Russiaâs actions in East Ukraine have ignited a media frenzy. Whispers of a new Cold War are not uncommon, and some even dare to suggest that this crisis represents the unfortunate lead-up to a third world war. While it is far too soon to make such a grandiose claim, the recent crisis has no doubt succeeded in making both people and national governments considerably uncomfortable. Canada is particularly prone to this âkremlin-inspired-terrorâ, as we have the obligation to fall in line with our neighbours to the south, but arguably have somewhat more to lose considering our shared border and conflicting land claims in the Arctic. Is this fear reasonable? Is it possible that our great white north could be cut up by âNew Russiaâ and the mysterious Vladamir Putin?
The Government of Canada nonetheless remains confident in the legitimacy of their Arctic claims: âCanada’s sovereignty over the lands and waters of the Canadian Arctic is long standing, well established and based on historic title and we exercise our sovereign rights responsibly in the region.â
Canadaâs Arctic constitutesÂ 40% of the countryâs entire landmass– and although sparsely populated, the area is rich in natural resources. While some have likened the argument over Arctic sovereignty to China and Japanâs dispute over the Senkaku islands, the race for the Arctic has much less to do with symbolic power, and much more to do with the tangible value of minerals and fossil fuels. While there is some evidence of the pushing and shoving seen in any dyadic dispute over territoryÂ (see Canada and Russiaâs conflicting claim to the North Pole), the issue has ominously been dubbed the âWar Without Weaponsâ– drawing obvious parallels to the Cold War, and reinforcing the diplomatic tension which still surrounds it.
There are two events in recent memory that have Â caused Canadianâs teeth to chatter regarding Canadaâs Arctic sovereignty: the 2007 planting of a Russian Flag on the Arctic Seabed, and Putinâs recent statement about Russiaâs intention to increase their relative influence in the arctic circle. âWe need to take additional measures so as not to fall behind our partners, to maintain Russian influence in the region and, maybe in some areas, to be ahead of our partnersâ Putin said last week. While it may be too soon to run for the hills and form Red Dawn-esque militias, the strengthening of Russiaâs military infrastructure above the 66th parallel is certainly cause for concern.
Both sides have resorted to some bizarre methods of establishing legitimacy in the north. The aforementioned flag-planting by Russia stirred up attention internationally both because of its suddenness, and the lack of precedent for the action. This audacious move by Russia not only angered Canadian officials, but also frankly surprised the Canadian Government. “This isn’t the 15th century. You can’t go around the world and just plant flags and say: ‘We’re claiming this territoryâ,” foreign minister Peter Mackay said at the time. However, Canada also engaged in surprising activity, searching for the wreck of the infamous Franklin Expedition in order to claim historical rights to the North Pole.
Although any sort of military interaction is far beyond the horizon of reasonable prediction, conflicting rights claims in the Canadian/Russian Arctic present an inevitable impasse. As of now both sides are engaged in a âlegitimacy arms raceâ, building up their relative cases for when the disagreement over the frozen territory becomes unbearable. It will be interesting to see how these claims are received by the international community in light of the recent crisis in Ukraine, and how the âWar Without Weaponsâ will influence Canadaâs participation in any joint action to quell Russian expansion.
– David Hughes
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