Canadian Arctic Sovereignty and Security: Historical Perspectives


Climate change is transforming the Arctic. The ice cover on the Arctic Ocean is shrinking in breadth and depth, permafrost is melting, and indigenous flora and fauna is threatened. Questions abound about what these changes will mean for northern peoples, for transportation routes, for international boundaries, and for stability and security in the circumpolar world. 

Prime Minister Harper, in his campaign speeches and announcements of major initiatives delivered in northern communities, has often repeated the message of “use it or lose it.”  Canada must respond to present and future challenges, this message intimates, because Canada’s north is besieged.  The line of argument is predicated on the idea that previous governments have failed to perfect Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic, and a more activist approach is necessary to defend Canada’s national interests.  Is Canada’s sovereignty “on thinning ice”?  Are new circumpolar threats undermining Canadian security?  As debate swirls around these questions, due to an allegedly impending “perfect storm” coalescing around climate change, a so-called “race” for arctic resources, and increased militarism in the Arctic, Canadians should be reminded that scholars and policy-makers have been grappling with these questions for decades.  The Arctic is indeed part of our history, as the prime minister noted, and a robust understanding of previous sovereignty and security thinking, policy, and practices should inform our assessment of policy options, probable future scenarios, and the feasibility of proposed courses of action. 

The purpose of this volume is to provide an overview of leading historical research on Canadian Arctic security and sovereignty since the Second World War.  It is a “hybrid” collection in that it includes both previously published scholarship and cutting edge research by new scholars.  We hope that it provides students, scholars, and policy makers with access to important scholarship that frames and shapes historiographical and policy debates about sovereignty and security in the Canadian Arctic.  In so doing, we hope that it lays a foundation for future research in this important and dynamic field.  Although there is some modest overlap in discussions of historical context across some chapters, this has been retained in anticipation that individual chapters may be consulted as stand-alone contributions on specific topics and themes.

P. Whitney Lackenbauer (ed). Canada and Arctic Sovereignty and Security: Historical Perspectives (Calgary Papers in Military and Strategic Studies Calgary: Centre for Military and Strategic Studies/University of Calgary Press, 2010) 448 pp.

20 August 2008
Hudson Strait, Arctic Ocean

The HMCS Toronto and the Canadian Coast Guard Ship (CCGS) Pierre Radisson sail past an iceberg in the Hudson Strait off the coast of Baffin Island. Both ships are part of Operation NANOOK. 

Operation NANOOK is a Canada Command sovereignty operation, taking place in Canada’s arctic waters.  Ranging from Iqaluit on Baffin Island to the Hudson Straits area, the operation will include joint co-operation from Army, Navy, and Air Force units, training Canadian Forces personnel to support other government departments.  In close cooperation with the Coast Guard and RCMP, operations such as NANOOK increase inter-department effectiveness, in addition to bolstering Canada’s presence in her northern territories. 

Photo by: Sergeant Kevin MacAulay

20 août 2008
Détroit d’Hudson, océan Arctique

Le NCSM Toronto et le Navire de la Garde côtière canadienne (NGCC) Pierre Radisson dépassent un iceberg dans le détroit d’Hudson, au large de l’île de Baffin. Les deux navires participent à l’opération Nanook.

L’opération Nanook est une opération de protection du territoire du Commandement Canada qui se déroule dans les eaux arctiques du Canada. En allant d’Iqaluit sur l’Île de Baffin jusqu’au détroit d’Hudson, l’opération sera menée conjointement par des unités de l’Armée de terre, de la Marine et de la Force aérienne.  On entraînera du personnel des Forces canadiennes à appuyer d’autres ministères fédéraux. Grâce à une étroite collaboration avec la Garde côtière et la GRC, des opérations telles que Nanook augmentent l’efficacité interministérielle et accroissent la présence du Canada dans ses territoires du Nord.

