SPRING SIGNALS rebirth and renewal. As ice melts and water flows freely again, it’s an excellent time for Canada to turn its attention towards the Northwest Passage.
With the world devolving into the kind of geopolitical uncertainty we haven’t seen since the end of the Cold War, it’s high time Canada put its money where its mouth is. The country needs to take concrete actions to assert and confirm that it has jurisdiction over the Northwest Passage as an inland waterway. It’s not an international strait open and accessible to all.
Western politicians and media love to point out again and again how President Vladimir Putin is engaging in a kind of Russian expansionist behaviour and rhetoric that should give all NATO countries pause. The recent events in Syria have brought into sharp focus that open hostility between the West and Russia may again become the norm.
And as global warming makes the Northwest Passage more attractive for cruise ships and shipping vessels, it’s clear that Canada can no longer sit passively by while the world decides when and how it will exploit what has long been claimed as Canadian territory.
There’s nothing other than political cost and the danger of provocation to stop – to choose an absurd example – Putin from parking a Russian submarine on or underneath those waters just to see what the fallout would be. Call it a test run for data collection and response times.
In fact, Canada could use that admittedly bizarre possibility to poke the United States into at least acknowledging that having the Northwest Passage in Canadian hands – and having this recognized internationally – would be the most secure outcome for its interests.
Far better for the Americans to rely on their special and longstanding relationship with Canada to secure access whenever needed than to claim that same access at the cost of allowing every other interested and nautically capable country to enjoy unfettered use of the Northwest Passage.
Canada can no longer sit passively by while the world decides when and how it will exploit what Canada has long claimed as its territory
Putting aside the unlikely event that the Americans would ever agree to abandon their position that the Northwest Passage is an international waterway, Canada must act out of character and realize that you can turn a disputed claim of sovereignty into de facto ownership if only you spend money and invest human and financial resources. Canada needs to establish a deepwater port, and attendant vessels and aircraft. Concrete actions would allow Canada’s real-world posture to mirror what are now only words and legal assertions.
Canada and Russia share an Arctic accessibility and geography unlike any other two countries on Earth. Yet, unlike Canada, Russia has several search-and-rescue stations in their area of the Arctic – and plans more.
Russia has 16 deepwater ports along their Arctic coastline. Canada has none.
Things contemplated only in theory have a very bad habit of turning into reality – especially given the uncertain and even unstable state of world affairs.
But it’s not just for military security and basic sovereignty that Canada needs to act. For those who care about the environment – and safeguarding a pristine natural wonder – Canadian proactive measures should be welcome. In fact, given our penchant for rhetoric on all things environmental, that proactive posture should be expected and demanded.
It comes down to a very basic precept: If you don’t act like you own the place, don’t expect others to think you do either.
Gavin MacFadyen is a Canada-raised, U.S.-based writer and occasional lawyer.
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