The Canadian Forces and Arctic Sovereignty book cover

The Canadian Forces and Arctic Sovereignty book cover

The Canadian Forces and Arctic Sovereignty: Debating Roles, Interests and Requirements, 1968 – 1974

by P. Whitney Lackenbauer and Peter Kikkert

Waterloo, ON: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2010
398 pages, $34.95 (PB)
ISBN 13:978-1-92680-400-2

Reviewed by Major Tony Balasevicius

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In 2009, the Canadian government unveiled a new policy for the Arctic with its Northern Strategy. The strategy isfocused upon exercising Canada’s sovereignty while helping the Arctic realise its full potential as a healthy and prosperous region within Canada. Although there is general agreement that greater investment in the Arctic is long overdue, there are differences of opinion regarding the best method by which to achieve this goal. Specifically, there is concern among some analysts that the government is putting far too much emphasis upon the need for the Canadian Forces (CF) to re-establish sovereignty in the North at the expense of other more important developmental priorities.

In an effort to put this sovereignty debate into perspective, P. Whitney Lackenbauer, the Chair of the Department of History at St. Jerome’s University (University of Waterloo), has teamed up with Peter Kikkert, a Ph.D. student in History at the University of Western Ontario, to produce The Canadian Forces and Arctic Sovereignty: Debating Roles, Interests, and Requirements, 1968-1974.

The book is an edited work that chronicles the policy recommendations and debates with respect to the military’s role in Arctic sovereignty during the years leading up to, and immediately after, the introduction of the 1971 Defence White Paper. The book is divided into three sections, including an introduction, the documents that the editors have compiled, and an ‘afterword’ by a well-known authority in the field of Arctic security, Professor Rob Huebert of the University of Calgary.

The introduction provides an excellent overview of the issues, events, and debates that shaped the various policy papers being presented in this book. In the process, it outlines CF responses to government direction on Arctic military issues, and highlights divisions between the different departments with respect to how sovereignty should be established. The well-crafted analysis within this section is combined with a smooth writing style that makes for easy reading of the diverse issues.   

The second section is the core of the book, and it contains 63 different documents. It commences with a review of the government’s initial attempts to define sovereignty, and then explores the role of the Canadian Forces in strengthening the nation’s claims in the north. It then pulls those discussions together into a case study as it examines the government’s perspective and reaction to the September 1969 voyage of the S.S. Manhattan through the Northwest Passage. 

The next part of this section chronicles the Department of National Defence’s (DND) planning for Arctic operations. The editors have provided some unique insights into the efforts undertaken by the Department’s planners, which examined possible threats, roles, and resources that could be made available for the Arctic mission. Of particular significance is the Concept of Operations for the Canadian Forces Northern Region, dated 14 July 1970 that came about as a direct result of this exercise. The document, which was classified for many years, is a good summary on how the CF interpreted the previous debates, and the direction it had been given up to that time.

The section moves forward with some interesting background dealing with what is today commonly referred to as the Whole of Government (WoG) approach to operations. It examines the Canadian Forces’ relationship with other government departments, and provides some detail into how each might work together to achieve common interests. These papers highlight the fact that the WoG concept is not unique to the modern battle space, as the idea appears to have been well entrenched within government as far back as the early-1970s.

The section concludes by looking at the Department of External Affairs’ (DEA) reaction to the initial drafts of the White Paper on Defence, and examines a number of excerpts from the House of Commons debates and reports on what the military actually did in the Arctic during the period under review. At times these documents can be a tedious read. However, the editors have done an extremely good job of organizing the pertinent papers and debates within this section so that key themes are presented in a logical manner.

The ‘afterword” section,’ written by Dr. Huebert, is interesting, and provides the reader with a different perspective on the analysis contained in the first section. Huebert highlights many of the contradictions inherent in the government’s response to the Arctic, and makes a compelling argument that those efforts were not as complete as they could have been because they were hindered by a philosophy of looking for low cost solutions to the Arctic’s problems.

In a number of respects, The Canadian Forces and Arctic Sovereignty is a compelling work that provides a nice balance between insight and analysis into the government’s decision making process with respect to Arctic sovereignty issues between 1968 and 1974. Lackenbauer and Kikkert have provided Canadians with a well- researched resource that will in all likelihood remain relevant for some years. As Huebert aptly points out, “… many of the arguments and debates that shaped the responses of the Canadian government in the 1960s and 1970s are eerily similar to the arguments that are being put forth today.” Much of the material contained within the book is still relevant to researchers, analysts, and policy makers today, simply because the debate over government priorities in the Arctic appears to have changed very little over the years.

Major Tony Balasevicius, a highly experienced infantry officer, was a member of the team that worked on the Arctic Integrating Concept, and is currently Team Lead for the Canadian Forces Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Enabling Concept.