July 20, 2024

Canada’s undefended northern frontier

If Canada doesn’t have a military capable of protecting our interests in the North, we risk ceding our status as a northern power

Speaking to Radio Canada International this week, Finland’s ambassador to Canada noted that his country’s acceptance into NATO last spring, and the expected entry of Sweden, will help secure the Arctic against Russia’s militaristic ambitions. There’s no doubt Canada could use all the help it can get.

Finland has been busy improving the rail link from its border with Sweden to Kemijarvi, about an hour’s drive from the Russian border, which could be used by NATO to transport troops and equipment. It has also ordered a fleet of 64 F-35s, which are due to start being delivered in 2026, and is spending 150-million euros (C$219 million) to refurbish its air base in Lapland, its northernmost region, to host them.

Sweden, meanwhile, increased its 2024 defence budget by 30 per cent over last year. It has ordered two new submarines, set to go into service in 2027 and 2028, which will increase its sub fleet to six. Since Russia’s invasion of Crimea in 2014, it has also reinstated the draft and refortified the strategically located island of Gotland.

Other countries in the region have also been increasing defence expenditures — and it’s easy to see why. According to Finnish Ambassador Jari Vilén, “Before our, and soon Sweden’s membership, the Russian military build up in the Arctic has been completely different compared to the capabilities that NATO has in the region.” Yet even an expanded NATO faces significant challenges from Russia, which has spent years militarizing the Far North.

It’s true that the war in Ukraine has severely depleted the Russian military and exposed it as a far less fearsome fighting force than many expected. But it is also the case that Russia’s northern naval fleet and its squadron of strategic bombers remain intact. According to the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, western militaries are about a decade behind Russia’s in the Arctic.

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