Rob Huebert on Canada and Arctic sovereignty(Globe and Mail Update, 18 August 2008 at 1:00 PM EDT) -- "The Northwest Passage may be ice-free this summer, for only the second time in recorded history," Professor Rob Huebert wrote Saturday in his Globe essay As the ice melts, Canada's control ebbs in the Arctic
"The Canadian Arctic is being fundamentally transformed as a result.
"As the ice diminishes, new actors and interests will arrive. Who is coming? What will they do? What does it mean for Canada?
Dr. Huebert argues the skyrocketing prices of oil and gas have renewed the interest of all the major producers in Northern oil and gas, which could be shipped by tanker, rather than pipeline, as climate change continues to affect the ice in the Passage.
"Only the Russians are at present developing ways to ship both oil and gas from Arctic offshore platforms," he wrote.
"But surely the major North American companies must now be looking at the possibility of using a similar system.
"If those companies do opt for this, it will be important to know where the terminals will be. If they are built on the U.S./Alaskan side of the Arctic, Canada can expect the sovereignty crisis of 1969 and 1970 to be renewed.
"There have been no changes in either the American or Canadian position about the passage of tankers through the Northwest Passage. If the Americans develop a shipping capability and decide to send their vessels to the east, they would need to go through Canadian waters. They would probably not be any more willing to ask Canada's permission than they were in 1969 . . .
"Our ability to assert control in our Northern waters is limited. An increase of ship traffic accompanying such a development will require the Canadian government to act. It would need to increase its ability to monitor commercial-ship activity and to provide search and rescue, and proper environmental assistance, in the event of an accident. Currently, we cannot do much of any of this . . .
"More troubling is that the government has failed to develop a comprehensive policy framework to control the Arctic effectively.
"The Martin Government had begun such an effort, the Northern Strategy, with a section that was to provide a much stronger policy framework to assert Canadian control over our Arctic waters. Its defeat derailed that effort.
"The Harper government has promised to continue this work, but has not publicly released any version of its strategy.
"Time is running out. If we do not have a clear policy framework for all shipping in the Arctic, it will be too late to do so, after the new shipping arrives . . .
"The melting ice in the Northwest Passage is going to result in more international shipping in the Arctic. Canada needs to be prepared for when it comes, or else the world will simply ignore Canada."
Whether you agree or not, it's a provocative argument and globeandmail.com is pleased therefore that Dr. Huebert was online earlier today to answer your questions about his Globe essay and the arguments he raised.
Your questions and Dr. Huebert's answers appear at the bottom of this page.
Rob Huebert is an associate professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Calgary and associate director of the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies.
Dr. Huebert has taught at Memorial University, Dalhousie University and the University of Manitoba. His area of research interests include: international relations, strategic studies, the Law of the Sea, maritime affairs, Canadian foreign and defence policy, and circumpolar relations.
He publishes on the issue of Canadian Arctic security, maritime security and Canadian defence. He was also a co-author of the "Report To Secure a Nation: Canadian Defence and Security into the 21st Century" and co-editor of "Breaking Ice: Canadian Integrated Ocean Management in the Canadian North."
He also comments on Canadian security and Arctic issues in both the Canadian and international media.
Editor's Note: globeandmail.com editors will read and allow or reject each question/comment. Comments/questions may be edited for length or clarity. HTML is not allowed. We will not publish questions/comments that include personal attacks on participants in these discussions, that make false or unsubstantiated allegations, that purport to quote people or reports where the purported quote or fact cannot be easily verified, or questions/comments that include vulgar language or libellous statements. Preference will be given to readers who submit questions/comments using their full name and home town, rather than a pseudonym.
Jim Sheppard, Executive Editor, globeandmail.com: Welcome, Dr. Huebert, and thanks for joining us today to take questions from the readers of globeandmail.com. Let's get right to them.
James Ozon, Calgary: After decades of missing opportunities to cement Canada's claims to the Arctic, do you really think there is still time to do so and will the international community take our case seriously?
Prof. Rob Huebert: Mr. Ozon, while I would have liked to have seen our governments start taking action years ago, I believe that there still is time.
