A modest NATO line in Eastern Europe? Defending the Baltics

NATO is now establishing what the Globe and Mail called “a modest NATO force to draw a line in Eastern Europe”1 and what NATO itself calls its “biggest reinforcement of collective defence since the end of the Cold War.”2 Either way, it hasn’t erased doubts about the willingness, or wisdom, of the alliance’s threat to take direct military action against Russia and thereby raise the spectre of nuclear weapons use. Indeed, these eminently rational doubts could sensibly be elevated to the level of firm policy – not only because any military confrontation in serious danger of descending to nuclear use ought never to be regarded an option, but also because redressing Baltic vulnerability to Russian interference has more to do with strong governance than heightened military firepower.

Read further at The Simons Foundation.

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The Arctic and the Seaborne Nuclear Arms Race

Headlines tell of a burgeoning Russian/American naval nuclear arms race and already tens of billions of dollars are being promised and spent in both countries on “modernizing” seaborne strategic nuclear weapons systems. While tactical nuclear weapons have been kept off their attack and general purpose submarines for at least a generation, there are indications they may be finding their way back. In the meantime, there is not yet any international regime or treaty or political will in place or contemplated for the exercise of seaborne nuclear restraint.

Continue reading at The Simons Foundation.

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Circumpolar Military Facilities of the Arctic Five – updated: January 2017

Prepared by Ernie Regehr and Michelle Jackett.

This compilation of current military facilities in the circumpolar region continues to be offered as an aid to addressing a key question posed by the Canadian Senate more than five years ago: “Is the [Arctic] region again becoming militarized?” If anything, that question has become more interesting and relevant in the intervening years, with commentators divided on the meaning of the demonstrably accelerated military developments in the Arctic – some arguing that they are primarily a reflection of increasing military responsibilities in aiding civil authorities in surveillance and search and rescue, some noting that Russia’s increasing military presence is consistent with its need to respond to increased risks of things like illegal resource extraction, terrorism, and disasters along its frontier and the northern sea route, and others warning that the Arctic could indeed be headed once again for direct strategic confrontation. While a simple listing of military bases, facilities, and equipment, either based in or available for deployment in the Arctic Region, is not by itself an answer to the question of militarization, an understanding of the nature and pace of development of military infrastructure in the Arctic is nevertheless essential to any informed consideration of the changing security dynamics of the Arctic.

What follows relies on a broad range of media, government, academic, and research centre sources, all of which are indicated in the footnotes. This paper is regarded as a “work in progress” and continues to be updated as new information and changes in military posture and engagement relative to the Arctic become available.

The listing updated to January 2017 is available for download here.

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The 2016 Arctic Yearbook: On the state of Arctic Politics, Governance, and Security

The fifth annual Arctic Yearbook, with a primary focus on the Arctic Council, is now available. This 2016 edition includes a broad range of scholarly articles offering critical analysis of the Council’s 20-year record, and the editors clearly like what they see. In their Introduction, they acknowledge its imperfections, but also declare that “the Arctic Council is in many ways a marvel,” and is “perhaps the first true post-modern regional organization.” A section on Arctic Geopolitics and Security moves beyond the Arctic Council focus, and its four papers are briefly highlighted below.

Continue reading at The Simons Foundation

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Operation NANOOK 2016 and DND aid to civil authorities

The Yukon’s late August earthquake, its epicentre near Haines Junction, never made the news, but the emergency response effort was impressive. Municipal and territorial first responders attended the scene, and they were soon joined by volunteers and representatives from affected First Nations communities and additional civilian emergency response teams from as far away as Vancouver. A contingent from the 1st Canadian Ranger Patrol Group arrived, along with several hundred Canadian Armed Forces personnel with equipment that included CH146 Griffon and CH147 Chinook helicopters and CC130 transport aircraft. The Minister of National Defence visited the operation, as did the Commissioner of the Yukon (parallel to a provincial lieutenant governor). At least one other Member of Parliament and one Senator attended, and there were observers from the armed forces of the United States, United Kingdom, and France, as well as a small civilian observer group (including Disarming Arctic Security).

