Arctic Yearbook 2012
Collaborative Infrastructures: A Roadmap for International Cooperation in the Arctic
calls for the creation of a polar forces unit fortified by tanks and all-terrain tracked vehicles to be
deployed in Pechenga, 100 km from Murmansk near the Norwegian border (Government of Russia,
2008a), and its Navy and Air Force continue to patrol the Arctic Ocean (Barents Observer, 2010a).
Canada’s plan to establish a military training center in Resolute Bay is one of several implementations
of the Harper Government’s “use it or lose it” strategy (BBC, 2007; Byers, 2009). Despite not having
ratified UNCLOS, the U.S. recently conducted submarine exercises north of Prudhoe Bay, meant to
“ensure that the United States maintained access to the Arctic” according to U.S. Navy Captain
Rhett Jaehn (Shalal-Esa, 2011). Such developments might suggest that states are preparing the Arctic
to become a military theater. Are fears of impending conflict legitimate?
A measured approach to the question would begin with acknowledging that northern identity in
some countries, particularly Canada and Russia, is intertwined with the recent militarization. Defense
of the North through active military and civilian presence has long been a hallmark of Russian policy
dating back to Stalinist efforts to assert sovereignty through planned industrialization of the North
and Far East (Griffiths, 1991; Hill and Gaddy, 2003). While of no direct political consequence and
under no sanction by Moscow, Artur Chilingarov’s dramatic flag-planting incident did much to
secure post-Cold War Russia’s identification with the North, both domestically and internationally.
Canada provides one of the clearest examples of northern identity politics through its ‘Northern
Strategy,’ a Harper Government-backed federal plan to establish unambiguous sovereignty over
Canadian Arctic lands and waters. The Strategy affirms Canada’s right to “patrol and protect [its]
territory through enhanced presence on the land, in the sea and over the skies of the Arctic”
(Government of Canada, 2009) by increasing human presence in the North, including supporting
paramilitary Canadian Rangers in communities throughout the region (Lackenbauer and Farish, 2007;
Lackenbauer et al., 2008). Outlining the project’s goals, Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon
called the Arctic “an integral part of [Canada’s] national identity” and affirmed that heightened
military operations would allow the state to “reinforce [its] presence in the region” (CTV News,
2009). Such sentiments are reflected by Canadians’ strong general support for expanding the
Canadian Rangers in the High North (82% northern Canada, 71% southern Canada) (EKOS
Research Associates, 2011: 42). A vote by the House of Commons to rename the NWP the
‘Canadian Northwest Passage’ (Hutter, 2009) would appear to highlight, above all, the symbolic
significance that defense of Arctic sovereignty has undertaken.