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Looking North: Canada’s Approach to the Arctic

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February 12, 2020

Martin Loken, Minister of Political Affairs at the Embassy of Canada, participated in the Atlantic Council’s “Looking North: Conference on Security in the Arctic,” organized with the Norwegian Ministry of Defence and the Royal Norwegian Embassy. As part of a panel discussion on “Evolving Security: Understanding Allied Perspectives on the Arctic,” Martin explained Canada continues to be present, ready, informed; and is working with allies to ensure the Arctic remains a region of peace and stability. Read his full remarks below.

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I am Martin Loken, Minister (Political Affairs) at the Embassy of Canada.

Yes, the Arctic is different, and it is changing. The Canadian North is warming at about three times faster than the global average.

This is making the Arctic more accessible, creating economic opportunities, but also the potential for damage to unique ecosystems. And we know state and non-state actors actively pursue their interests in the region.

Climate change is also altering the cultures and traditions of people who have lived there for centuries. Métis. First Nations. Inuit. The land is different when you experience it through the eyes of those who have lived there. Their deep understanding of the land continues to guide our shared efforts in this diverse, complex and expansive area. They know the land. They teach us how to work there. They show us how to build igloos.

For centuries, we’ve marveled at the ingenuity of the igloo design, which incorporates principles of physics and thermodynamics to create an optimal shelter from the elements. This past year, representatives of the armed forces of some of our NATO Allies and other partners converged in Resolute Bay to learn survival tactics from the Canadian Rangers, including a crash course in building igloos.

Igloos in Canada. How very stereotypical, you might think. But they are more than important survival tools.

They are symbols for our approach to the Arctic. Thick building blocks of snow, beveled, trimmed, and angled inward in a parabolic spiral. The blocks lean on each other to create a secure shelter. They represent the various components of our safety, security, and defence in the Arctic, which are critical in light of increased international attention. Allow me to explain, briefly, the nature of three of these “blocks.”

The foundational block is our persistent presence in the region. We demonstrate our sovereignty by living and operating in our Northern lands, which comprise 40% of Canada’s total landmass.

Our military has several permanent locations in the Arctic, and the members of 1st Canadian Ranger Patrol Group are our eyes and ears in and around 44 communities. The Canadian Coast Guard supports responses to maritime safety, security, and environmental threats. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police has 61 detachments and three divisional headquarters, providing an initial response to emergencies and national security threats.

But we understand the additional demands which will be brought by a more accessible Arctic. It’s why we are bolstering our existing presence in the region.

Beyond presence, our ability to respond to the evolving security challenges of the Arctic environment – the second igloo block – is imperative. Throughout the year, our military leads a range of activities that incorporate other departments and external partners, which improves joint responses to major incidents and emergencies.

This ongoing work is vital to safety and security, but it is only part of the capability equation. The men and women who work in the Arctic must have the equipment required to protect Canada’s interests. We will be ready for the anticipated increase in traffic through our Northern seaways. In doing so, we endeavour to not merely respond, but also anticipate and shape events in the region.

The third building block I’ll describe is awareness. The Canadian Arctic includes 162,000 kilometres, which is 75% of Canada’s coastline. We must monitor and understand developments in this vast domain to ensure we respond appropriately. A range of new sea, land, air, and space capabilities will enhance our existing surveillance. Indeed, the more we see, the more we know, and the more prepared we are to respond.

Three building blocks – presence, capability, and awareness – help secure our Arctic regions.

But I’ve omitted the most important component. When all the blocks of an igloo are set in place, they are consolidated by a heat source from the inside. This can be accomplished quickly by a large flame or gradually by body heat. This consolidation, this merging of components, represents the most important aspect of our approach to the changing Arctic: cooperation.

In committing to cooperation, we are inspired by Inuit traditions of community. Their collective approach to life in the Arctic informs our collaborations at home and with our international partners.

We continue to work with our partners in the Arctic Council’s Emergency Prevention, Preparedness, and Response Working Group; the Arctic Coast Guard Forum; and the Arctic Security Forces Roundtable to ensure we meet the demands of the changing land together. At NORAD, we work with the United States to deter and defend against threats from our Northern approaches. At NATO, we are committed to sharing information among Allies and seeking opportunities to collaborate through exercises and other joint activities. This ongoing collaboration fosters information-sharing, improves situational awareness, and strengthens responses to a broad range of issues.

But we will not be complacent at a time of increased competition from state and non-state actors in the region. We will continue to be there, ready, informed, and united. We remain committed to a peaceful Arctic.

Again, thank you, Ambassador, for hosting this important discussion. Tusen takk!

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