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Canada's new fighter jets could be deployed in Arctic resource war

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A Canadian Air Force F-18 Hornet jet escorting a Russian TU-95 Bear heavy bomber out of Canadian airspace in 2007. Image: U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Cecilio M. Ricardo J

The argument has been made that Canada spending $76.8 billion on new fighter jets both worsens the climate crisis (because of the carbon pollution emitted by these warplanes) and diverts needed money from being invested in a sustainable energy future.

This is certainly true.

But new Canadian warplanes may also be about exercising control over the oil, gas and rare earth minerals becoming available because of climate change.

Extractivism in the Arctic

Climate change is having a major impact on the Arctic, making it easier to extract resources and open new northern shipping lanes.

Ten years ago, Al Jazeera reported: "It is considered the final frontier for oil and gas exploitation, and secret US embassy cables published by WikiLeaks confirm that nations are battling to 'carve up' the Arctic's vast resources."

The Arctic holds an estimated 90 billion barrels of oil. It also a source of rare-earth minerals that are used in a wide variety of products including iPhones, computers, electric car motors, wind turbines, missile guidance systems, satellites and lasers.

In 2019, Liberal MP John McKay warned about Russia's presence in the Arctic asserting: "I would like to see more resources applied to what has become a security issue for us, primarily driven by the fact that climate change has opened up the sea lanes."

And this past March, Canadian defence department deputy minister Jody Thomas stated: "We should not underestimate at all that threat of resource exploitation [including fish, petroleum and critical minerals] in the Arctic by China in particular."

With surprising frankness, Thomas added: "We have to understand it and exploit it and more quickly than they can exploit it."

Militarized responses to climate change

Despite the worsening climate crisis, the Trudeau government has increased annual fossil fuel subsidies by 40 per cent from 2015 to $16.8 billion in 2019.

Most recently, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also affirmed at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit in Brussels last month his interest in Canada hosting a NATO "centre of excellence" on climate and security. A statement from the Prime Minister's Office noted: "It would provide allies with a central location to pool their knowledge and develop effective preparedness and responses to the security impacts of climate change."

This suggests a willingness to both deepen the climate crisis and prepare militarily for the resulting impacts.

Canada extends its Arctic ADIZ

An Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) is used to monitor and identify aircraft approaching sovereign airspace and assess possible threats.

In May 2018, Canada quietly extended its ADIZ in the Arctic. Radio Canada reported:

"The new ADIZ stretches anywhere from a hundred to a couple of hundred nautical miles off shore to give NORAD enough time to scramble fighter planes to intercept any unidentified aircraft that approaches the Canadian airspace, [Retired Gen. Tom] Lawson said."

Notably, ABC News has explained:

"According to international law, a country's airspace corresponds with its territorial waters, 12 nautical miles [about 22 kilometres] from the nation's coastline, so anything beyond that is considered international airspace."

This may be helpful context when reading, for example, the National Post report that two CF-18s intercepted a Russian Tu-95 bomber in August 2019 in the (extended) Canadian ADIZ.

Expanding CF-18 bases in the North

In the meantime, the capacity to deploy CF-18s in the Arctic is being strengthened.

Last August, NNSL Media reported that the Department of National Defence is spending up to $150 million on improvements to the Inuvik (Mike Zubko) Airport in the Northwest Territories that currently functions as a forward operating location for CF-18s.

Earlier this year, Nunatsiaq News also reported:

"Part of what's contemplated is an expansion of northern Canada's forward operating locations, known as FOL sites. The FOL site in Iqaluit [in Nunavut] includes three hangars capable of housing F-18 fighter jets, as well as a large barracks located off the road to the causeway."

Lessons from the Middle East

Just prior to the first Gulf War in 1991, General Norman Schwarzkopf told the U.S. Congress: "Middle East oil is the West's lifeblood. It fuels us today and being 77 per cent of the free world's proven oil reserves, is going to fuel us when the rest of the world runs dry."

Twenty-four CF-18s flew 56 bombing missions in that war.

In the chaos created by the invasion of Iraq in 2003, CF-18s flew another 246 bombing missions over Iraq in 2014-16.

The Chilcot Inquiry on that war concluded: "The U.K. chose to join the invasion of Iraq before the peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted. Military action at that time was not a last resort."

Similarly, it does not appear that peaceful options for the Arctic are being pursued as evidently as militarized responses.

Militarization, climate justice

The Canadian government has been sparse in explaining its rationale for spending $19 billion to purchase new fighter jets and almost $60 billion more to operate them and cover other associated costs. It says: "A modern fighter jet fleet is essential for defending Canada and Canadian sovereignty and contribute to our NORAD and NATO commitments, now and in the future."

A fulsome disclosure by the government on its perception of the relationship between new fighter jets, worsening climate change and the race for resources in the Arctic would inform public debate on this expenditure of public dollars.

In the absence of that, the anti-war and climate justice movements should open this discussion and promote alternatives for a non-militarized green future.

Brent Patterson is an activist and writer.

Image: U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Cecilio M. Ricardo J

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