Guarding Canada’s Arctic border

By Lawrence Bailey

Just in time for Christmas, University of Calgary students learned the North Pole is not just a haven for elves.

Stories of arctic commandos and skinning wolverines lightened up a serious discussion of Canadian sovereignty and security in the Arctic by Colonel Kevin McLeod on Mon., Dec. 3.

Marked climate change, increased international interest and fallout from September 11 are among the reasons given by Col. McLeod for greater attention on a part of the country many dismiss as a wasteland. As Commander of Canadian Forces Northern Area, the duty of safety and surveillance of the three northern territories and Canada’s Arctic falls on his shoulders.

"The Arctic is a dynamic part of Canada and may hold the key to its future," he stated. "It is an emerging issue and more changes will come at an exponential rate. It is the soft underbelly, allowing back door access to Fortress America."

Over the course of the hour-long discussion, McLeod identified various weaknesses inherent in the Canadian North. Saying it is "plagued by the tyranny of distance," he outlined various measures being taken to compensate for that natural disadvantage.

"Future success lies in a combination of humans, space-based assets and unmanned sonar," he explained. "Nothing speaks more loudly of the sovereignty of a nation than its ability to be in control."

Focusing on being "Arctic-capable and Arctic-tough," McLeod emphasized that troops must be familiar with and able to operate in the harsh conditions that go hand-in-hand with the northern environment. A recurring theme of the afternoon harkened to September 11 as he pointed out threats are no longer conventional in any way.

"It could be anything," he stated bluntly. "An established state or an organization that is in with a couple of states. It will certainly be sophisticated, no doubt, in my mind."

The few dozen interested parties on hand were impressed, though some felt his role as an officer and a leader led him to downplay the reality and omnipresent nature of the threats.

"If anything I think he’s understated the situation," countered
U of C Political Science professor Dr. Rob Huebert. "If you start thinking five or 10 years down the road we’ll definitely have security and sovereignty issues to deal with.

"In light of [the U.S.’s] Homeland Defense, what happens if the U.S. thinks we aren’t doing enough? That’s a problem. How do we respond to a U.S. who thinks we aren’t pulling our weight?"


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