cover image: Arctic Perils: Emerging Threats in the Arctic Maritime Environment


Arctic Perils: Emerging Threats in the Arctic Maritime Environment

1 Nov 2022

Table of Contents Introduction The Threats Canada's Response Conclusion End Notes About the Author Canadian Global Affairs Institute Introduction When Russian tanks crossed the Ukrainian border in February 2022, the Western world’s perception of great-power conflict changed overnight. Formerly a competitor, Russia had unambiguously transformed itself into an enemy – one sitting perilously close to Canada, on the far side of the Arctic Ocean. The premiers of the three northern territories declared this a “wake-up call”1 while security experts called for Canada to “rethink its entire understanding of Arctic security.”2 Minister of National Defence Anita Anand responded in June 2022, with a pledge to update NORAD systems against that crystallizing threat of Russian missiles and bombers using the North as an avenue of attack. The expanded invasion of Ukraine (from a war Russia began in 2014) certainly brought the conventional threats to Canada through the Arctic into stark relief. These are the hypersonic weapons and advanced capabilities that NORAD has been monitoring and planning to deter or defeat for years, and to which the Canadian and American governments are now paying closer attention.3 What has received less attention in recent years are threats to the Arctic itself, and specifically those in the maritime environment. In his framing of the Arctic security dynamic, Whitney Lackenbauer defines those threats as “those that emanate from outside of the region [which] affect the region itself.”4 This category extends to a wide array of emerging, non-military threats – from state and quasi-state actors to private adventurers and environmental dangers tied to the region’s increasingly busy waterways. While the dramatic new (or renewed) state-based military threats – like submarines, bombers and cruise missiles – have made headlines, it is the threats to those quasi-state-based fishery operations, surveillance and dual-use marine scientific research expeditions that will probably develop into persistent challenges requiring constant attention and regular management. These threats are often more opaque and harder to define, sometimes difficult to tie directly to an adversary government, yet still indirectly linked to state actors with malign intent. This is not to say that the emerging military threats from Russia, and even China, in the Arctic can be ignored, but rather that these should be considered continental or even global challenges, rather than Arctic-specific dangers requiring a greater military presence and response capability in the region.5 The nature of the emerging military threats points to a growing need for surveillance and detection and, when necessary, interdiction by assets based further south. Responding to real or perceived adversarial threats with a greater allied combat capability in the Arctic itself would represent an overinvestment and misunderstanding of these emerging threats. While the emerging security dynamic demands new platforms and capabilities, these will be most effective when geared to the constabulary end of the defence spectrum. Deterrence and defence will also mean more than new ships and technologies; it will require a consistent presence, improved situational awareness and the ability to scale our national and international response to a wide range of both obvious and nebulous threats. This paper is an overview of that evolving threat environment and how Canada might respond. TOP OF PAGE
china security economics united states arctic international law natural resources canada russia nato defence policy defence international politics hybrid threats policy paper diplomacy & global governance defence resources north america & norad adam lajeunesse


Adam Lajeunesse

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