This week, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will be in Washington to discuss a variety of topics with President Obama and other U.S. officials. The Arctic will certainly be part of the discussion. This visit will likely be a pleasant one, considering that the U.S. has always maintained a strong relationship with our neighbors to the North, and we are hopeful that the two leaders will give some serious thought to productive ways that the two nations can appropriately balance conservation and development opportunities in the Arctic.
Environmental groups are attempting to capitalize on this meeting with a call for the two leaders to shut down all Arctic operations. As improbable as their demands may be, it’s important to point out that doing so would eliminate an incredible opportunity for collaboration between these two Arctic countries. Both the U.S. and Canada can advance the needs of those that inhabit the Arctic while simultaneously protecting the region.
There are a variety of ways through which the U.S. and Canada could work together in the Arctic in order to better achieve their goals. The most important task would be collaborating to build up desperately needed infrastructure in the area. Infrastructure projects could bolster energy development projects, search and rescue capabilities, shipping abilities, and the national security of both nations.
Arctic research is another area in which the U.S. and Canada can benefit from working together. For the last twenty years, the Arctic Council provides a way for countries across the globe to collaborate in the Arctic. The council is made up of eight countries and six permanent participant groups (primarily Native groups) who work together to foster cooperation between Arctic nations, and bolster regional scientific understanding through the Arctic Council’s Task Force for Enhancing Scientific Cooperation in the Arctic (SCTF).
Canada, Finland, Norway, the U.S. and Russia are among the member states. The Arctic Council meets every six months, and the Chairmanship of the council rotates between states every two years. The U.S. currently holds the chairmanship position.
The U.S. chairmanship of the Arctic Council is particularly relevant with heightened activity in the Arctic. In recent years, it is evident that the Arctic is becoming an increasingly important region in regards to national security and international commerce. The Wall Street Journal highlighted how Canada and the U.S. have cooperated in the region in the past:
“There is a long history of U.S.-Canada cooperation on security matters, including through the joint North American Aerospace Defense Command, established in 1957 to detect and track Soviet bombers in the Arctic. There has also been mutually beneficial cooperation on shipping through waters under national jurisdiction, such as the St. Lawrence Seaway, which passes seamlessly through the sovereign territory of both nations.”
Former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney emphasized the importance of the Trudeau/Obama meeting this week when he stated:
“Not much happens on the international scale between Canada and the United States if there’s not a personal relationship between the president and the prime minister”
Clearly, a collaborative relationship between the U.S. and Canada is important for the future of the Arctic. A deep water port, research collaboration, and other basic infrastructure projects are within reach if the U.S. and Canada work together to improve the region and advance their Arctic goals.
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