Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Canada To Do Some Far North Muscle-Flexing

In another indication that global warming is changing more than the climate, Canada today is starting a large-scale military exercise in their Arctic region.

Actually, Canada is referring to Operation Nanook as a "sovereignty operation" - in other words, to show that Canada is in full control over their Arctic Sea coastline and the dozens of Canadian islands that stretch up towards the North Pole. This is one of the least densely populated parts of the globe, one that had been home mostly to scattered Inuit villages that eeked out a subsistence living from the sea. But as warmer temperatures have melted sea ice, natural gas deposits in the Far North are becoming economically viable.

So too is the fabled Northwestern Passage - the sea lane between Europe and Asia across the top of the North American continent, a route that could cut weeks off the current trip. To make the trip, a ship would have to weave between islands in the Arctic Sea. Those islands belong to Canada, so the Canadians say they control the Northwestern Passage and can decide who can and can't use it. The United States feels differently, that the Northwestern Passage is an international sea lane open to all nations. When the Arctic Sea was choked with ice this was an academic argument, now that the ice is melting, well you get the idea.

Operation Nanook is meant then to show that Canada is firmly in control of its northern coastline; Prime Minister Stephen Harper is expected to drop in on the military exercises later in the week. And his government has pledged to build a new deep water port on the Arctic Sea as well as a new icebreaker to serve as the flagship of the Arctic fleet. But military analysts argue that Canada does not have a large enough military (even with PM Harper's proposed projects) to protect their northern interests full-time.
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