U.S challenges Canada’s Northwest Passage

President Trump plans to send ships into our Northwest Passage without Canada’s permission. Why he would want to provoke Canada -America’s closest ally and trading partner- is a mystery. If he succeeds, not only will he strain relations with Canada further but invite unintended consequences: If the Northwest Passage is international water as he claims, the same waterway is open to his perceived enemies as well.

image: Foreign Policy News

Despite our differing opinions regarding the Northwest Passage, the U.S. and Canada came to an amicable solution in the past. The Americans maintain that the Northwest Passage is an international strait and while Canada argues it is internal waters. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan and Prime Minister Brian Mulroney agreed to disagree: the U.S. would ask Canada’s permission to send ships through the Northwest Passage and Canada would automatically agree. In this simple agreement between friends, neither concedes their position.

That friendship has been strained lately on a number of fronts by an egotistic U.S. president. He is preparing for a “freedom of navigation operation” through the Northwest Passage without asking us.

Belligerence is a defining characteristic of Trump. Professor Robert Huebert of the University of Calgary has a blunt assessment:

“However, due to Mr. Trump’s pathological need to win, the Americans are set to disregard this [1988] solution and win the dispute (Globe and Mail, May 20, 2019).”

What Trump fails to realize is that if the U.S. gets its way and declares the Northwest Passage to be international waters, it also invites Russia and China into the Arctic. What’s good for one is good for all.

“Given that Russia is actively militarizing and China may soon be taking similar action, the United States’ move to attack Canada, its most important ally, while meeting this threat makes no sense. If the Americans are really concerned about the rise of Russian military strength in the Arctic, they need Canada to help meet the threat,” says Professor Huebert.

President Trump seems unaware of how much the U.S. relies on cooperation with Canada in the defense of North America. Bilateral defense agreements go back to 1940. Established in 1958, NORAD provides warning of threats by air or sea. Traditionally, the Deputy Commander of NORAD has been a senior Canadian Armed Forces officer. In 2008, a joint agreement provided for the military from one nation to aid the other during an emergency such as a natural disaster.

If the U.S. wants to counter the Russian threat to the Arctic, they will need Canada’s cooperation.

Meanwhile, it’s in Canada’s best interests to cooperate with China in the Arctic; even when cooperation is not mutual. Despite China’s single-minded determination to punish Canada for arresting a Huawei executive in Vancouver, Canada is siding with China over the U.S. in China’s goal to expand its influence in the Arctic.

Former parliamentary secretary to the minister of foreign affairs, Andrew Leslie, said in China:

“Let’s focus on the positive that comes through international co-operation, and not so much on the sabre-rattling.”

At least China isn’t planning an invasion of Canada.

If Trump sends ships to our Northwest Passage and they fail to navigate the ice-clogged and uncharted waters, it will support Canada’s position that these waters are unique and are not a functioning international strait.

 

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Canada’s contribution to NATO

During President Trump’s Alternate Truth tour of Europe, he scolded NATO countries:

“Many countries are not paying what they should. And, frankly, many countries owe us a tremendous amount of money for many years back, where they’re delinquent, as far as I’m concerned, because the United States has had to pay for them.”

    President Donald Trump walks away after being greeted by NATO Secretary General Jens

In the real world, NATO countries don’t owe the United States a cent. Members contribute to the organization for mutual protection. Trump is confusing what he thinks is a debt with the goal of increased spending to two per cent of GDP by 2024.

The United States spends almost four per cent of its GDP on NATO as a matter of choice. Former U.S. ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder says:

“No one owes us any money. Nor is the U.S. spending more because allies are spending less … our defense spending is a national decision and is determined by our national security and defense needs.”

Regardless, the amount of money spent on defense is not the whole picture. Professor Elinor Sloan, political scientist at Carleton University says:

“A big reason countries don’t adhere to [the two per cent of GDP] is because it is a flawed metric. It doesn’t capture the military capability a country can deploy in support of NATO operations, measure absolute military spending or account for the percentage of a defence budget spent on major equipment as opposed to, say, pensions and housing (Globe and Mail, July 10, 2018).”

The two per cent figure doesn’t take into account non-monetary factors such as Canada’s willingness to take on leadership roles, contribute to dangerous missions, and accept casualties and the loss of life. You can’t buy leadership and commitment.

The military is an integral part of the U.S. economy. They have more than 1.3 million troops on active duty, 450,000 stationed overseas. The military-industrial complex fuels the American economy and asserts global hegemony.  It’s a way of distributing wealth nationally through military contracts, something like Canada’s equalization payments to provinces. It’s also a social security scheme to provide work to youth who have few options. Author Danny Sjursen, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, says:

“The military is also a welfare state; it is the most socialist institution we have. It provides a certain degree of economic stability (Harper’s magazine, June, 2018).”

Canada has its own interests but they don’t include a welfare state based on the military. Nor are they exclusive to NATO.

Not long ago, we only had two coastlines to protect. As Canada’s Arctic flank becomes exposed because of global warming, we need ships, fighters, and submarines to establish a presence in the North. The Arctic is melting. As shipping traffic increases, foreign bombers and fighters will test our sovereignty.

NATO is important to Canada, not just for the military component but for the political connections to Europe. As the U.S. becomes more unstable under the Trump administration, we look to Europe as an ally and trading partner.

As we watch in disbelief as Trump scolds his NATO partners while cozying up to Russia, Canada will be strengthened as we chart our own course.