Canada in the Cold War

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The Cold War had such far reaching effects that it made Canadians stop and consider our Arctic north as more than a frontier, but as part of our homeland and identity. The shortest land route to Russia (formerly the USSR) was across the North Pole. It is my intent to tie together several themes of Canada’s north in the context of the Cold War: issues of Canadian sovereignty, security and the effects this had on Inuit peoples. Looking at such issues historically will put perspective on the increasingly controversial topic of northern sovereignty. This is not only because of the viability of an emerging Northwest Passage, but because of the potential natural resources of the area. I would like to link a book review of Melanie McGrath’s The Long Exile (2006) because it highlights a particular relocation program for the purpose of establishing Canadian sovereignty in the High Arctic. Lastly is the importance of Canada’s north in terms of security, especially during the Cold War. This includes the improvements of weapons technologies and the responses in both the north and in Ottawa.

Who has Claim, What is at Stake[edit]

A highly relevant discourse to the issue of sovereignty in the Arctic has been taking place for the last decade and shows no signs of diminishing. Global warming and climate change have become prominent political and popular debates as the November 2007 issue of The Walrus illustrates.[1] But before we dive into the ramifications of climate change we should identify the main actors involved in the question of Arctic sovereignty. The three most relevant are Canada, the United States and Russia, but many other nations intrude into the Arctic: Finland, Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. Thus the potential complexities of jurisdictions, land claims, claims of sovereignty and the resources therein are far beyond the scope of this study. However, consult the further reading segment located below for relevant articles and books.

Natural Resources[edit]

The other controversial topic touched upon is the hunt for energy. Never before has energy featured so prominently in geopolitical discourse, “its promotion of the development of drilling within the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in the north of Alaska is legendary.”[2] However we are speaking of natural resources on an industrial scale. There are other important resources of the Arctic which have been a point of contention over the last century: animal pelts. As Melanie McGrath points out, “the occupation of the island by Canadian Eskimos will remove any excuse Greenlanders may presently have for crossing over and hunting there.”[3] In respect to Inuit economy, trapping and hunting are the main sources of energy and income. As climate change encroaches on traditional hunting grounds and trapping lines, the Inuit are forced to put out more energy with less chance of profitable return. The increasingly more attractive alternative is to abandon traditional ways of life and join contemporary social settings.

Climate Change[edit]

Returning to climate change, I wish to avoid all topics save those that relate to the opening of the Northwest passage. Although this passage has been crossed numerous times it is still fraught with danger and unpredictable weather conditions.[4] The interesting point to the Northwest passage is a long tradition of claiming exploratory firsts. Which country has its flag on the moon? Which country first placed its flag on the North Pole? The South Pole? Mt. Everest? It seems illogical but the legitimacy of a nations claims to something is often no more complicated than discovering it, or establishing regular use of it. Thus, in order to substantiate claims to the Northwest passage, it is important to place resources there; ships, patrols, people, equipment, laboratories, bases, ports, etc. It is this mentality that initiated the relocation of Inuit families to the High Arctic.

McGrath’s The Long Exile has dealt extensively with this topic (albeit in a popular historical account), and my review of it is linked. However, consult the further readings for more information, specifically Unikkaaqatigiit Putting the Human Face on Climate Change: Perspectives from Inuit in Canada (2005).[5]

Effects of the Cold War[edit]

The most dramatic event to affect the Arctic is the Cold War. One of the most inhospitable geographies on the planet was, for a brief time, a hive of activity and significance. The area became the focus of militarization to such an extent the Rob Huebert has stated: “the Arctic became one of the most militarized regions during the cold war, in the early days of which both sides developed long-range bombers as their main delivery system for nuclear weapons.”[6] The increase of weapons technologies greatly affected the perceived importance of the Arctic coast and ocean. Improved submarines and their payload capabilities made the Arctic “front” a significant area of concern.[7]

Security in the North[edit]

