Chairman Levitt, other distinguished members of the committee, thank you very much for the opportunity to appear before you today. Our sincere apologies for the misunderstanding on the timing. We are sorry this has to be rushed.
My presentation will focus on two changes that have modified the geopolitics of the Arctic over the past five to 10 years. One is the increased assertiveness of Russia in the region, and the other is the rising presence of non-Arctic states, particularly China, in a part of the world that used to be almost exclusively of interest to Arctic states.
First, I will focus on Russia. Russia's military capabilities in the Arctic have steadily increased over the past 10 years, raising various concerns, including Russia's denying access to an area that might cover part of Norway, or disrupting sea lanes or undersea communications in the North Atlantic. In this context, I would like to raise three points.
First, tensions with Russia tend to focus on the European Arctic more than the North American Arctic. For Canada, then, the main sources of tension with Russia will be either a potential confrontation with NATO, or emerging issues pertaining to the extended continental shelf, as Russia's claim is likely to overlap with the claim that Canada is expected to submit.
Second, Russia is rebuilding its military capabilities on all of its territory, not just the Arctic, and these capabilities are still at a level below what used to exist during the Cold War.
Third, co-operation at the working level remains high. Most recently, we saw the U.S. and Russia submitting a proposal to the IMO to establish new shipping routes for safer shipping in the Bering Strait. Russia still has strong incentives to co-operate in the Arctic.
That being said, Russia's increasing assertiveness has already had some consequences in the region. One is that Arctic states are coming closer together. For instance, we see U.S. Marines deployed on a rotational basis in Norway, while Sweden and Finland are coming closer to NATO. We also see NATO's cautious move closer to the Arctic through its new strategic concept and through exercises.
I will now turn to China, which is also, like NATO, increasingly present in the Arctic. As an example, last year, 11 of the 27 vessels that transited through the northern sea route were either going to or coming from a Chinese port.
China issued its first Arctic policy in January, which made it clear that they think the Arctic is a global issue that cannot be left to Arctic states alone. China describes itself as a “near-Arctic state” and sees economic and investment potential in the region, with a polar silk road that would eventually be integrated with its larger belt and road initiative.
So far, China has remained within the boundaries of existing treaties governing the Arctic.
Chinese interests do present some opportunities for Arctic communities, but they also raise concerns about whether China would eventually try to impose its interpretation of maritime international law, or whether China's economic presence might lead to more political influence or even a military presence.
Like other Arctic nations, Russia has been showing a mix of interest and caution towards China. China is a key investor in the Yamal LNG project, and Russia is hoping that China will participate in developing infrastructure along the northern sea route. At the same time, Russia is intent on keeping control over that route and is wary of China's military power on its southern border.
To conclude, I would highlight what I see as perhaps the most significant change for Canada and other Arctic states, which is that the Arctic is turning from a periphery to a centre, an economic centre and a military choke point, and Canada and other Arctic states face the challenge of balancing their sovereign interests against the ever-growing presence of non-Arctic states in the region.