In The Media

Defending the Arctic: 5 things you should know

by Emma McIntosh (feat. Rob Huebert and P. Whitney Lackenbauer)

Calgary Herald
May 31, 2016

The Arctic holds a wealth of newly-accessible resources, and Canada is one of the many nations racing to claim as much of the region as possible. But with issues such as the well-being of northern communities and climate change at play, Canada’s role is hotly contested. 

Some, like University of Calgary professor Rob Huebert, say conflict at the North Pole is inevitable and Canada should prepare for a fight. Others like P. Whitney Lackenbauer, of St. Jerome’s University, say environmental and social problems are more pressing. 

The two debated the issue at the University of Calgary on Monday as part of the 2016 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, a gathering of academics from across the country.

Here’s five things from the discussion you should know.

1. The Arctic is changing. 

“On every single possible manner of accounting, the Arctic is changing,” Huebert said.

And one of the biggest areas of change has been the climate. As northern ice recedes, it has revealed what Natural Resources Canada calls “one of Earth’s last frontiers” for commodities such as diamonds, gold, iron and gas

However, Huebert said this level of transformation brings “complexity and danger” as countries with competing interests try to lay claim to the region. Canada, he said, should beef up its defence in the Arctic accordingly. 

Lackenbauer, however, said Arctic nations can all benefit from collaborating, rather than fighting over the Arctic.

“You can live and coexist in a world of differences of opinion,” he said. 

2. The Arctic is a homeland for the people who live there.

“We’ve often thought of the Arctic simply as a place to go, a scientific endeavour,” Huebert said.

“We’re realizing that people live there, and that has to be front and centre.”

According to Lackenbauer, Indigenous communities in the north have experienced “profound changes” due to climate change, and need to be prioritized over future conflicts that aren’t happening now.

“I don’t want to see us stealing resources from social and economic programming to fund this military buildup against a threat that doesn’t exist,” he said.

3. The Arctic is more a part of the rest of the world than it has ever been. 

Not only is climate change revealing the North’s potential, but modern technology is making it easier to access. That means the region is more connected to the rest of the world than ever before, Huebert said. 

Still, Lackenbauer said the threats presented by climate change mean Arctic countries should use this integration to work together. 

“There are always wedge issues that will drive us apart,” he said. 

“But defending our North and looking after broad human security interests and environmental interests can all work hand in hand.” 

4. The Arctic is a major part of other global security issues.

During the Cold War, Huebert said the Arctic was set to be a battleground if war were to break out between the United States and the Soviet Union. 

But, now, as more countries get involved, Huebert said the possibility of conflict is even higher.  

“It’s not just the Americans,” he said.

“It will be Germany, it will be Singapore, it will possibly be China. Stay tuned, it’s about to get more interesting in the future.” 

However, Lackenbauer said that approach is “paranoia,” and Canada’s current Arctic defence plan is working. 

“As a country, we need to be able to defend our interests if need be . . . but I think (conflict) is highly improbable,” Lackenbauer said.

5. The Arctic has and will influence Canadian policy. 

Lackenbauer and Huebert agree on one main point: the North will have a major impact on Canadian policy in the future. What that policy should be, however, is less clear.

“Each and every one of those changes, transformations and impacts will impact Canada,” Huebert said.

“We need to be prepared for these changes and be ready to respond . . . To have proper Canadian security, we need to have Arctic security.”

Lackenbauer, on the other hand, said it doesn’t have to be that way. 

“Canadian sovereignty has always been on a more secure foundation than most Canadians (have believed),” he said. 

“We shouldn’t let our defence agenda hijack our approach to Arctic issues and we shouldn’t miss opportunities for better co-operation by getting into the mindset that this region is destined for conflict.

“We need to open up our minds and imaginations and decide what we want to do as a country.”

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