The outside world is only now starting to recognize the value and importance of the entire Arctic. If we act now, we still have enough time to begin building the equipment we need, and we can still develop the diplomatic framework we need.
But I do worry that time is running out very quickly. If we do not act in the next five years or so, I fear it will then be too late.
Matthew McAuley, Baffin Island: I am a Canadian soldier currently deployed on OP Nanook, a Canadian sovereignty operation on Baffin Island in the Nunavut Territories. I will be here during your online discussion as well as several hundred CF personnel.
Everyone here agrees that sovereignty is perhaps one of the most important current issues facing Canada.
I do not intend to comment much on this topic. I would just like to inform you how impressed I am with our current sovereignty enforcement efforts in the North.
Although they may need to increase in light of current developments, I do not think this is as daunting a task as it may appear to be. It seems to me that the framework for significant progress exists and only needs to be utilized.
Jack Simpson, Williams Lake, B.C.: Previous and current governments have "talked about it" and that's about all.
There has to be more than a couple of army reservists running around on snowmobiles. Arctic sovereignty will cost hundreds of millions of dollars in infrastructure alone, in the next couple of years.
Get on with it! Stop talking, start doing. Establish permanent operational bases at strategic locations on the Arctic Coast. Remove the Canadian Coast Guard from DFO and bring it under the Canadian Armed Forces umbrella. Task the Forces with care, control and responsibility of sovereignty, environmental protection, and laws of the sea, on all coasts.
It is past time that Canada showed some gonads regarding our coasts.
Dr. Huebert: Mr. McAuley and Mr. Simpson raise interesting points that complement each other.
The question is really what is enough. Part of the problem with answering this question when it comes to the North is that we immediately associate it with the term sovereignty. We have given this term an increased emotional value that impact on our discussion.
In my view, what we really need is to develop out ability to control activity in the Arctic. This requires three things:
(1) The ability to know what is being done in the Arctic. (As Mr. (sorry I don't have your rank) McAuley knows, we are taking steps to improve on this.)
(2) We need to be able to react in the Arctic when we find someone (Canadian or foreign) doing things that are against our laws and interests.
(3) We need to have an idea of what we want our Arctic for. We have no policy framework on the development of offshore oil and gas, or on international shipping. We need to think about that very hard.
The reason we have tended to only talk about it before is that the price of resources and the climate simply kept most southerners out of the Arctic.
We no longer have that protection and that is why we must now act.
Barry Blick, Calgary: We don't have the population or the money to fully protect our borders in the Arctic.
With our blessing, we should welcome the Americans to explore, map, and chart the Arctic -- on the condition that they have full and complete access while recognizing Canada's sovereignty over the area. We could also make a federal royalty arrangement with the U.S. for any offshore oil or gas discovered and extracted from the area.
Our jingoism about sovereignty may be our downfall as newly emboldened Russia is actively pursuing territory in the Arctic. Believe me, Canadians would be far better off with the U.S. as a co-operative ally than Russia as a potential and continuing threat.
Canadians are traditionally very short-sighted. In our zeal to keep the entire territory for ourselves without having the ability to defend it, will we ultimately lose it?
Dr. Huebert: Mr. Blick addresses one of the most important question that we face in the Arctic: What should be our relationship with the U.S.
When I see the outstanding work that our mapping community is doing to determine the limits of our continental shelf, I become confident that we do have the ability -- both in people and technology -- to take proper control of the Arctic. We are mapping. We are cooperating with our Danish and American neighbors. But we are doing as full partners.
It is really a question of political will. As soon as first the Martin and then Harper governments provided the proper funds to our effort to map, the job got done. This is the case with all elements of the north. it is a question of will.
And I have found the more willing we are to act to protect our interests in the North, the more the Americans are willing to back off.
A lot of recent historical studies show that once we agreed to pull our weight in the Alaska Highway and DEW Line, the U.S. was very willing to be sensitive to our sovereignty issues.
Will this remain the case? That I do not know.
John Lombard, Beijing: The only thing we can really do is try to pass laws or regulations. But the U.S. is under no obligation to recognize or obey those.
If the U.S. does decide to send a ship through the northern passage, what are we going to do? Military action is out of the question. Boarding the ship and arresting its crew would simply spark a confrontation in which the U.S. holds by far the majority of the cards.
