U.S. AND RUSSIAN SUBMARINES IN ARCTIC SEND A MESSAGE BY DAVID PUGLIESE OTTAWA CITIZEN REPORTER

Security specialist says nuclear sub’s northern exposure sends a message that Canada should heed: Take Arctic claims seriously

 

By David Pugliese

 

The Ottawa Citizen

 

November 15, 2009

 

 

 

The recent surfacing of a U.S. submarine near the North Pole and an increase in military activity in the Arctic this year should send a warning to the Canadian government that other nations are serious about boosting their presence in the resource-rich region, says a specialist on Canada’s northern security.

 

The U.S. Navy recently confirmed that the USS Texas and its 134-member crew completed an Arctic mission, with some U.S. media outlets noting the nuclear-powered submarine broke through the ice near the North Pole and stayed on the surface for 24 hours.

 

Rob Huebert, an Arctic specialist with the University of Calgary, said the Texas is the third U.S. submarine to visit the region so far this year. Earlier this year, five Russian submarines were operating around the North Pole during test firings of missiles, he added.

 

“It takes a lot of effort to get up there,” Huebert said. “The message being sent with the Texas is that the U.S. takes the Arctic seriously, as do other countries. I don’t get the impression that Canada is taking all this in.”

 

It is unclear exactly what route the USS Texas took during its voyage, whether it transited through Canadian waters or whether Canada was told in advance about the visit.

 

Before being elected prime minister, Stephen Harper complained about U.S. submarines operating in Canadian waters without permission. He vowed that his government would require all foreign vessels to seek permission from Canada before entering the country’s Arctic waters. Other nations, however, do not recognize Canada’s claim to some areas in the region, including the Northwest Passage.

 

Officials with Defence Minister Peter MacKay declined comment and referred requests for information to Foreign Affairs. The Foreign Affairs department declined to say whether the U.S. submarine operated in Canadian waters and, if it had, whether permission for that was granted by Canada.

 

Foreign Affairs spokesman Alain Cacchione stated that information about submarine operations is considered secret. He noted in an e-mail that Canada permits shipping through its Arctic waters, provided vessels respect Canadian controls “related to safety, security, the environment and Inuit interests.”

 

There are safety protocols in place under NATO that provide for the exchange of information on allied submarine movements, Cacchione added.

 

In the past, U.S. Arctic submarine exercises have included firing unarmed torpedoes to test their performance in frigid waters. The U.S. Navy did not release details on what, if any, weapon tests were performed by the Texas.

 

The Arctic is increasingly being seen as a potential flashpoint as receding polar ice allows easier access to the region.

 

In September, the Danish Defence Intelligence Agency released a report warning that increases in shipping and the exploitation of oil and gas reserves in the Arctic could spark military and diplomatic conflicts.

 

Both MacKay and Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon have taken a hard line in regard to excursions by the Russians into the Arctic.

 

Earlier this year, MacKay accused the Russians of sending military aircraft too close to Canadian northern airspace. He vowed that Canadian Forces CF-18 fighter aircraft would intercept every Russian aircraft each and every time they came near the country.

 

In March, Cannon said Canada “will not be bullied” by a Russian plan to create a new security force for the Arctic. Canada has its own plans for a new military response force for the Far North.

 

Huebert noted that Russia is rebuilding its submarine fleet and that the Danish and Norwegian navies are also increasing their Arctic capabilities. The U.S. Coast Guard has pushed for an increase in its presence in the region.

 

Huebert said the Canadian government has made a number of positive announcements on improving military and federal capabilities in the North and annual exercises have been conducted in the Arctic during the summer.

 

“But so far, on the Canadian side, there’s been a lot of talk,” Huebert added. “They’re moving pretty slowly while others are already expanding their operations in the North.”

 

The Harper government has announced over the last several years the creation of a military training centre in the Arctic, economic aid to the region, as well as the construction of a new port, an icebreaker and a fleet of Arctic patrol ships. Work is under way on the various projects but in many cases it will take years before they are ready.

 

For more Canadian Forces and Defence Department news or articles by David Pugliese of the Ottawa Citizen go to David Pugliese’s Defence Watch at:

 

http://communities.canada.com/ottawacitizen/blogs/defencewatch/

 

 

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