Terrorism, climate change seen as Arctic security threats

Early warning system suggested to alert residents about changing climate


YELLOWKNIFE – Terrorism is usually “the elephant in the room no one wants to talk about,” said Ron Huebert from the Centre for Military and Strategic studies, during a panel on security at the Northern Research Forum meeting in Yellowknife.

The discussion was intended to focus on broader security issues, but speakers ended up talking more about the threat of terrorism and what this means to the circumpolar world.

Arctic terrorism is possible, Huebert said, because the region is a potential entry point for terrorists, and remains strategically important.

Yet terrorism is just one of the possible threats that circumpolar regions and residents face to their security.

These also include climate change, pollution and resource development, which all have the potential to affect the security of states, the environment and people in the Arctic.

“The challenge for those who call the North home and for policy-makers is determining which are the main threats to northern security. The question that remains is how this can be done,” Huebert said.

For climate change, some suggested setting up a kind of community-based “early warning” network across the circumpolar perimeter.

Using the military to respond to traditional security threats is still an option, Huebert said.

But he suggested diplomacy will likely be the response to what he called several “dangerous” threats to Canadian security and sovereignty.

These include ongoing disputes over who owns Hans Island, a tiny island located between Ellesmere Island and Greenland, or the Arctic continental shelf marine region near the Beaufort Sea.

The challenge, Hubert said, is how to make sure the interests of Canada’s North aren’t “lost in the shuffle.”

Huebert said Arctic states haven’t yet been willing to cooperate internationally to resolve problems or to provide the necessary resources when it comes to dealing with climate change, mercury contamination or pollution from oil and development.

But more international cooperation through the Arctic Council is still a possibility, Huebert suggested, even if its current mandate doesn’t include sovereignty or national security issues.

Set up in 1996 to help circumpolar nations cooperate on common issues, the Arctic Council’s members include Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States, with indigenous peoples as non-voting participants.

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