Women mobilize to oppose NORAD modernization and make the Arctic a zone of peace

By Tamara Lorincz  

The Canadian Voice of Women for Peace (VOW) and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom Canada (WILPF-Canada) recently sent a joint letter to Governor General Mary Simon, opposing the Trudeau government’s $38.6 billion plan to modernize the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD). NORAD modernization will lead to a massive militarization of the North with dire consequences to Indigenous communities and the climate. VOW and WILPF-Canada are urging the Governor General to renew her past appeal to make the Arctic a zone of peace and a nuclear weapons-free zone (NWFZ).

In 1989, when Simon was the President of the Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC), she published an important article entitled “Toward an Arctic Zone of Peace: An Inuit Perspective” in the Canadian Journal of Peace Research. She echoed Soviet Leader Mikhail Gorbachev who said, “Let the North of the globe, the Arctic, become a zone of peace” in a speech in 1987 in Murmansk on the coast of the Barents Sea.

In her article, Simon presciently warned, “Any excessive military build-up in the North only serves to divide the Arctic, perpetuate East-West tensions and the arms race, and put our people on opposing sides. For these and other reasons, Arctic militarization is not in the interests of the Inuit in Canada, the Soviet Union [Russia], Alaska and Greenland. Nor do such military preparations further security or world peace.”

Fast forward three decades and the Canadian government has launched a costly and carbon-intensive plan in partnership with the United States to turn the North into a new theatre of competition and war.

In May, Defence Minister Bill Blair and Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly were in Iqaluit, Nunavut to promote Canada’s new defence policy update (DPU), Our North, Strong and Free: A Renewed Vision for Canada’s Defence. The DPU will expand the military presence of NORAD and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in the North.

The Canadian government will build new military infrastructure across the northern territories. Integrated radar and missile systems, surveillance platforms, maritime sensors and cyber operations will be installed. The federal government will also construct or expand runways, hangars and roads for military vehicles and aircraft and to move fuel, supplies and munitions for the Department of National Defence (DND).

Though Blair and Joly stated that this infrastructure will be dual-use for the military and civilians, the priority will be meeting the requirements of the US Department of Defense. Forward operating bases with the permanent presence of Canadian and American soldiers will be established in Inuvik, Yellowknife, Iqaluit and Goose Bay.

The Canadian government has signed contracts for 140 new tactical US-made aircraft including the F-35 fighter jets, P-8A Poseidon anti-submarine aircraft, attack helicopters and MQ-9 Reaper armed drones as well as CC-330 strategic tankers. As well, the government is spending $60 billion for new surface combatants and is exploring the procurement of new submarines. These fossil fuel-powered aircraft and naval vessels operate in the North releasing excessive carbon emissions and exacerbating the climate crisis.

NATO is increasing its presence and training in the North. Trudeau has described Canada’s Arctic as NATO’s northern and western flanks. This year, the alliance held its largest exercise, Steadfast Defender, which ran from January to the end of May. Over 1,000 Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) sailors, soldiers, aviators and special forces members participated. The first phase of the exercise focused on rapid deployment and combat in the North Atlantic and the Arctic. Steadfast Defender exercise was dangerously provocative to Russia and had adverse environment and climate impacts.

Chief Warrant Officer Terence Wolaniuk of the Canadian Armed Forces described the military’s plans in the Arctic: “The idea is to train for war and be prepared to fight war.” Before the House Armed Services Committee, General Glen Vanherck, US Air Force Commander of Northern Command and NORAD, said the joint force must have the ability to “compete, fight and win in the Arctic.” Former US Secretary of State and CIA Director Mike Pompeo called the Arctic, “an arena for power and for competition” over sea routes and billions of dollars of worth of natural resources. Canada and the US are preparing for war and engaged in a polar arms race.

Yet, for the Indigenous people of the Arctic, the Inuit, their territory is not a theatre of war. Their ancestral homeland, Inuit Nunangat, encompasses not only the land but also the water and ice. Inuit Nunangat represents 40 percent of Canada’s land area and over 70 percent of its coastline. The Indigenous people comprise half of Canada’s Arctic population of 200,000 people and they live in 51 communities spread out across the region. They want their Inuit Nunangat, a fragile ocean ecosystem, protected and sustainably developed not militarized.

In their joint press conference in Nunavut, Blair and Joly never acknowledged the climate and environmental impacts of Canada’s NORAD modernization and NATO operations in the Arctic. They only mentioned how this polar region is warming four times faster than other regions in the country. Yet, the warming of the Arctic does not justify more militarism, but less.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Polar Regions chapter in the Sixth Assessment report, the Arctic plays a crucial role in the regulation of the global climate system. However, the region is rapidly warming and experiencing sea level rise and coastal erosion. The IPCC warned that climate change was causing more severe impacts, such as intense flooding and fires. Last year, the city of Yellowknife was evacuated because of a massive out-of-control wildfire. The federal government should be reducing emissions and investing to help northern communities adapt to climate change and become more resilient.

For four decades, Inuit in Canada have cooperated and engaged in environmental protection and peacebuilding with the Indigenous peoples in the other Arctic countries through the Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC) and the Arctic Council. The ICC is a non-governmental organization that was founded in 1977. It represents approximately 180,000 Inuit in Canada, Alaska, Greenland and Russia and has consultative status at the United Nations. The Inuit were explicit in their calls for peace and cooperation in the 2018 Utqiaġvik Declaration and the 2019 Arctic and Northern Policy Framework.

For reconciliation and climate justice, the Trudeau government must cancel its plans to militarize the North and work collaboratively to make the Arctic a zone of peace and free of nuclear weapons. VOW and WILPF-Canada are also calling for Canada to withdraw from NORAD and NATO. In their letter to Governor General Simon, the two organizations also requested a meeting with her, but have not heard back.

Learn more at vowpeace.org

[Photo: members of VOW and WILPF-Canada outside Governor General’s residence in Ottawa]

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