Photo : Sergeant Kevin MacAulay
10 August 2006
Shingle Point, NWT
Photo by: Sgt Dennis Power
Operation Beaufort is the major sovereignty operation being conducted in the Western Arctic during the summer of 2006. The operation is part of a broader initiative to increase the presence of the Canadian Forces in the Arctic. In addition to the Rangers from 1 CRPG, elements of the Air Force, RCMP, and the Canadian Coast Guard will also be involved in the operation.  

The Canadian Rangers are a Reserve component of the Canadian Forces who patrol remote northern and coastal areas. The rangers are formed into 5 different Canadian Ranger Patrol Groups (CRPG's), covering 5 geographic areas from coast to coast. 
Photo by: Sergeant Dennis Power
Army News-Shilo
10 août 2006
Shingle Point, T.-N.-O.
Photo : Sgt Dennis Power
L’opération Beaufort est l’une des grandes opérations de protection de la souveraineté exécutées dans l’Arctique Ouest pendant l’été 2006. Elle fait partie d’une initiative plus vaste d’accroissement de la présence des Forces canadiennes dans l’Arctique. En plus des Rangers du 1 GPRC, des éléments de la Force aérienne, de la GRC et de la Garde côtière canadienne y prendront part.  
Les Rangers canadiens sont un élément de réserve des Forces canadiennes qui patrouillent les régions éloignées nordiques et côtières. Ils forment cinq Groupes de patrouilles des Rangers canadiens (GPRC) et couvrent des zones géographiques d’un océan à l’autre. 
Photo : Sergent Dennis Power
Les Nouvelles de l’Armée - Shilo

Table of Contents

Introduction      P. Whitney Lackenbauer

Chapter 1:      Gateway to Invasion or the Curse of Geography? The Canadian Arctic and the Question of Security, 1939-1999, Lieutenant Colonel Bernd Horn.

Chapter 2:      The Army of Occupation: Americans in the Canadian Northwest During World War II, Ken S. Coates, William R. Morrison.

Chapter 3:      1946: The Year Canada Chose its Path in the Arctic, PeterKikkert.

Chapter 4:      Advertising for Prestigeâ€: Publicity in Canada-US Arctic Defence Cooperation, 1946-48, David J. Bercuson.

Chapter 5:      Arctic Focus: The Royal Canadian Navy in Arctic Waters, 1946-1949, Elizabeth B. Elliot-Meisel.

Chapter 6:      Clenched in the JAWS of America? Canadian Sovereignty and the Joint Arctic Weather Stations, 1946-1972, Daniel Heidt.

Chapter 7:      A Practicable Project: Canada, the United States, and the Construction of the DEW Line, Alexander Herd.

Chapter 8:      The Military and Nation Building in the Arctic, 1945-1964, K. C. Eyre.

Chapter 9:      Claiming the Frozen Seas: The Evolution of Canadian Policy in Arctic Waters, Adam Lajeunesse.

Chapter 10:      The Manhattan Incident Forty Years On: Re-assessing the Canadian Response, Mathew Willis.

Chapter 11:      Building on “Shifting Sands”: The Canadian Armed Forces, Sovereignty, and the Arctic, 1968-1972, P. Whitney Lackenbauer, Peter Kikkert.

Chapter 12:      Polar Vision or Tunnel Vision: The Making of Canadian Arctic Waters Policy, Rob Huebert.

Chapter 13:      Canada’s Northern Defenders: Aboriginal Peoples in the Canadian Rangers, 1947-2005, P. Whitney Lackenbauer.

Chapter 14:      Climate Change and Canadian Sovereignty in the Northwest Passage, Rob Huebert.

Chapter 15:      Pathetic Fallacy: That Canada’s Arctic Sovereignty is on Thinning Ice, Franklyn Griffiths,

Chapter 16:      Conclusions: “Use It or Lose It,” History, and the Fourth Surge, P. Whitney Lackenbauer.

Further Reading, P. Whitney Lackenbauer.