However, Whitney P. Lackenbauer points to a less grandiose path Canada took in its Cold War security. In terms of policing the Arctic, we have already seen how cost prohibitive it would be. In addition the main pressures to intensify military presence in the north comes from the United States. As Lackenbauer states, “if Canada was neither able nor willing to defend the northern approaches to the continent, the Americans would be compelled to take unilateral measures to defend themselves and could thus become a security threat themselves.”[8] Whatever steps the Canadian government took to bolster its northern boarders it would invariable fail to meet the United States’ expectations of defense. Although, going back to an earlier point of legitimacy through use and population of an area, the following cost effective solution also serves to substantiate Canada’s claim to the north. That solution was the Canadian Rangers, our civilian militia which has its roots in the Second World War.[9] The Rangers not only served to actively populate our sparsely inhabited Arctic, but did so with an official air.

Connection to the Diefenbunker[edit]

The last theme I wish to connect to the Canadian Arctic and the Cold War is the historical evidence left behind. Specifically cities of memory, which could be located far north in unused or derelict military outposts, but more specifically in the Emergency Government Headquarters located in Carp Ontario. Also known as the largest “Diefenbunker” it has been converted into a public museum. Inside is a direct connection (no longer operational) to the Distant Early Warning (DEW) line located in the Arctic.[10] One of the Diefenbunker main purposes was to detect and relay warnings of a nuclear attack through the DEW radar line in the High Arctic. I will not delve deeper into the Diefenbunker, but provide the link to my somewhat theoretical review of the site.

Conclusion[edit]

Climate change and natural resources have been and continue to increase the political significance of Canada’s Arctic. However, this politicization has a long history, most significantly during the tense years of the Cold War. Evidence of these effects can be seen in the various Diefenbunkers spread across Canada, but especially in the central bunker located just outside of Ottawa. Culture and society in the north has traditionally taken a back seat against the politics surrounding the Arctic and further study of the role the Inuit played in these events is needed. This brief summary of several related threads is by no means exhaustive. It should rather be viewed as a starting point to particular studies regarding Canada’s northern boarders.

References[edit]

  1. Franklyn Griffiths, “Camels in the Arctic?” The Walrus (November 2007).
  2. Douglas C. Nord, “Looking for the North in American and Canadian Foreign Policies: A Comparative Analysis,” in Thawing Ice – Cold War: Canada’s Security, Sovereignty, and Environmental Concerns in the Arctic. Ed. Rob Huebert. Center for Defence and Security Studies, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg. 2009: 46. See also D. Telis, “Arctic Circle Oil Rush,” Fortune 156:11-12.
  3. Melanie McGrath, The Long Exile: a True Story of Deception and Survival among the Inuit of the Canadian Arctic. London: Fourth Estate, 2006: p. 95.
  4. See Michael Byers, “Unfrozen Sea: Sailing the Northwest Passage,” Policy Options 28:30-33.
  5. Unikkaaqatigiit Putting the Human Face on Climate Change: Perspectives from Inuit in Canada, Ottawa, Ont. Joint publication of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, Nasivvik Centre for Inuit Health and Changing Environments at Université Laval and the Ajunnginiq Centre at the National Aboriginal Health Organization, Pre-release English only version, 2005.
  6. Rob Huebert, “Canadian Arctic Security Issues: Transformation in the Post-Cold War Era,” International Journal, vol. 54, no. 2 (1999): 205.
  7. Oran Young, “The Age of the Arctic,” Foreign Policy 27 (1986): 160-165.
  8. Whitney P. Lackenbauer, “The Canadian Rangers: Sovereignty, Security and Stewardship from the Inside Out,” in Thawing Ice – Cold War: Canada’s Security, Sovereignty, and Environmental Concerns in the Arctic. Ed. Rob Huebert. Center for Defence and Security Studies, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg. 2009: 63.
  9. Ibid, p. 62.
  10. Douglas C. Nord, “Looking for the North in American and Canadian Foreign Policies: A Comparative Analysis,” in Thawing Ice – Cold War: Canada’s Security, Sovereignty, and Environmental Concerns in the Arctic. Ed. Rob Huebert. Center for Defence and Security Studies, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg. 2009: 43.