Hands off our Arctic, Canada tells Europeans
In London, the lions of Trafalgar Square share space with the towering image of an Inuit woman and her child. In Paris, an inukshuk greets people leaving the Metro. In Oslo, Ottawa is opening an Arctic political office. And in Brussels, officials are fanning out to promote the image of a cold, northern Canada.
The Harper government has launched an aggressive campaign across Europe to brand Canada as an "Arctic power" and the owner of a third of the contested land and resources of the Far North. Ministers and ambassadors have been instructed to deliver a strong message, through every channel available: Canada owns it; hands off.
This new assertiveness has caught European and Russian officials off guard as Ottawa pushes to fend off attempts by other northern powers and the European Union to claim stakes in the Northwest Passage and the open seas of the High Arctic.
While this involves hard diplomacy, such as Canada's leading role in a move to exclude the EU from sitting on the Arctic Council, Mr. Harper's officials have also ordered embassies abroad to mobilize their cultural resources to deliver this policy message, to create a visual image of a fully Arctic Canada.
The stakes are high. Yesterday, Russia released a report arguing that Arctic resources could spark military confrontations, and Canada recently released a major atlas of the Arctic, the result of research intended to back claims of Arctic land ownership under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
"Canada is an Arctic nation and an Arctic power," Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon told European leaders in Tromso, Norway, at the end of April, while directing his diplomats to adopt an assertive new language around Canada's Arctic possessions. Under his instructions, the new phrase "Arctic power" has begun appearing in communiqués and speeches.
The message for Europe's leaders and citizens is simple and abrupt: The Arctic is not up for grabs. "Through our robust Arctic foreign policy," Mr. Cannon said, "we are affirming our leadership, stewardship and ownership in the region."
The word ownership is key. As Arctic jurisdictional disputes make their way through the United Nations, Ottawa wants to assert its claim to be owner of a third of Arctic land, ice and water, as well as any oil and minerals that happen to lie below.