologies pose new threats even for Canada, a country that has always had a perception of security tied to the advantages of geography. Separated from the rest of the world by three oceans, with the inhospitable region to the north and a powerful neighbor to the south, it has long traded its geography, which is unchanging, for its geo-strategic position, which is instead subject to the changing power system at the systemic level.


The modernization of NORAD, it is important to emphasize, does not end with updating the NWS instead involves a significant and total rethinking of the defense of North America.


In 2020, then-Commander Terrance O'Shaughnessy warned that the geographic barriers that have kept the territory safe from conventional threats are no longer able to secure North America as a "sanctuary" and the Arctic as a fortress, rather this becomes a transit artery for advanced conventional weapons and the platforms that carry them. In a 2020 study ,Generals Terrance O'Shaughnessy Peter M. Fesler outlined the substantial rationale for investing in NORAD modernization. Credible deterrence by denial essential to sustain the credibility of strategic deterrence since a vulnerability of the U.S. mainland, could prompt Russia and especially China to challenge the status quo in the Pacific resulting in a crisis or war.


 In particular, Moscow has developed a new generation of naval and air-launched cruise missiles and is developing long-range land launch capabilities after the end of the Intermediate Forces Treaty in 2019. Added to this are hypersonic weapons that are particularly destabilizing because of not only their speed but also the maneuverability of reentry vehicles and, potentially, nuclear-powered cruise missiles China is following a similar path in the direction of missile development program.


The Joint Statement on NORAD Modernization in August 2021, reiterates that for Canada and the United States, the benefit of geography has ended and increasing strategic competition, rapid technological advances, and climate change have eroded protection, exposing North America to a greater and more complex missile threat. Four areas of interest to focus on: situational awareness, modernization of the command and control system, deterrence capabilities and, when necessary to defeat aerospace threats, research development and innovation.


The NORAD/USNORTHCOM Strategy outlines four key principles: an integrated approach to defense (in terms of regions, domains and states) domain awareness information domain and decision superiority. Essential is the distinction between the roles of NORAD from those of USNORTHCOM: NORAD carries out aerospace control and maritime warning for the defense of North America, while USNORTHCOM defends U.S. territory through deterrence, detection, and abatement of threats, advances collaborations with allies and partners, and acts as support to civil authorities. Therefore, U.S. defense of the Arctic and airspace need not go through NORAD as is the case with defense against the GMD and BMD ballistic missile threat.


At present, North America is vulnerable and lacks the capabilities to deal with new political and strategic threats, and in this broad scenario, the continental defense context includes all six domains and environments (land, sea, air, space, information, and cyber) security considerations in the sense of safety and security First and foremost, new detection systems are needed to detect and track threats from the moment of launch and during the flight path. The modernization of the NWS, which as mentioned, is only a part of the modernization of NORAD, requires a new generation of over-the-horizon radars, (OTHRs) capable of detecting targets between 600 and 1200 km away to an altitude of 100 km therefore cruise missiles and possibly hypersonic ones. In this regard, the March 24, 2023 Joint Statement indicates a Canadian investment of $6.96 billion in surveillance systems i.e., for the procurement of two Over-the-Horizon radars capable of covering the Arctic and polar approach of North America. In addition, C$7.3 billion is expected in Canadian investment for the forward operating bases (FOLs) that will house the F-35s.

Radar and other sensing systems such as a submarine surveillance system in a 360o approach will need to be integrated into a chain of systems to ensure detection, tracking, pre-listening target discrimination and damage assessment . This multiplication of sensors confers domain awareness, information dominance, and decision superiority, the requirements again highlighted by current NORAD and USNORTHCOM commander Gen. Glen VanHerck.


The challenge in creating the system chain is to identify the threat at the source, i.e., capability to destroy adversary platforms prior to missile launch. Nonetheless, if a first issue is the circumstance that the development of long-range cruise missiles and hypersonic missiles locate platforms out of the range of interceptor fighters ,a further issue arises for Canada. "Engaging the bow before the arrow "in NORAD parlance i.e., launch platforms before missiles as the O'Shaughnessy-Festler report suggests, i.e., a more offensive NORAD command while Ottawa has always remained, for political (and procurement) reasons, on a defensive posture and has refused in the past, and twice, to participate in the missile defense program, the only significant North American defense modernization effort in the past two decades. The current NORAD contribution to continental defense is an anti-cruise missile mission when Washington has an additional layer of defense and deterrence. Although then-Defense Minister Anita Aland announced her intention to discuss participation in the program it is highly unlikely that Ottawa will change its position on this .

