NATO, Canada’s North and new NATO Centre for Climate and Security


(Photo Credit: NATO, 22 June 2023, Air Defender: A line up of United States Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt fighter jets parked on the tarmac while a United States Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter jet takes off, https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/photos_216085.htm )

Leoni Reusing and Jessica Shadian hosted an in-house discussion with Madeleine Redfern and Rob Huebert to talk about the outcomes of the NATO summit in Vilnius and its impact on Arctic security. Though the summit did not centre on the Arctic, its outcomes carry substantial implications for our understanding of the region’s security dynamics. The podcast discussed the Arctic’s position within NATO’s priorities and shed light on its significance in the broader geopolitical context. With a changing geopolitical landscape and NATO’s expansion, the episode explored what this means for Canada, other Arctic states, and the existing Arctic governance structures. Join us as we examine the major takeaways from the NATO meeting and the complexities of balancing security and cooperation in the Arctic.

Outcomes of the Summit

First up was the Turkish agreement to allow Sweden to join the NATO Alliance. This decision has direct implications for Arctic politics. The addition of Finland and Sweden means that the Arctic region is now comprised of Russia on one side and 7 NATO member states on the other. Secondly, during the NATO Summit, efforts were made to portray a unified front and maintain solidarity among all member states. The ability to present a united front is crucial in addressing geopolitical challenges, including those in the Arctic region. Rob highlighted that at this Summit, unlike at previous ones, there were no public criticisms made between member states.

Second, was the issue of Ukraine’s accession to the alliance. NATO faces an unprecedented dilemma in considering the admission of Ukraine as a member while the country is still at war with Russia. This situation poses a complex challenge for the alliance as it grapples with how to manage a country that desires to join NATO, is aligned with the alliance’s values and goals, but is simultaneously embroiled in a war with a country that NATO was established to deter and protect against. The prospect of Ukraine joining NATO amid an ongoing war appears doubtful, and consequently, sends a signal to Russia that Ukraine’s potential membership in the alliance would occur post-conflict. This scenario provides Russia additional incentives to prolong the war, as Ukraine’s NATO membership would weaken Russia’s security landscape in the region.

Third is the implications for the Arctic. Rob highlighted the complex calculations and security considerations involved in correctly identifying which next steps to take. This discussion raised questions about Canada’s stance on security, its commitment to its allies, and how the Arctic’s geopolitical landscape might shift in response. Rob stated that these key points hold significant importance for both Canada and the Arctic. Would Russia be inclined to return to an Arctic Council that consists of seven NATO allies and in that respect what does this mean for reinvigorating the Arctic Council?

New Challenges and Innovation in Arctic Security

The Arctic Council has been the primary multilateral body for addressing environmental and non-military security issues in the region. However, with the increasing involvement of Arctic states in NATO, there are discussions about the need for NATO to have an Arctic policy and potentially play a role in Arctic security matters. While the Arctic Council remains crucial, Rob and Madeleine emphasized the importance of acknowledging other multilateral bodies also cooperating in the Arctic region and equally important in Arctic governance, like NORAD and the ICC.

This lead to the topic of Canada’s official establishment of its NATO Centre of Excellence on Climate Change. The Centre is believed to be a significant stride towards recognizing the security consequences of climate change in the Arctic and devising strategies to tackle these challenges within the NATO framework. While Canada’s initiative to establish this new Centre of Excellence in the fight against climate change is applaudable, it was questioned why the Trudeau administration did not more proactively leverage existing Arctic research centres like the Canadian High Arctic Research Station (CHARS) as its headquarters. It could have been a mechanism to contribute to the pressing need for better coordination and integration between government departments, research institutions, and defence organisations. This includes ensuring that infrastructure investments account for both military and civilian needs, as well as environmental and climate security considerations.

For the Arctic region to thrive, economic security and infrastructure development are crucial aspects. Madeleine stressed the need for investments in telecommunications, transportation, and energy to enhance economic prosperity and reduce vulnerabilities. While some Arctic nations have made significant strides in infrastructure development, the group discussed how the Canadian North is lacking in all types of infrastructure from runways to fibre cables. Furthermore, even if built, it remains vulnerable to attacks due to the slow establishment of security requirements. This leaves the Canadian Arctic vulnerable to outside threats.

