Politics

Canada's window to defend the Arctic is closing, MP warns

An MP who has been looking into the militarization of the North warns that if Canada doesn't act now, it could slowly lose its grip on the Arctic.

Russia has been expanding its military presence in the far North

In this photo taken on Wednesday, April 3, 2019, a Russian soldier stands guard at a Pansyr-S1 air defence system on the Kotelny Island, part of the New Siberian Islands archipelago located between the Laptev Sea and the East Siberian Sea, Russia. (Vladimir Isachenkov/Associated Press)

An MP who has been looking into the militarization of the North warns that if Canada doesn't act now, it could slowly lose its grip on the Arctic.

Liberal John McKaythe Canadian co-chair of the Permanent Joint Board on Defence with the U.S., says he fears Canada isn't ready to defend its territory as the threat from Russia slowly expands.

"We are not very well prepared," he said.

Russia already has missile launchers and air defence systems dotted along ice roads at various military outposts in remote areas along its northern coast.

In the last five years, the Kremlin has poured vast resources into revamping Soviet-era bases in the Arctic.

"There is a very dramatic buildup of Russian military capability right across the top end of Russia, starting with Norway, working right across, right through to Alaska," McKay said Friday in an interview with Chris Hall airing today on CBC Radio's The House.

Russia isn't the only country expanding its command of the North as climate change opens access to resources and shipping lanes. The U.S., Canada, Denmark and Norway are all nudging their way into the polar region as well. 

This map released by Republican U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan of Alaska in 2017 to support his amendments to national defence funding purports to show the locations of military outposts Russia has in the far north. (Office of Senator Dan Sullivan)

However, Russia seems to be moving in quickly. Russian President Vladimir Putin has made no secret of his goal to lay claim to a large portion of the Arctic, citing the estimated value of minerals in the north at $30 trillion.

The speed of Russia's expansion is making other nations nervous.

Last month, the American commander of NORAD called on U.S. and Canadian policy makers to think about whether they're doing enough to counter Russian threats in the far North.

"We haven't seen this sort of systematic and methodical increase in threats since the height of the Cold War," Air Force Gen. Terrence O'Shaughnessy told the group.

Missiles, ships, troops

McKay shares those concerns. "It's not just simply the presence of significant numbers of troops but it's also missiles, and ships, and ballistic missiles, and low-altitude cruise missiles," he said.

McKay recently attended a meeting of the joint board where participants discussed the rapid expansion of Russia's military presence in the region.

McKay said he's still not convinced the White House understands what's at stake.

A Russian military Pansyr-S1 air defence system leaves a garage during a military drill. (Vladimir Isachenkov/Associated Press)

"Clearly there is a certain indifference on the part of President [Donald] Trump."

But McKay said he also wants to see Canada ramp up Arctic defence.

"I would like to see more resources applied to what has become a security issue for us, primarily driven by the fact that climate change has opened up the sea lanes."

He also cautioned that the government needs to act quickly and decisively, before things get worse.

"I think the window of opportunity is closing quickly. And I'm not sure that many Canadians are actually aware how quickly it is closing."

With files from the Associated Press

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