Military expenditure | Ottawa considers investing in the Arctic

(OTTAWA) Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hints that new investments are coming for Canada’s Arctic, as tensions with Russia and the unpredictability of Moscow spark new fears of a potential attack from the north.

Posted yesterday at 6:24 p.m.

Lee Berthiaume
The Canadian Press

The nature and scope of any future investment remains nebulous: some stress the importance of non-military spending, such as basic infrastructure, while the chief of staff tempers the enthusiasm of those who would like the permanent deployment of soldiers in the Far North.

As the Liberal government prepares to table its budget on Thursday, it is under pressure from NATO, in particular, to increase the budgets of the Canadian army following the invasion of Ukraine by Russia.

The invasion, which began six weeks ago, has left thousands of Ukrainians and Russians dead, and dealt a severe blow to international security, raising fears of a wider conflict, as Moscow brandished the nuclear specter in the face of Western support for Kyiv.

The invasion prompted Ottawa to move forward, along with Washington, on long-awaited plans to modernize the North American Aerospace Defense Command (Norad), a now obsolete system tasked with detecting and identify attacks across the continent, particularly in the Arctic.

Asked Tuesday about the threat of a Russian attack, Mr. Trudeau accused the Kremlin of “seeking to disrupt and sow chaos in the world”.

“We continue to stand firm in our sovereignty and defense of the Arctic,” he added. Of course, with the modernization of Norad on the table, with increased investments in defense, the Arctic is an area that we will be looking at closely. »

The Prime Minister did not elaborate further, but the day before Trudeau and Defense Minister Anita Anand met with the Prime Ministers of Canada’s three territories to discuss sovereignty and security. in the arctic.

“Territorial prime ministers expressed concern about Russia’s ongoing aggression in Ukraine and the risks it may pose to Arctic sovereignty,” reads a transcript of the conversation. released by the Prime Minister’s Office. “They stressed the importance of building healthy communities and strong infrastructure to assert northern sovereignty. »

“Essential infrastructure”

Northwest Territories Premier Caroline Cochrane said in a statement that her priorities are critical infrastructure, telecommunications such as broadband internet and energy.

“The security of the North is not limited to a strong military presence,” she argued. It is also about building strong and resilient communities through significant investments in critical infrastructure such as roads, telecommunications and energy. »

Stéphane Roussel, Arctic security expert at Quebec’s National School of Public Administration, says there are clear gaps in the defenses of Canada’s North, that federal investments in infrastructure and communications can help to fill in.

“Yes, there is a security or defense utility,” he said. But I think the idea is much more to develop these regions and connect them with the rest of the country. »

Prior to invading Ukraine, Russia had over the years begun to rebuild and expand its military installations in the polar region amid a rush for Arctic resources. Moscow has also developed long-range weapons capable of striking North America from a distance.

Chief of the Defense Staff, General Wayne Eyre, took note of these new weapons during an appearance before the Senate Defense Committee on Monday, where Minister Anand promised to propose new investments ” rugged” in Norad over the coming months.

But while General Eyre also spoke of the need for more infrastructure, he said there was “no way” for Canada to match Russia’s large military footprint in the Arctic. He also spoke out against the idea of ​​permanently stationing a large number of soldiers in the Far North.

The Commander of the Canadian Armed Forces instead stressed the importance of having “basic infrastructure packages” necessary to deploy troops from the south if necessary.

“Whether it’s additional forward operating locations for our Norad fighters, whether it’s projecting search and rescue capabilities based on certain events, whether it’s projecting additional ground forces to deal with climate change,” he said.

Professor Rob Huebert of the University of Calgary says Ottawa has already struggled to build the military infrastructure it promised in the Arctic, such as the runway extension in Inuvik and a jetty in deep water at Nanisivik. At the same time, he expressed concern that the threat posed by Russia was not taken seriously enough.

“There is a bit of naivety in believing that it will never happen simply because it never happened, that it would be too horrible, he declared of a nuclear conflict. It is a mistake to simply say: we haven’t had a nuclear war so far, so there won’t be any in the future. »

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