Described as a resource-rich region with the potential of attracting commercial activity, the Arctic is often perceived as a region that is prime for conflict. There are unresolved boundary issues, an assertive Russian Federation determined to benefit from its own northern development, and global powers such as China and the European Union (EU) are closely following Arctic politics and economic development. These issues and others have continued to frame policy debates around how the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) should adjust to defend Canada’s national interests in a rapidly changing Arctic security environment. In 2008, the Department of National Defence (DND) released the Canada First Defence Strategy (CFDS) in which the changing Arctic took a prominent place. As stated by former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, “sovereignty and security challenges will become more pressing as the impact of climate change leads to enhanced activity throughout the region. The defence of Canada’s sovereignty and the protection of territorial integrity in the Arctic remains a top priority for the government.” Consequently, the CFDS noted that the CAF “must have the capacity to exercise control over and defend Canada’s sovereignty in the Arctic” through greater surveillance and an increased military presence in the region.
However, the CFDS left vague the precise nature of the emergent threat for Canada’s northern coast. Then and now, Canada appears to be lacking a “clearly-defined” state enemy to its national security in the Arctic. The Defence Policy Review should therefore be observant of that reality.
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