The earthquake was in fact an imagined event and the very real emergency response effort was a practice run, organized by the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) as Operation NANOOK. The Yukon scenario and response – centred around a serious natural disaster requiring a whole-of-government response – accurately reflected a key operational reality for the Canadian military at home – namely, its prominent function of aiding those civilian authorities and operations that have the primary responsibility for ensuring public safety in Canada.

Continue reading at The Simons Foundation.

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When Bears Still Fly: Responding to Russian Bomber Patrols in the Arctic

Russia’s Bear Bombers continue to conduct patrols and training flights in international airspace near North America’s Arctic coastlines. Canadian and American military interceptor aircraft as part of their own training regimen, continue to track and rendezvous with the Russian Bears. Some observers try to muster alarm in the face of Vladimir Putin’s strategic patrols, others are more sanguine, but it is for Governments to devise the appropriate response. NORAD is maddeningly coy about the frequency of such encounters, but as more information emerges, most recently in the 2016 Arctic Yearbook, it becomes increasingly clear that the prudent posture is to be attentive but not alarmed.

Continue reading at The Simons Foundation.

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Canadian Defence Policy and Armed Intervention

The UN Security Council has found little to agree on when it comes to Syria, but a year ago the Council did come to the unanimous conclusion that “…there can be no military solution to the Syrian conflict.” The obvious truth of that confession also applies in the 25-plus other wars currently underway – wars in search of military solutions through attacks on political opponents. There have been some 100 such wars since the end of the Cold War, and almost all of them proved that in the end there was no military solution. Armed interventions by powerful military coalitions in search of military solutions faced the same reality – a reality that should inform a new Canadian defence policy.

Continue reading at The Simons Foundation defence review page.

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Canadian Defence Policy and NATO’s Nuclear Weapons

The current Canadian Defence Policy Review is not focused on questions of disarmament and arms control; Global Affairs Canada is the lead agency on those issues, and it would do well, by the way, to undertake a thorough review of related policies and priorities. Defence policies and postures do nevertheless help to either strengthen or undermine disarmament prospects. A case in point is NATO’s nuclear posture. Canada is involved as a NATO member and as a participant in NATO’s Nuclear Planning Group. And as a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as well, Canada has a responsibility to pursue alliance defence policies and practices that are conducive to full implementation of the NPT and ending NATO’s reliance on nuclear deterrence. That would in turn also advance the individual and collective security interests of NATO member states, including Canada, and all the states of the Euro-Atlantic.

Continue reading at The Simons Foundation defence review page.

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Exporting arms

Letter in today’s Globe and Mail in response to the editorial, “Ottawa Comes Clean on Arms Exports” (17 August 2016)

The choices for controlling military exports are not to either “block arms sales to anyone who might actually use them” or “be realistic about weapons sales” (Ottawa Comes Clean On Arms Exports, editorial, Aug. 17). The point of export controls is to block arms sales to anyone with a penchant for using them unlawfully.

As for being “realistic” about weapons sales, should Canada export weapons to any country not specifically defined as an enemy, without any regard for a recipient’s disrespect for the rule of law – for human rights, the laws of war, or the protection of civilians? Is that “maturity”?

The government’s policy changes flout at least two fundamental principles of responsible military export controls: that military commodities are a special category of goods, the international transfers of which are to be restricted in ways not applicable to most civilian commodities; and that weapons suppliers are culpable if they knowingly ship weapons to customers with a demonstrable inclination to use them unlawfully – for example, against civilians.

Ernie Regehr, Waterloo, Ont.

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Canada and Euro-Atlantic Security

It is little credit to the practice of diplomacy in Europe and North America that their military alliance has been allowed to become the primary institution through which they now seek to understand and engage Russia. NATO defines the Russian threat and prescribes the response – habitually reorganizing, rebranding, and redeploying military forces which, if they ever came to serious blows with their Russian counterparts, would leave in their wake a trail of destruction out of all proportion to the political, economic, territorial, or moral interests and values at stake. Canada, as a part of both NATO and the wider Euro-Atlantic community, has a role to play in righting east-west relations, but is a battle group in Latvia the best option?

Continue reading at The Simons Foundation.

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