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Major Arctic Security Threats Come From Operational Concerns, Not Strategic

February 9, 2016

Canada’s national defense.pic

Task Force students from JSIS 495C: The Arctic – A New Player in International Relations, traveled to Canada’s capital, Ottawa, from January 23rd to 30th, 2016 to engage in on-the-ground research with organizations and specialists in the field and learn about climate change and the current issues facing the Arctic region. Below are student articles of their trip and learning experience.

The Arctic Task Force met with Jonathan Quinn and Major Sam Nelson from the Canadian Department of National Defence. Mr. Quinn, the Director of Policy Development, provided an in-depth overview of Canada’s national defense policy in the High North, emphasizing Canada’s new government and its promise of transparency and openness to the public by making available to the public the mandate letters for each ministerial department. The Defence Minister’s national mandate includes protecting Canada, defending North America, and contributing to international peace and security, in which the Arctic plays a pivotal role currently and for the future. The main security risks or concerns from the Department of National Defence come from the difficulties of the Arctic region in dealing with maritime and air traffic, search and rescue, and potential illegal immigration and smuggling as the sea ice retreats. Not only does the Arctic pose several security concerns, it also provides a challenging operating environment (terrain and weather) for the Canadian military, including during its exercises. These bilateral operations allow Canada and its allies to train in the Arctic and increase their military skills as they practice for various scenarios. These operations use a lot of Indigenous knowledge of the ice and the area from local communities, which help the military gain a competitive edge in Arctic warfare. Although Russia has increased its Arctic military presence, Canada perceives no major military threat in the Arctic as cooperation has been the main key point of Arctic policies. The Arctic rewards cooperation, not conflict. In such a fragile system, nations, militaries, and organizations do not have the luxury to play with the Arctic but must work together in order to preserve this region.


Author: Kyle Wheeler

This publication was made possible in part by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author.