Responding to Global Challenges: the Arctic and terrorism - still some room for complacency?


Image credit: Department of National Defence

Policy Update

by Natalia Loukacheva

Global pressures are becoming ever more visible in the Arctic. Not only in the area of climate and other environmental effects that have turned the region into a barometer of global change, and got special focus at the recent COP 21 meeting in Paris, but other factors are also coming to bear. Last year vividly showed that the international terrorism threat had really turned into an outstanding global problem. Watching the first steps in mobilizing the whole civilized word’s efforts to fight this deadly threat, one cannot help thinking whether climate and other changes in the Arctic could potentially lead to bringing the terrorism threat to the ‘top of the world.’

Are we in Canada, and, generally, in all Arctic states securely safe from this growing challenge? Is terrorism a thing that can attack the Circumpolar world only from the South, not from the North? Doesn’t the global approach to fighting terrorism imply that we should look around in all directions? Is this urgent?

Changes in the Arctic bring about two relevant trends: First, our northern borders, previously securely protected by harsh climate band sea ice, are becoming porous. Therefore, they become increasingly vulnerable if we leave our border control and defense infrastructure in the Arctic static. Second, economic activity in the land and sea areas of this region is growing and is expected to expand further. The damage to these activities could produce very strong public, economic, political, ecological and other repercussions, and this is exactly what the terrorists may seek.

We need to look at the problem both nationally and internationally.

Canada should intensify thinking and discussing this matter, as well as the practical steps that can be taken. We need a strengthened border monitoring, surveillance and control in the Arctic. We may need to work in a different way with our indigenous peoples to raise their involvement and awareness in this respect in addition to rangers’ patrols, programs and engagements. Our security services should be duly alerted. Canada should become a natural leader in addressing possible terrorist threats in the Arctic.

We may also think about the strengthening cooperation with our Arctic neighbors. Why not bring the matter of terrorism in the north to the Arctic Council? Of course, now the Council deals only with the issues of environmental protection and sustainable development. But isn’t this a worthy subject – to try to re-assess and expand the Council’s mandate and make it even more relevant to current challenges that are very much different from the 1996 when the Council was established?
Another platform to bring the issue could be a meeting of the Arctic States’ Chiefs of Staff. Canada has successfully pioneered this important platform which, unfortunately, was temporary suspended because of disagreement with Russia on Ukraine. However, the need to collaborate on this matter with all Arctic nations remains.

These issues should also be high on the agenda of the newly created Arctic Coast Guards forum which once again united all eight Arctic nations on security matters.

The urgency of a fresh look and of practical actions comes from the simple fact that at least now this is prevention, rather than reaction. We can and must seal the Arctic from any terrorist activity. The earlier we do it, the better. Terrorism now is our common challenge everywhere. The Arctic cannot be an exclusion to this perception.

Natalia Loukacheva is a Fellow with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, Canada Research Chair in ‘Aboriginal Governance and Law’ and Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Northern British Columbia.

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  • commented 2016-02-04 10:11:47 -0500
    I find this argument non-sensical. There are many security concerns that we need to be discussing with regard to Canada’s Arctic, including human security threats posed for the people of the North. A terrorism threat is not one of them. Terrorism needs to be gauged and responded to proportionally, on the basis of an understanding terrorist groups’ intentions and capabilities. There are no known terrorist groups with either the intentions or capabilities of mounting attacks in the Arctic and there is no reason to fantasize about a future such threat. It reminds me a bit of the threat assessments that were briefly current in the early Cold War about Soviet parachute army attacks in the Canadian Arctic. Wesley Wark, University of Ottawa
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