NATO chief tours Arctic defences as Canada comes under pressure

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left, and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg walk during their visit to Adazi Military base in Kadaga, Latvia on March. 8, 2022. Stoltenberg is visiting defence installations in Canada’s Arctic today. (Roman Koksarov/AP)

NATO’s secretary general is getting an up-close look at Canada’s northern defences Thursday as he visits the Arctic — a region of escalating geopolitical competition.

Accompanied by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Jens Stoltenberg will get a first-hand look at a North Warning System radar station Cambridge Bay, Nunavut — part of a system due to be modernized as part of a multi-billion dollar refurbishment of NORAD, the North American air defence system.

He’ll also watch Canadian soldiers — and possibly some troops from a few other allied nations — take part in Canada’s annual northern military exercise, known as Operation Nanook.

In an opinion piece published recently in the Globe and Mail, Stoltenberg noted the increasing importance of Canada’s Far North as the West’s relationship with Moscow deteriorates over the war in Ukraine.

“The shortest path to North America for Russian missiles or bombers would be over the North Pole,” the secretary general wrote. “This makes NORAD’s role vital for North America and for NATO.”

The visit is significant because the Liberal government is facing increased pressure from allies to take more ownership of the defence of its northern approaches.

In June, just before the last NATO summit, Defence Minister Anita Anand committed Canada to spending $4.9 billion over the next several years on updating NORAD, a joint military command with the United States.

Ottawa commits funds to continental defence

The Liberal government also committed to an overall investment in continental and northern defence that it says will exceed $40 billion over the next two decades.

Ottawa has yet to fully explain how the money will be spent, other than to say approximately $15 billion will go to infrastructure upgrades.

Speaking at 5 Wing Goose Bay in Newfoundland and Labrador on Wednesday, Anand said the base is one of four that will see improvements.

She said the airfield “will receive significant upgrades which will enable its continued ability to support NORAD operations and to ensure the defence of North America.”

“As we look around the world today,” she continued, “we recognize that our geography and our existing continental defences no longer provide the same protection that they once did.”

Related stories from around the North: 

Canada: Prime Minister, NATO secretary general to spotlight Arctic defence on Nunavut visit, CBC News

Finland: Norwegian military vehicles take new transit corridor via Finnish Lapland, The Independent Barents Observer

NorwayDefence minister says Norway must get stronger in the North, The Independent Barents Observer

Finland: Defence ministers of Norway, Finland, Sweden to talk security at Thursday meeting, Eye on the Arctic

Russia: Assertive Moscow outlines push into central Arctic Ocean, The Independent Barents Observer

United States: U.S. Army poised to revamp Alaska forces to prep for Arctic fight, The Associated Press

Murray Brewster, CBC News

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