It seems clear that, in addition to climate change, the fundamental element, which must direct Canadian Arctic policy in the next decade will be constituted given Washington's defense imperatives, which are moreover well defined.

The United States intends to maintain its defense superiority and NORAD can be a vehicle through which to erect new technologies to achieve the goals sought . The NORAD Strategy distinctly enunciates this purpose: 


We must defend our nations should deterrence fail and our adversaries attack. Our surest path is through a globally integrated and resilient all-domain awareness infrastructure that is processed, synchronized, and presented to create information dominance, resulting in decision superiority over adversaries. Embracing these strategic principles requires a fundamental change of culture for NORAD and USNORTHCOM and our mission partners.


The basic change of culture concerns for Canada the commitment on the defense investment aspect, but also some evolution of strategic thinking.


On the level of financial effort,Ottawa has allocated $38.6 billion over 20 years for the modernization of NORAD, the largest investment for the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) in 30 years-.


Finally, after a long and bumpy ride, the acquisition of a fleet of 88 F-35 fighter jets at a cost of $19 billion joined by $7.3 billion investment to build the new infrastructure that will house the F-35s. With a first delivery in 2026 ,the new fleet will play an essential role in defending Canadian sovereignty in protecting North America and supporting allies. In this regard, while Canada is considered a reliable partner in NATO with a policy historically characterized by participation in every military operation, Ottawa's habit of maintaining a low defense budget has generated already in the past and even more recently not a few ill feelings in Brussels. Indeed, J.Trudeau's government does not expect to be able to comply with the Defense Investment Pledge that is, the commitment made by the allies at the Wales summit in 2014 that contemplates increasing military spending to 2 percent of GDP by 2024.


With the latest defense document Our North Strong and Free Ottawa pledges to make substantial investments in defense in order to achieve a strengthening of the military component deterrence and countering new threats through new capabilities : funding of $8.1 billion over the next 5 years and 73 next 20 in order to achieve Armed Forces ready, resilient and relevant The government plans to raise spending to 1.76 percent of GDP at the end of this decade.


This figure, when read with the spending projections of the other Arctic states indicates that Canada is the only nation that does not expect to reach the 2 percent threshold in the coming years.


While in the past the "club" of countries below the 2 percent threshold was quite large, more than two years after the war in Ukraine, Ottawa finds itself in a more isolated situation pressed by allies who declare how by now 2 percent represents the minimum threshold and not the ceiling. In April 2023, the Washington Post reported a news story that stirred ill-feeling : according to a Pentagon document, PM Justin Trudeau had confidentially stated to NATO country officials that Canada would never meet military spending targets as set by the Alliance . According to the document,the shortcomings of the CAFs were such that it was not possible to simultaneously manage a large major operation, maintain leadership in the Battle Group in Latvia and support Ukraine. This condition would remain unchanged unless there was a change in public sensitivities. Thus, Canadian critical issues are a source of tension between allies and partners. While Canada has a robust aggregate defense budget, sixth among NATO countries, and has offered political and military support to Ukraine without delay, it has nonetheless shown reluctance to increase spending in the direction of developing a precise roadmap that aligns with the alliance's plans for the immediate future.


It almost seems as if the country benefits from an outdated mental map, namely the circumstance and perception that it is in a very different geopolitical environment than European states particularly those bordering Russia. Yet the perception has changed. A poll a few months ago indicates that 75 percent of Canadians believe that increased defense spending is necessary for territorial protection . Probably a direct effect of the war in Ukraine and U.S.-China tensions with the near collision in the Taiwan Strait last June . The same survey shows that the Arctic is the area where Canadians fear most for territorial security and in fact 73 percent of the sample would like more bases in the North, a sign that indicates a waning of the favor of geography with a return of some Cold War-era fears (Moscow) updated to new threats (Beijing). However, there remains some gap between the government's verbal commitments and concrete actions.