The conversation also addressed a point regarding the growing interest and involvement of non-Arctic states, notably China, in the Arctic. This situation has sparked concerns about its potential implications on Arctic security and NATO’s role in the region. China participates as an observer at the Arctic Council and has asserted itself as a “near-Arctic state,” actively engaging in Arctic-related initiatives through its Belt and Road Initiative. Rob pointed out China’s growing investment in Arctic infrastructure, including the successful construction of its third icebreaker. A move that coupled with China’s developments of a SOSUS system signals its intent to expand its presence and influence in the region, which has significant implications for security dynamics. While the driving factors behind China’s engagement in the Arctic remain somewhat unclear, Rob stressed that its potential to monitor submarine activities of NATO allies in the Arctic should concern Canada and its allies. While access to natural resources and new trade routes are undoubtedly of interest, the potential for increased security and closer proximity to NATO are also compelling factors that underscore the broader geopolitical significance of the region for China. The Arctic’s strategic location, abundant resources, and potential for new shipping lanes have made it an area of interest for major powers like China and Russia.

Overall, NATO’s response to China’s growing influence in the Arctic should involve a balanced approach that acknowledges the region’s economic potential while also safeguarding its security and environmental integrity. By working collaboratively with Arctic stakeholders and reinforcing its commitment to the defence of its members, NATO can effectively address emerging challenges and maintain stability in the Arctic region.

Canada’s Arctic Future

While Canada faces challenges in maximizing its Arctic potential, the episode also discussed the numerous opportunities to harness the region’s resources, innovative capacity, and strategic location. The Arctic holds significant reserves of critical minerals, which are essential for various industries, including defence and technology. Unlocking the economic potential of these resources would not only benefit Canada but also strengthen its role as a reliable supplier for its NATO allies. To that, there was discussion on the need to foster a supportive environment for innovation and entrepreneurship in order to unlock Canada’s potential. By nurturing its innovative and tech sector, providing necessary support to startups, and simplifying bureaucratic processes, Canada can retain its homegrown talent.

The establishment of a Defence Innovation Accelerator for the North Atlantic (DIANA) in Halifax is a positive step towards encouraging technological advancements in defence and security. However, to capitalize on these innovations, the government must be proactive in supporting them beyond the initial stages of research and development. This requires ongoing financial and regulatory support to allow these innovations to thrive and scale into viable businesses. Many Canadian graduates view moving to the United States as a necessary compromise to establish successful businesses due to the start-up-friendly environment in the country. This trend poses a risk of brain drain for Canada, as talented individuals seek better opportunities across the border.

Reframing the Arctic as a beacon of economic potential and strategic significance presents Canada with unique opportunities for sustainable growth and development. By investing in the Arctic’s economic infrastructure, including transportation and communication networks, Canada can unlock its full potential as a key player in the Arctic region. Shifting the narrative around the Arctic from being seen as a challenge to a shining star can ignite a sense of pride and purpose among Canadians. Moreover, emphasizing the Arctic’s economic and strategic significance can foster a renewed commitment to develop the region sustainably, creating a thriving northern economy. Additionally, involving local communities and Indigenous Peoples in decision-making processes is crucial for building a sense of ownership and stewardship over Arctic development. Finally, Canada can leverage its position within NATO to showcase its Arctic expertise and promote collaboration with other member states. By highlighting its commitment to Arctic security and sustainable development, Canada can strengthen its role as a leader in the region and encourage NATO allies to join efforts in addressing common challenges.

While our discussion pointed to the many challenges to be addressed in Canada’s North, Canada’s North remains a region of great potential for the whole of Canada. Canada is fortunate to be an Arctic state, its future prosperity lies in its North given its potential for economic growth, innovation, and strategic influence. By embracing the region’s opportunities and fostering a supportive environment for innovation, Canada can position itself as a political leader in the Arctic, contribute to NATO’s collective security, foster economic growth in the North and for the whole of Canada, and build resilient and prosperous northern communities.

The recent NATO meeting set in motion significant changes in the Arctic’s security landscape, particularly with the inclusion of Finland and Sweden as members. Balancing security and cooperation in the Arctic requires thoughtful and nuanced approaches to address geopolitical challenges effectively.

More Podcasts

Go to Top