Canadians have such high hopes for the rest of the world. We are bright eyed and naive. Some of us propose that perhaps if we are very hardworking and ethical, and make symbolic gestures of disapproval, that terrorists will stop butchering people in Afghanistan, or shooting women who dare to learn to read. And the Russians won’t really send ships to the Arctic with undertrained and underequipped teams to drill holes and spill oil into our ecosystem. They won’t be lax on environmental procedures because they are an honourable nation.
Nicole Walyshyn is missing a bit of history, not to mention fact, when she writes in this blog that Canada is fighting America’s war in Afghanistan. In fact, America is not terrifically interested in Afghanistan. America wants access to energy and that is what drives the war in Iraq. The interest in Afghanistan is global security: there are 37 countries participating in the International Security Assistance Force that has been instructed by the United Nations to secure Kabul and the surrounding areas from the Taliban, al Qaida and other criminal groups — identified as criminals under international law, by the way, not George Bush and his buddies — so that the Afghan Transitional Administration headed by Hamid Karzai can restore and stabilize the area. Not quite the same as the Americans and British unilaterally invading a sovereign country to secure access to energy (over United Nations and Canada’s objections).
It is true that the West has more than humanitarian motivations; we have political and economic interests in regional stability. Pakistan may destablize if Afghanistan falls to terrorist control. If Pakistan falls into more extreme hands, the conflict between India and Pakistan may erupt. The world may face the devastation of a widespread Asian conflict and that is not good for business. It is also true that there are many parallels between the Afghanistan and Iraq, their long histories of British oppression being not the least of the similarities. Why are we not interested in Darfur? We have nothing to gain by doing the right thing.
Wake up. Politics and energy make history. History holds the key to what Russia has in mind by planting a Russian flag on the North Pole a week ago. Invasion and imperialism has been the fabric of Russian culture since the third and fourth century waves of invaders on their way to or from Europe. Russia is a scant 150 years, give or take a few, from feudalism. Oppression and conflict are bread and butter in that country. Russia grew to a superpower by munching on other countries. Russia might be a democracy now but it is led by an ex-KGB officer who really could give a rat’s ass about Russia’s international reputation, democracy, or fair play.
Witness what Putin did only last year when he cut off gas supplies to pressure Ukraine into handing over ownership of pipelines transporting Russian oil south. It was blackmail, pure and remorseless. The Kremlin wants to control not just the source of Europe’s energy, but the transport routes too. Putin understands that politics and energy are functionally synonymous; where the Soviet Union won neighbours with military force, Russia seeks to win them with energy politics.
Russians are the largest exporter of natural gas in the world and the second-largest exporter of oil. Now that global warming is melting the Arctic ice cap, enabling maritime access to those reserves, the circumpolar nations are scrambling to win rights to 36,500 islands and 1.4 million square kilometres that may hold as much as 25 per cent of the world’s undiscovered gas and oil supply. At the current rate of consumption, we have maybe 30 years of oil left. Whoever gets rights to the Arctic is going to be rich, rich, rich. Time is running out for signatories to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea to stake their claims to the region, as deadlines loom to prove their rights.
Russia versus Canada. The histories and character of each country are polar (puns are fun) opposites. Where Russia has been a battleground of waves of invasions and armed conflict, Canada’s history probably involves three migrations of from Asia over the last 10,000 years, a long and obscured history of at least 50 separate nations cohabitating in a huge continent, followed by the swift, brutal, and near-total invasion of Europeans who set up and maintain extremely stable political, geographic, and economic system. Non-First Nations Canadians do not mess around. We believe in peace, order, and good government. But do we have the capacity to repel unruly Russian hooligans?
It looks like we are going to try. Our government announced today that two new military facilities will be built in the Arctic: one at either end of the Northwest Passage. Resolute Bay in Nunavut is only 600 kilometres from the magnetic North Pole. We will apparently upgrade an existing facility there to accommodate 100 Canadian Forces personnel. It will cost $4-million to refurbish the existing buildings and $2-million a year to operate it.
A new facility will be built in Nanisivik, an abandoned zinc-mining village on the north end of Baffin Island. The facility will be a deep-sea port that can be used by the Canadian navy (stop laughing) and civilians (ie. energy and resource companies). It will cost as much as $100-million and another $20M every year. Other bolsters to Arctic sovereignty include adding 900 jobs to the 4,100-member Canadian Rangers patrol — another $12-million every year.
Worth it? Maybe not if you believe the world will do what it should: wean itself off of carbon fuels completely by 2030. But people don’t do what they ought, do they? And that is why we must be in Afghanistan, as ethically murky as the situation is. And that is also why we must assert sovereignty in the Arctic. We are going to tap those resources just as anybody else who wins rights will. But at least we have a hope of regulating ourselves by international rules: we don’t openly, flagrantly defy the rest of the world the way that Russia does. Besides, if anybody is going to poison the Arctic, it ought to be us — the people who will have to live with the consequences.