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Canada and the Arctic


Canada's Northern Strategy, March 2009

Statement on Canada's Arctic foreign policy, Minister Cannon, August 2010

Canada’s Arctic Foreign Policy Pamphlet, August 2010

A short account of Canadian Arctic policies


On 20 August 2010, Canada published a new statement on its Arctic foreign policy. The statement articulates Canada's priorities in the Arctic region and builds on four pillars:

  • Exercising sovereignty
  • Promoting economical and social development
  • Protecting the Arctic environment
  • Improving and developing governance

The statements builds on Canada's Northern Strategy from March 2009. For more information, see Mr. Cannon's speech and the Canadian website for the Northern Strategy.


The Canadian House of Commons passed in 2009 a bid to rename the North West Passage the Canadian North West Passage. The renaming of the passage can be attributed to the ongoing conflict between Canada and other countries, most notably the US, over the status of the passage. Canada considers it "internal waters", whereas the US and others consider it as an "international strait". The renaming can also be attributed to increased Canadian and international focus on the Arctic.


Two Canadian participants in the Geopolitics in the High North programme have presented somewhat different recommendations on how Canada should adapt to the potential of increase activity in the Arctic.

  • Dr Rob Huebert argues in "Canadian Arctic Sovereignty and Security in a Transforming Circumpolar World" that Canada needs to adapt to a changing Arctic by increasing surveillance and enforcement capabilities. Furthermore, he proposes and develop an Arctic framework with especially the US and Russia to establish "rules of engagement" in the Arctic.
  • Prof. Franklyn Griffiths takes a more inclusive approach in his paper "Towards a Canadian Arctic Strategy" as he argues that cooperative stewardship is the key to securing Canadian Arctic interests. This can be achieved by strengthening the Arctic Council and including non members as consultative partners in the decision making process of the Council.


The Canadian government is in the process of developing an International Dimension of Canada's Northern Strategy. The main objective is to affirm by domestic action international recognition of the country's presence and positions in the Canadian Arctic. Key elements are:

  • Protection of Canada's environmental heritage
  • Promotion of economic and social development
  • Exercise of national sovereignty
  • Improvement and devolvement of governance to the Canadian Arctic

Canada is maintaining its military presence by holding military exercises in its Arctic territories, most notably the Operation Nanook held in August 2010. The exercise was regarded as a display of national sovereignty. The 2011 Nanook was even larger but the crash of a commercial airline (not related to the exercise) allowed for an real response. Since lives were lost, the focus of the exercise understandably shifted and the second part of the operation was aborted. 


In October 2011 the Canadian National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy (NSPS) was annonunced. The decision was an important step in the Canadian government’s commitment to rebuild the Royal Canadian Navy and the Canadian Coast Guard fleets.


Canada is engaged in managed disputes or disagreements with Denmark and the US. Furthermore, a disagreement with Russia could arise in the future over the underwater Lomonosov Ridge crossing the North Pole.


It is, however, unlikely that any of these will escalate into conflicts. In the Ilulissat Declaration the Arctic littoral states, including Canada, USA and Russia, declared that disputes is to be resolved peacefully through international bodies such as the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Canada, among other littoral states, is in the process of extending its continental shelf through the UNCLOS' regime.

©2014-2017 Geopolitics in the High North. All rights reserved

Norwegian Institute for defence Studies CSIS Fritjof Nansen Institute Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik University of Tromsø Moscow State Institute of International Relations (University) of the MFA of Russia University of Oslo Institute of general history Norwegian Defence Research Establishment Econ Pöyry
  The GeoPolitics in the High North research programme is now terminated, and the programme website will be preserved through 2016, but not updated.
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