The current Defense Minister, Bill Blair during the Halifax Security Forum (Nov. 17-19, 2023) had stressed the need to put resources behind the country's aspirations even at a time of fiscal tightening.


Given the critical issues in the Arctic region, it is critical to rethink engagement in the NORAD and NATO alliances in order to maximize national security and address strategic vulnerabilities exacerbated by Russian aggression in Ukraine and jumped to attention in the Chinese surveillance operation in February 2023. As much as Canadian defense policy since World War II has developed on two distinct tracks, namely the Canada-U.S. relationship on the one hand and NATO engagement in Europe on the other, these plans are increasingly overlapping. When the alliance finds in Moscow the most significant and direct threat to allied security and in China, the actor seeking to subvert the rules-based international order in the domains of space, cyber and the maritime sphere, there will be NATO's enhanced presence in the North aimed at weakening the preponderance of Moscow and prospectively Beijing. Although the North American Arctic has distinct characteristics from the European Arctic, the security dynamics at the systemic level of the NATO, Russia, China strategic triangle will be felt in the circumpolar area as a whole. This will occur for example in the formula of challenging statements, competition , military exercises and therefore increased allied activities in the North.


This circumstance could lead the Kremlin to act unpredictably, so it is in the interest of the allies, overall to strengthen the capacity for deterrence but also for reassurance vis-à-vis Moscow in order to avoid further undesirable conflict scenarios . In this framework, Canada returns as the gateway to the American continent and NORAD becomes NATO's back door into the Arctic:


Our contributions to securing the Arctic are an important component in the defense of NATO's western and northern flanks,and directly support broader NATO deterrence efforts.


The new defense document therefore testifies to how the government in Ottawa has eventually become aware of the need for its own broader role in the global scenario.


Hybrid threats: China


The system-wide dynamics that have been in place for more than a decade that draw the U.S.-Russia-China strategic triangle have gradually introduced elements of tension into the Arctic geopolitical environment as well.


In a scenario exacerbated by the war in Ukraine, observers' attention has been focused on global threats, which in North America consist of conventional threats. However, the security environment is significantly more complex. The complexity stems from the internationalization of the Arctic as a result of the combination of climate change-updating the global balance of power.


Since 2013, regional dynamics have been affected by the interest in the area by external actors materialized by the increase of observer states in the Arctic Council, which thus reflected the shift of the world geo-economic center of gravity to Asia Pacific.


Among the actors that have readily shown increasing involvement in the area north of the planet, it is China that is of greatest concern if only because China's presence, which redefines strategic parameters in the Arctic, is part of President Xi Jingping's vision of making Beijing a global superpower.


China defining itself in 2018 as a "state close to the Arctic" pursues a two-pronged policy, one aimed at an international audience that emphasizes cooperation and scientific research, and a second dedicated to a domestic audience, where it highlights the Arctic as a frontier for resources and exploration as well as a place of competition between great powers where for non-Arctic states, science and diplomacy are tools to support economic and military ambitions. The narrative of the Arctic as a global common, where even states that do not claim territorial sovereignty enjoy the rights of scientific research navigation and fishing, allows for action under the threshold of overt strategic challenge. In short, a composite, hybrid Arctic policy, as hybrid are the threats posed by China even with reference to the Canadian Arctic.


Competition with the West, whose power remains dominant, is manifested through a wide range of instruments of national power, civilian and military that are deployed in that gray zone between peace and traditional warfare that is the maritime environment, the privileged space where hybrid tactics advance political and economic interests. The blurring of the line between defense and security is manifest in the South China Sea where Chinese vessels go to great lengths to disrupt those of other states until Beijing intervenes in protection of its own vessels to claim spaces it considers its own, through the coast guard and, in the background, the Chinese navy.


The Arctic parallel, all too often repeated, is not actually axiomatic, if only because despite China's self-described Arctic neighbor state, the North rather constitutes its far abroad so Beijing cannot sustain the same risks of escalation in the area as it faces near its own territory where the national navy is on the horizon. The procedure, therefore, is one of claiming rights in the Arctic global commons.


