Saturday, July 15, 2006

A Rough Jotting on Canada's Claim to Arctic Waters

Among the kerfuffles in Canadian politics, there is a particularly interesting one going on right now. As Scott Gilbreath of "Magic Statistics" has noted, the Conservative Party government has proposed to bolster Canada's military strength in the Arctic in order to establish/preserve Canadian sovereignty in the area; this was denounced by Bill Graham of the Liberal Party as a case of misplaced focus. The government has reaffirmed its intention of expanding Canada's ability to operate in the North and of establishing a deep-sea Arctic port. This is something to keep a watch on. A great deal of the Arctic in the Western Hemisphere is disputed; Canada has been very firm in insisting that virtually all of it falls under Canadian jurisdiction. What is likely to be the most important of these disputes is Canada's claim to the Northwest Passage. As Arctic ice continues to melt, the Northwest Passage will become an increasingly important and viable navigation-way. Canada claims it all as internal waters; but almost everyone else claims that it is international waters. The United States, for instance, has on many occasions sent its ships and submarines through without asking for permission for the clear purpose of making this point. Secure possession of the waters, which is essentially the Conservative goal here, would do a great deal to strenthen Canada's claim. If the Liberals were only saying that military presence is not enough, I think they would be making a good point. It seems clear, for instance, that the Liberals are right that Canada needs to strengthen its moral presence by building up Inuit communities. And it also seems clear to me that Canada is not going to be able to preserve its claim in the face of the international community unless it cuts a deal of some sort with the United States (and perhaps a few others); so diplomatic possibilities along these lines need to be examined. But I also don't think anyone can take seriously Canada's claims at present, where its most vigorous assertions of the claims are simply games of I'll-remove-your-flag-and-put-up-mine with Denmark over a handful of islands.

On furthering U.S.-Canada agreement over Canada's claim, I think a sort of reverse NORAD might be a good starting point for discussion. NORAD is a partnership between Canada and the U.S. for defense purposes. It's one of the most successful integrations of the defenses of two nations in history -- perhaps the most successful. As a starting point for discussion about the North we could suggest something a little bit like this, but in reverse: Canada's claim is officially recognized by the U.S., but the instrument that Canada uses to govern the waters is a binational agency established by the same treaty in which the U.S. recognizes the claim. It would be headed by a Canadian, his deputy would be an American; for national security purposes the head of the agency would answer to both the Canadian Prime Minister and the U.S. President. The U.S. would have use of the waters (subject to the same regulations set by the agency for Canadian use of the waters); the Canadian Parliament would naturally have the general oversight authority, but there would be a set of agreed-upon mechanisms for resolving disputes should the U.S. ever not like what is going on. NORAD has always been an exceptional instance of defense integration by two nations that often disagree about defense policy; if the Arctic waters agency were even half as successful in dong this, it would be more successful than most government projects. As it stands, this is not a perfect solution by any means; but I think a more developed proposal along these lines would make a good beginning for discussion. If the U.S. can be brought around in this way to accepting Canada's claim to the waters as internal, it would go a long, long way to solidifying the claim.

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