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Co-operation, pragmatic engagement the path forward for Canada’s Arctic foreign policy

By Alexandra Slobodov      

It is possible to co-operate with Russia on Arctic issues, which are critical for Canadian security, while also remaining vigilant about Moscow’s more adversarial geopolitical moves in Ukraine and elsewhere.

U.S. Coast Guard icebreakers in the Arctic. The Northwest Passage and the Northern Sea Route are the backbones of both Canadian and Russian respective Arctic policies. Notably, the U.S. has refused to recognize either Canada’s or Russia’s claims, writes Alexandra Slobodov. Photograph courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

A rapidly evolving Arctic environment has turned the North into a new frontier of international economic, political, and environmental importance, intensifying geopolitical rivalries in a region that is in many regards a microcosm of the increasingly multipolar international system. This complicates Canada’s foreign policy in the North, particularly toward Russia, as many Canadian policymakers continue to view Arctic geopolitics through the familiar lens of competition and conflict with Russia. However, it is important to carefully assess Russia’s strategy and posture in the North to recognize that Moscow does not stand to gain from adopting an aggressive approach to the Arctic. Despite adversarial relations in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, Ottawa and Moscow have continued to selectively engage and co-operate as core members of the Arctic Council. Following a northern strategy that is rooted in selective engagement—prioritizing engagement and co-operation in the Arctic region while also permitting strategic competition elsewhere—stands out as an especially promising approach to Canada’s Arctic foreign policy.

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