The only strategy that I could see possibly having some impact would be to build an international consensus that these waters are Canadian territory. Then, if the U.S. violates those waters without permission, it would face sanctions and ramifications from more than just Canada.
What is Canada doing -- if anything -- in this regard? Are we making any efforts at all? And if so, does there seem to be much support for us?
Aidan Grove-White, Victoria, B.C.: Hi, Dr. Huebert, thanks for taking our questions today.
Something I'd like know is: How long will it take current increases in our military capacity in the North to have an impact on our sovereignty over it? Are there non-militaristic ways of having the same effect?
In addition, I'd like to hear what you think would be the most important thing we could do to effectively exercise our sovereignty, and again, how long it would take to have an effect. (Short-, mid- and long-term proposals would be welcome).
Bill Farley, Kamloops, B.C.: I spent many years in the High Arctic and know the settlements and terrain quite well. So it's interesting to suddenly see the huge focus on the area, all because of almighty oil and gas. I believe it would be a waste of time for Canada to take on global, industrial giants for the sake of sovereignty and control.
Historically, we've dragged our feet big time over Arctic development, (other than mineral exploration) so Canada does not have a lot of brownie points when arguing sovereignty to the international court.
Instead, it would be better if Canada put forth a proposal which recommends joint control and regulatory powers of the Northwest Passage. Whether it comes under Canada's sovereignty or is considered international waters is a moot point.
I suggest that Canada, the U.S.A. and Russia sign an agreement to maintain and regulate the Northwest Passage. Canada and the U.S.A. are obvious partners, but I include Russia because they are now one of the major players and the largest exporter of oil to Europe. They would also act as a buffer to any challenges by China or elsewhere in that region.
Your thoughts, please?
Dr. Huebert: These are all excellent questions that get to the core of the issue.
What do we need to do to ensure that activity in the Canadian Arctic supports/protects Canadian values and interests?
I believe that we need to have the proper instrumentation to know about what is happening in the Arctic and to be able to respond. That response includes both a physical response and diplomatic response.
But I also believe that we need to be the leaders in creating an international regime in the Arctic. Canada may be smaller than the U.S. and Russia but when we put our political will to it, we can hit way above our weight.
In the 1970s, we were a major leader when it came to the Law of the Sea. Much of what is in that are Canadian ideas.
The more we can now repeat this in the Arctic the better. Why not develop a regional set of rules for shipping. We tired this in the 1990s with the Arctic Code, why not try again with the full support of the PM?
We should be the ones calling international meetings about the Arctic not the Danes. But we need a plan before we do that.
Even offshore oil and gas can be controlled. The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea gives us the right to control how it is done up to 200 nautical miles and maybe even up to 350 nautical miles.
But we need to be prepared. What do we want the companies to do? We have the right to tell them, but are we prepared? That is what we should now be developing (and hopefully we are).
Kyle Meade, Toronto: My understanding is that in 2003 Canada ratified UNCLOS (UN Convention on the Law of the Sea), which gives us until 2013 to make an official submission to the UN with scientific evidence to show that the continental shelf of Canada extends past the normally allowed exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
Russia made its official submission in December 2001 and Denmark made its in November 2006. With the age of our existing Coast Guard fleet and with our new fleet not being ready in time to do the proper scientific research by 2013, how are we going to make an official submission to the UN?
And if we do not make a claim, will Russia or Denmark automatically gain control of potential oil fields that could otherwise have been Canadian?
Dr. Huebert: Kyle, we are currently making good inroads into determining what is our claim.
We have been investing properly in this since the Martin government and it has been subsequently well-supported by the Harper government.
Under the existing rules, all states need to wait until all states have made their claim.
We are close enough to the Russians and the Danes that I believe/hope they will wait. But the problem is with the U.S. They are not party to the Convention.
The issue we will face is that the Russians may say to us and the Danes, "we are ready and you need to decide if you want to wait for the U.S. or do you want to now begin to resolve any overlap that may exist."
Canada will be placed in a very difficult situation then.