The mode manifests itself with different nuances with investments in resource exploitation, infrastructure for commercial purposes, advancing economic or scientific research interests, sometimes through the action of private entities intervene as opaque instruments of state power.


Canada, had already drafted since the 1970s careful legislation for the protection and conservation of the Arctic environment aiming at the exclusion of external actors. Motivations of environmental protection, a constant in Canadian policy, but also political in nature, namely the defense of sovereignty in the Northwest Passage after the historic passage of the American tanker Manhattan in 1969. The then Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau, believed that the presence of foreign commercial activities in the region posed a threat to indigenous peoples' rights, marine biodiversity and environmental preservation. Half a century later, climate change and geopolitical dynamics give these concerns renewed concreteness. For example, fishing is an activity that is not easy to monitor despite substantial and composite fisheries legislation. The presence of fishing vessels has increased in the Arctic, and unregulated and unreported illegal fishing is a growing concern not only because of the effects on fragile marine ecosystems, but also because of increased tensions between states that practice the activity. China, which has developed the largest distant-water fishing fleet and a substantial aquaculture industry, at the same time has the worst record of illegal fishing.


Of great significance was the entry into force in 2021 of the treaty banning unregulated fishing in the Arctic Ocean for a period of 16 years to which China is a signatory state along with Canada, Denmark, the European Union, Iceland, Japan, Norway, South Korea, Russia and the United States.


The agreement, which manifests Chinese respect for the "global Arctic commons," could be interpreted by Beijing as a moment of pause, of waiting, rather than a ban tout cour. Indeed, as fish stocks are declining in the South China Sea due to overexploitation of the area and warming waters, China may turn its interest to the Arctic Ocean in order to meet the food demands of the country's middle class and its need for high-quality protein.


In short, it is proceeding on a track of adhering to or contributing to the drafting of norms of international law in the terms in which this corresponds to its interests in the short term. At present, ratification of the fisheries treaty, gives Beijing a kind of "good international citizenship" license in the North.


An Arctic rich in economic resources in a broad sense, in a planetary society in need of critical minerals also makes states take an interest in, for example, mineral extraction on the seabed. In this regard, the automatic identification system, in relation to the activities of the Chinese icebreakers Xue Long and Xue Long 2, has shown that Beijing has interest in mapping seabed resources with particular reference to the Northwind Ridge and the Chukchi Plateau on the U.S. continental shelf. Beijing goes in search of minerals and rare earths on the seabed as well as on land. Explicitly and non-transparently.


In June 2022 a cybersecurity firm, Madiant brought to light a pro-China campaign that had targeted some American and Canadian mining companies . Through fake accounts, negative messages were being distributed to communities where rare earth mining activities were supposed to take place. China produces more than 60 percent of rare earths. essential for advanced technologies and for the transition to a green economy where the West is trying to reduce dependence on Beijing in this regard. The Chinese presence, if it materialized in this economic sphere in the Arctic, could create additional critical issues such as dependence from a domestic market perspective in addition to the possibility for Beijing to insert itself into the multifaceted layers of governance that characterize the north and affect it, for example, with covert disinformation campaigns capable of influencing public opinion at the local or national level.


The occurrence of such episodes straddling hybrid threats and (unfair) economic competition indicate how necessary it is to keep our guard up for the Canadian Arctic to develop resilience against threats in the current global scenario. The area particularly vulnerable due to socioeconomic inequalities compared to the south and facing the significant, additional challenges from climate change, therefore an environment highly exposed to these modes of foreign economic influence likely to jeopardize safety and security.


The typical opaque vector of meddling is the scientific research that China has been practicing in the Arctic and adjacent seas for about two decades. Climate change affects the entire planet, and research is also critical for Beijing in order to understand many future scenarios such as the agricultural landscape, industry planning, and the future of life in metropolises.


Scientific research at sea is in part governed by the Convention on the Law of the Sea, which emphasizes its peaceful purposes. The activities conducted in fact often have a dual civilian-military purpose, and while China conducts classical research in the Arctic in the field of natural sciences, it is nonetheless an actor with a history of civilian activities related to the state security apparatus. Research activities have focused on hydrography, ocean acoustics, and bathymetry surveys that have clear implications in submarine warfare operations. China has developed capabilities to install submerged listening instruments that can be used to track allied submarines in the Arctic, and in the near future, deep-water submarines capable of being deployed in northern waters will be available to Beijing. Prof Rob Hueber of the University of Calgary, who has long warned of geopolitical tensions in the Arctic, points out that Canada has no such capabilities.


