John Ivison: Crimea crisis forcing Harper to rethink NATO, Arctic defence

For many Canadians, the events in Crimea constitute a quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom they know nothing, to quote Neville Chamberlain on the 1938 Sudeten crisis.

But Russia is not that far away. It borders our Arctic frontier. It’s a country with which we have conflicting claims over sovereignty of the Arctic sea-bed and, perhaps, its waters. And it’s a country that has shown itself prepared to use military force to satisfy its territorial ambitions.

There is a growing consensus the Harper government’s hard line over events in Ukraine is going to require a radical new defence doctrine, prepared for the contingency of an expansionist Russia.

Canada voted with its wallet in 2012, when it pulled out of NATO’s air surveillance program, AWACS, ostensibly to save money. The U.S. did likewise, cutting its funding contribution by 20%.

But Russia’s adventures in Crimea have breathed new life into NATO and diplomats in Brussels are waiting to see whether Mr. Harper will find renewed enthusiasm for the alliance, and for other collective security measures like ballistic missile defence.

Signs of Russian ambition in the Arctic have been apparent since it sent a mini-submarine to plant a flag on the sea-bed beneath the North Pole. The Putin regime has been steadily increasing its military capability there since 2007 and has been clear that it deems any foreign interests — be they government, commercial or environmental — as hostile.

NATO commanders say they have been increasingly concerned about Russian “muscle-flexing” but, according to a paper by Padrtova Barbora of the Centre for European and North Atlantic Affairs, “NATO’s role in the Arctic is uncertain and unfocused.”

But while the Russians have been re-arming — building a new generation of nuclear powered icebreakers; new ballistic missile submarines; and, creating two special army brigades to be based in the Arctic — Canada is still talking.

“Everything is still in the planning stages but it is a plan that never comes forward,” said Rob Huebert, associate professor in the department of political science at the University of Calgary, referring to the Arctic patrol vessels, supply ships and replacement fighter jets that remain very much works in progress.

Full article: John Ivison: Crimea crisis forcing Harper to rethink NATO, Arctic defence (National Post)

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