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Rob Huebert is a political science professor at the University of Calgary. He's also associate director at the university's Centre for Military and Strategic Studies. He was at Eureka on Ellesmere Island for the end of the Canadian Forces Operation Nunalivut 08, April 13. His strong views on Arctic sovereignty have earned him, in some circles, the description of "purveyor of polar peril." - Bruce Valpy/NNSL photo

Canada's control of Arctic waters questioned

Bruce Valpy
Northern News Services
Published Monday, April 28, 2008

NUNAVUT - Waiting to greet the Northern Rangers dismounting their snowmachines on the shore in front of the Eureka weather station was one of the foot soldiers on the academic front in Canada's sovereignty campaign.

Called by some the "purveyor of polar peril," Rob Huebert is a political science professor at the University of Calgary.

He's also associate director at the university's Centre for Military and Strategic Studies, which is why he was invited to get his university "boots on the ground" in Canada's Arctic to witness the end of Nunalivut 08. It was a rare chance to talk to the Rangers first hand.

Knowledgeable on global politics, Huebert has written extensively on Arctic sovereignty.

When asked to boil down the high level diplomatic and academic strategy surrounding Canada's sovereignty claims, Huebert obliges with a single word: "Control."

He considers Canada's control over the Arctic weak. "We have limited ability to respond to what's happening."The issues are oil and gas development, warming seas, melting ice, increased ship traffic and a couple of circumpolar giants waking up from a deep sleep - Russia and the United States.

"The threats are multilevel," said Huebert, during an interview on a packed Dash 8 military charter high above the mountainous backbone of Ellesmere Island.

"Russia is a sea power with two ports in the Arctic, one east and one west. There's a real possibility of resumption of military activity by hostile or non-hostile powers."

To best understand Huebert's comments, a look at a world globe or online using Google Earth shows just how the eastern and western paws of the great Russian bear hug the Arctic ocean, across the North pole from Canada's North.

The other sea power, of course, is the United States. Canada and the U.S. do not agree where our borders are on the Beaufort Sea.

"Remember the recent announcement of $550 million in exploration in the Beaufort," he said.

The implication is clear: Where there are big bucks, and multi-national corporations, there is potential for conflict. "Then there's the Bathurst Inlet road system," he added. "Canada needs a means of monitoring commercial activity."

As for the "polar peril" label, Huebert is hardly guilty of more than being frank about the task Canada faces in establishing a solid Arctic sovereignty claim.

The Canadian Coast Guard needs to start the minimum 10-year process for replacing an aging fleet of icebreakers. Satellite surveillance on shipping, ice information, international agreements, all play a role, and of course, "the 800 pound gorilla," which is what Huebert calls the Canadian Forces.

"The military is thinking right thoughts," he said. "Military patrols will continue along with continuing developments with the Rangers."

The groundbreaking on Arctic sovereignty is encouraging, Huebert said, but with a word of warning.

"The more we are prepared for the worst case, the better off we will be."