Peter D'Entremont, Baie Verde, N.B.: I'm curious to know if you feel that climate change will elicit cultural change -- a shifting of extremes or a collapse in established, systemic and network norms?
Are we about to reach another historically succinct moment of no return leaving in its wake uncontrollable global transformations?
In other words, what cultural, societal and philosophical consequences will the presumed imminent collapse of the polar ice barrier trigger?
Dr. Huebert: Mr. D'Entremont's question is critical for Canada.
How much are the climate changes altering the way of life for those who have called the North home for thousands of years.
This begins to go outside of my expertise, but I can tell you that people whose views I very much respect, such as Mary Simon, are very concerned that the twin forces of climate change and globalizsation are fundamentally altering the very fabric of life for the Inuit and other northern aborignal peoples.
In my mind, this is one of the central issues that we as Canadians face -- what is changing for Northern Canadians and what do we do about it!
Yvon Loiselle, Mexico: How much do Canadians really know about ownership of its Arctic waters? I certainly don't.
I only hope that we take the most responsible route, regardless of the outcome. I want to believe that Canada is environmentally pro-active and considers protection of the globe before putting the mighty dollar first.
Look at the profits being made in Northern Alberta and the damage it's doing to the environment. Yes, we are rich, but money means nothing when you've got no planet to live on.
Here's hoping Harper's government puts a solid step forward and tackles this issue before it's too late.
Dr. Huebert: I am afraid that you are right. We do not know that much. Some of the charts (i.e. maps) we have of the Northwest Passage date back to the late 1800s.
I would think that if the big companies -- BP, Exxon etc. -- that are now looking for oil and gas make a big find, we should copy the Alaskans and make sure that a significant portion of the profits are returned to those that live in the North as well as funding research in the North. <>
That has been done elsewhere and there is no reason it could be part of the regulations we set.
Jim Clements, Hamilton, Ont.: As a 65-year-old nationalist born and educated in this country, I learned only recently of the exploits of Capt. Joseph E. Bernier, our "Bear" of the North. I was aghast that I (we) seem to know so little of him and his contribution to our country, our map as it is today and whatever claims we may have to "our" North.
Could you please comment on Capt. Bernier's historical role and how it weaves with our, and other, interests in the sovereignty and now the very important economics of the Arctic? Thank you.
Dr. Huebert: We know almost nothing about the history of the North. For the longest time, we ignored it and did not fund research into examining it.
Hopefully that is now changing. Bernier is only one example.
M. Kube, Edmonton: Thank you for taking my questions, Dr. Huebert.
Every Canadian should be troubled that Canada's northern rights are being challenged when the last century belongs to Canadian firsts. The first return voyage through the Northwest Passage by the RCMP schooner the St. Roch between 1940-44. Further Arctic patrols from 1944-48 and the establishment of the Canadian Rangers in 1947.
When America bought Alaska in 1867, could it have included offshore mineral resources? When the Canadian Icebreaker Sir John A. Macdonald escorted the Manhattan, was Canadian sovereignty enshrined by that single act?
The "Canada First" defence strategy should place Arctic sovereignty near the top, supporting domestic engineering and industries like shipbuilding and nuclear power.
But the opposite appears to be happening. What will it take for Canadians to see real change in the North?
Your work in this area is appreciated.
Dr. Huebert: I think that the media focus on the changes that are now altering the very face of the North is waking us up. When we see satellite photos of the melting ice, it no longer becomes an issue of whether the Arctic is changing.
And we need all Canadians such as yourself to remind the political elites that we can no longer only talk about the North, we must also act.
Jim Sheppard: Thanks again, Dr. Huebert. I'm sure our readers appreciated your insight and analysis. Any last thoughts?
Dr. Huebert: The Arctic is changing, and changing in ways that we do not fully understand.
As Canadians, we need to ensure that we attempt to understand these changes and respond in a manner that allows Canadian interests and values be protected and promoted. Of critical importance is the need to ensure that the interests of Northern Canadians be at the front of such a policy.
We have the capacity to do this if we have the political will. But we need to act now. We are seeing hopeful signs from the actions of both the Martin and Harper governments.
What we need now are signs that the promises are being acted upon and an international plan that Canada should be leading.