Pass the Danish?
War is changing. At least it is for the current generation of Canadians serving in the military. Not for at least half a century have the armed forces encountered the kind of fighting now becoming routine in Afghanistan.
To almost no fanfare over the past week, several reports surfaced explaining Canadian troops will be receiving a counterinsurgency manual sometime later in 2007. While the document may have been in preparation for years, it is likely that only recently policy planners and defence department officials began regarding its issuance with some sense of heightened importance. They may only now be asking: are troops ready for what may begin evolving in Afghanistan later this year? And, can the unthinkable, the possibility of Taliban forces reclaiming territory in the not too distant future, actually come to pass?
Writers Jon Elmer and Anthony Fenton explain that what the armed forces can look forward to is "a 250-page publication, the field manual outlines the principles and practices of fighting the kind of insurgencies that have come to define warfare for the Western powers in the 21st century, in places like Chechnya, Afghanistan and Iraq" [Jon Elmer and Anthony Fenton, "Canada’s Counterinsurgency Strategy," IPS Inter Press Service News Agency, 22 March 2007. Story posted at http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=37050
]. Insurgencies, or "irregular warfare," have come to define contemporary military encounters, and Elmer and Fenton add this type of conflict "has confounded U.S. and NATO forces in Iraq and Afghanistan respectively, where growing insurgencies have taken a bloody toll on local populations as well as Western troops, and signs of success are few and far between...The increased prominence of the doctrine was recently on display when Gen. David Petraeus, author of the United States Army and Marine Corps counter-insurgency field manual, took command of U.S. forces in Iraq in early 2007."
But profound changes in Canadian policy and military doctrine are likely to receive next to no attention from political leaders, who may even try to keep Afghanistan off the radar as much as possible, and even less in the context of any federal election campaign. Just over a year ago when Canadians last went to the polls, foreign policy issues were nearly absent. And when they did make a cameo appearance, it was over jurisdiction of the Arctic and national sovereignty. It was just over two years ago Denmark’s claim to Hans Island stirred patriotic feelings, and some Canadians demanded the federal government get passionate about exerting control over the Far North. There was flag waving, and "some Canadians even called for a boycott of Danish pastries" [cited in Doug Mellgren’s ‘Riches Await as Earth’s Icy North Melts,’ AP, 24 March 2007. Story Posted at http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20070324/ap_on_sc/arctic_bonanza
But what was or is it about places like Hans Island? Hans’s uninhabited and uninhabitable, so what’s there to stir patriotic fervor? The answer is likely to be found in global warming’s silver lining. While melting in the far north may translate into possible extinction for polar bears and aboriginal cultures, it also means vast amounts of natural resources, including fossil fuels, are made easier for the taking. All that potential profit making already means "regardless of climate change, oil and gas exploration in the Arctic is moving full speed ahead. State-controlled Norwegian oil company Statoil ASA plans to start tapping gas from its offshore Snoehvit field in December, the first in the Barents Sea" [cited in Mellgren]. And all that melting means transportation is being made not only easier, but much more lucrative. For example, "Global warming is also bringing an unexpected bonus to American transportation company OmniTrax Inc., which a decade ago bought the small underutilized Northwest Passage port of Churchill, Manitoba, for a token fee of 10 Canadian dollars (about $8)...The company, which is private, won't say how much money it is making in Churchill, but it was estimated to have moved more than 500,000 tons of grain through the port in 2007" [in Mellgren].
So the last time politicians dared to raise Arctic sovereignty they could do so by appealing to Canadians’ sense of nationalism. Now if Ottawa’s real interest in defending the North is linked to profits made possible or easier by global warming, can Arctic sovereignty really be revived without triggering a public backlash? According to polls over the past few months, global warming and environmental issues are a major concern for ordinary people. Can two kinds of green really be made to coexist?
Pass that Danish?
Posted by Stan Markotich
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