MOSCOW ~ mentioned the possibility of military conflicts over energy in the Arctic
Canada ready to defend Arctic sovereignty: Cannon By Randy Boswell, Canwest News
Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said Thursday that the Conservative government will strive to "work peacefully" with other polar nations but "will not hesitate to defend Canadian Arctic sovereignty."
The statement came a day after the release of a new Russian government report that predicts possible military conflict over Arctic oil.
Cannon, currently on a diplomatic tour in Asia, told Canwest News Service in a statement from Japan that recent steps taken by Canada to bolster its military and marine infrastructure in the North "will ensure that the Canadian Forces are prepared to address future challenges and respond to any emergency" that unfolds.
"Canada is determined to work peacefully in co-operation with all our northern partners in the Arctic," Cannon said. "That having been said: Canada is an Arctic power, and our government understands the potential of the North. Therefore, when and if necessary, this government will not hesitate to defend Canadian Arctic sovereignty, and all of our interests in the Arctic."
Cannon's comments come at a time when Russia has been sending mixed signals about its approach to resolving uncertainties over Arctic boundaries and securing resources in the potentially oil-rich polar region.
Top Russian officials have been publicly emphasizing the country's interest in resolving potential Arctic disputes peacefully under the terms of a UN treaty governing the Law of the Sea.
In February, at a meeting in Moscow attended by Canada's top legal adviser on Arctic issues, Russian diplomats even offered to submit its territorial claims in the polar region jointly with Canada and Denmark.
But Wednesday's security report from Moscow — which mentioned the possibility of military conflicts over energy in the Arctic and on Russia's other frontiers — was described as a "wake-up call" for Canada by University of Calgary political scientist Rob Huebert.
He said Russia has been "making nice sounds" about the Arctic on the diplomatic front while striking an assertive posture militarily on the ground and at sea throughout the North — including an increase in aircraft training exercises.
Less than two years ago, a Russian submersible planted a flag at the North Pole seabed that prompted a rebuke from Canada's then-foreign minister Peter MacKay over what he described as a "15th-century" style land-grab.
MacKay, now Canada's minister of defence, clashed with Russia again in February over an Arctic test flight by two Russian bombers, which Canadian military aircraft scrambled to intercept.
Russia's defence minister called MacKay's outburst "bizarre" given the "routine" nature of the flight and accused the Canadian government of sending its own conflicting messages on the Arctic for domestic political reasons.
Cannon, who said at the time of the February flight controversy that Canada would not be "bullied" by Russia, expressed a similar sentiment in his comments to Canwest News Service on Thursday.
"At every opportunity in my discussions with foreign ministers, including with the Russian foreign minister (Sergei Lavrov), I have and will continue to have frank discussions — and that includes reiterating Canada will continue to defend Canadian Arctic sovereignty."
Cannon said the Conservative government's Canada First Defence Strategy will help the country's military "take action in exercising Canadian sovereignty in the North," and highlighted plans for a fleet of Arctic patrol ships, a deepwater docking facility in Nanisivik, at the north end of Baffin Island, an Arctic military training centre and the "modernization and expansion" of the Canadian Rangers — a northern patrol force made up largely of Inuit citizens of the North.
A report issued Thursday by the Senate committee on energy, environment and northern resources urged the government to bolster climate change research and mitigation in Canada's melting Arctic, and to do more to recognize that supporting social services and economic development among northern residents is "the most important component" of "strengthening Canada's sovereignty claims."
Last week, the Senate's fisheries and oceans committee also issued a report urging new measures to strengthen Canada's Arctic sovereignty, including arming coast guard icebreakers and giving the Canadian Rangers more responsibility as the "eyes and ears" of the North.