Hydrography constitutes important precursor to submarine operations which fuels Western concerns about deploying conventional forces to secure SLOCs ( Sea Iines of communications) at the entrance to the region in the event of future conflict.


Under these circumstances, it is the political relations between states that are crucial. Given the difficulty of Sino-Canadian ( and U.S.) relations in recent years, it appears increasingly difficult to balance risks and opportunities in the Arctic in managing the relationship with Beijing, which does not back down on rights granted to states under international law, but uses economic and scientific activities to become an established stakeholder in Arctic policies so as to condition the geopolitics of the region.


Canada faces two challenges: first, closing the gaps that limit understanding of its maritime environment with technologies that improve situational awareness "because the lack of awareness about vessels in the Arctic creates vulnerabilities that, if left unaddressed, could lead to incidents that would affect Canada's security, safety, environment, and economy." (Arctic waters survelliance Report , 2022). The magnitude coupled with the lack of transparency of Chinese activities, particularly scientific expeditions in northern waters pose significant risks to Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic and North American defense in general by allowing Beijing potential future advantages in resource exploitation, trade, and submarine operations in the Arctic in general.


Second, and this remains as true for Canada as it is for the Arctic NATO states, China's presence in the Arctic must be focused on hybrid threats rather than conventional ones, since too much focus on the Global North in the latter sense could drain useful resources from the strategic areas that Beijing cares most about and in which the game for the international order of the near future will be played. 


Canada's Arctic focus must therefore frame conventional threats but also, and as a priority, unconventional and hybrid threats. For conventional threats that are systemic scale challenges the answer is NORAD however the threat in this sense is not acute in the Arctic. In any case, such a conflict with Russia or China would take on the appearance of a general-scale war.


Regarding unconventional challenges, investments in situational awareness, and the presence of policing capabilities are required. The dangers posed by proxy actors stems from their ability to go undetected. Maritime activities that cross jurisdictional boundaries need to be addressed in regional terms possibly involving Arctic neighbors, US first and also Greenland.


Canada has always been reluctant to integrate more operationally in the region, and while an operational framework for the area is shared with Washington, nevertheless each state responds to threats independently. In the opinion of expert Adam Lajeunesse, the management of such a vast and infrastructure-deficient space as the North American Arctic would require a joint response and thus formal coordination of icebreakers and patrol vessels so that the response to threats does not necessarily take their respective national borders as an operational boundary. 


For Ottawa, it is basic to arrive at the development of a 3600 approach capable of involving all the various federal organizations of reference in the maritime domain, National Defense, Transportation, Fisheries and Oceans, and the Coast Guard in their respective areas of responsibility, in a cross-governmental, coherent,, a whole of gvernment approach.




Activities in the Arctic in the near future will continue to increase as will threats across the security and defense spectrum. The already complex environment is now affected by the changing geopolitical framework at the systemic level that brings political tensions to an area that has been "devoted" to international dialogue and cooperation for about thirty years. The North has become the first frontier where Arctic and non-Arctic states are experimenting with new approaches to governance in a world where power is more diffuse, political competition is heightened, and interdependencies between humans and nature are exacerbated .The Global North as a litmus test in humanity's struggle, in safeguarding planetary health but also a privileged vantage point for observing the ways in which changes in the world order will emerge in the near future.


Canadian foreign and defense policy will inevitably have to prioritize the Arctic. Because of the region's strategic importance, because of its vulnerabilities at the domestic level that perpetuate the unequal situation between North and South and, at the same time lend themselves to unconventional threats from actors outside the region. Whether it is the presence of the Armed Forces, economic development efforts, service delivery, the centrality of indigenous peoples, climate change, and national defense, Canada needs to be concerned about the Arctic as (its) future passes through the North. In this sense, at least on paper, last April's defense policy update represents a clear geographical awareness.


[See bibliography in the Italian version]