Arctic military bases signal new Cold War
Canada fired a warning shot in a new Cold War over the vast resources of the far North by announcing last night that it will build two new military bases in the Arctic wilderness.
A week after Russia laid claim to the North Pole in what is rapidly becoming a global scramble for the region’s vast oil and gas reserves, Stephen Harper, the Canadian Prime Minister, said that Canada would open a new army training centre for cold-weather fighting at Resolute Bay, and a deep-water port at Nanisivik, on the northern tip of Baffin Island. The country is also beefing up its military presence in the far North with 900 Rangers.
“Canada’s Government understands that the first principle of Arctic sovereignty is use it or lose it,” Mr Harper said. The move comes a week after Russia planted a rustproof titanium flag on the seabed beneath the North Pole in a blatant attempt to stake a claim to the billions of tonnes of untapped energy resources believed to be under the Arctic Ocean.
Under international law, each of five Arctic countries – Canada, Russia, the United States, Norway and Denmark – controls an economic zone within 200 miles of its continental shelf. But the limits of that shelf are in dispute, and as Russia seeks to expand its gas and oil reserves, the region is at the centre of a battle for energy rights and ownership. Last week’s Russian expedition, when two mini-submarines reached the seabed 13,980ft (4,261m) beneath the North Pole, was part of a push by Moscow to find evidence for its claim that the Arctic seabed and Siberia are linked by a single continental shelf, thus making the polar region a geological extension of Russia.
The vessels recovered samples from the seabed in an attempt to demonstrate that the Lomonosov Ridge, an underwater shelf that runs through the Arctic, is an extension of Russian territory. The United Nations rejected that claim in 2002, citing lack of proof, but Moscow is expected to make its case again in 2009. Denmark and Canada also argue that the Lomonosov Ridge is connected to their territories. Norway is also conducting a survey to strengthen its case. All five Arctic nations are competing to secure subsurface rights to the seabed.
One study by the US Geological Survey estimates that the Arctic has as much as 25 per cent of the world’s undiscovered oil and gas. Canada was furious at the attempted Russian land grab. “This isn’t the 15th century,” Peter MacKay, the Canadian Foreign Minister, said. “You can’t go around the world and just plant flags and say, ‘We’re claiming this territory’.”
The move has clearly rattled the Harper administration, which is under domestic pressure to beef up its sovereignty claims to the disputed region.
Mr Harper said that his announcement of the new military facilities would “tell the world that Canada has a real, growing, long-term presence in the Arctic”. Standing next to Gordon O’Connor, his Defence Minister, and a group of Rangers – a rifle-toting Inuit volunteer force – Mr Harper added: “Protecting national sovereignty, the integrity of our borders, is the first and foremost responsibility of a national government.”
Last month Mr Harper announced that six to eight new navy patrol ships would be built to guard the Northwest Passage sea route in the Arctic.