Examination of the future environment is an important practice for institutions that wish to ensure they have the mechanisms and capabilities to remain relevant and capable over the longer term. This practice is particularly important for militaries, as the lead time required to realize capabilities is often lengthy.

To facilitate the identification of required capabilities in a timely manner, a systematic process involving the examination of future trends and alternative futures via scenarios is often employed. Global trends across a broad range of domains – international power structures, trade and economics, demographics, technological advances, and the availability of critical natural resources – are examined to identify potential threats and define key characteristics of the future security environment. Scenarios depicting alternate futures are then extrapolated to identify future security capabilities, evaluate their relevance and effectiveness, and help determine what, if any, action should be taken to acquire appropriate capabilities.

The following narrative, set in the final months of 2040, provides an example of just such a scenario. Written as an historical account, it delineates developments that occurred over the preceding few decades relevant to this particular fictional security crisis. While aspects of the narrative might appear fanciful or dramatic, it is provided to provoke discussion on this process and the changing situation in Canada’s North.

Arctic 2040
Back in 2008, a report issued by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) identified phenomenal levels of potential reserves of oil and gas in the northern circumpolar regions of various nations and international seabed regions. Initially that report (and others like it) were widely dismissed as “wildly optimistic.” In addition, the difficulties involved in exploration, extraction and transportation of energy finds in the North were expected to make operations commercially unviable for decades, if not centuries.

Yet all of these assumptions changed with the impact of global warming, escalating global demand for oil and gas, and accelerating technology developments for northern extraction operations. To be sure, the relatively inaccessible geography of Canada’s North ensured that development was initially slow. Yet by 2030, rates of oil and gas production from across the Arctic were approaching historic peak production levels compared with the Persian Gulf region, which for a decade had seen declining production levels. Meanwhile, demographic and commercial growth throughout Canada’s Arctic Archipelago was considerable. Economic spin-offs from commercial fisheries to eco-tourism, cruise ships, adventure holidays, and even a new level of interest in hunting, fishing and photography camps were diverse and pervasive.

Development of legal norms and institutions governing the region followed suit. The Arctic Council, which aimed at increasing international collaboration on many things Arctic (environmental protection, emergency preparedness and sustainable development), provided a case in point. So too did the Northern Maritime Traffic Reporting system (NORDREG) and the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), which assumed the task of providing surveillance, detection, tracking, and identification of vessels approaching and within North American waters. Extension of the territory covered in Canada’s Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act from 100 to 200 nautical miles, resolution of the Hans Island and Lincoln Sea sovereignty disputes, and the movement toward a US-Canadian agreement on rights in the Beaufort Sea offered similar illustrations on the legal front.

Yet progress was limited in other areas. Regional acceptance of new institutions and regimes was not universal, and adherence was on the whole voluntary and sporadic. Indeed, a number of Arctic and non-Arctic nations, some increasingly prominent on the world stage and all having high commercial and economic ambitions in the North, maintained guarded, often non-committal postures vis-à-vis circumpolar institution building.

Canada’s Military Presence
Canadian efforts aimed at bolstering security and sovereignty in the region offered a similarly mixed picture. A military Arctic training centre had been established, which provided tremendous improvements to the training support provided to regular and reserve military units from the South. Deepwater ports offering service refuelling capability were established, and a Northern Ranger expansion program had bolstered Canada’s capacity to meet the challenges accompanying the considerable growth of cities and communities in the region. Yet the long economic slump of the first decades of the 21st century had a direct detrimental impact on Canada’s northern security posture. That said, an icebreaker for the Coast Guard and an ice capability for the Navy had both been delivered. As for Army’s mobility in the North, methods of movement existed but were limited. The focus was mainly on surveillance and access – functions largely provided through satellite, air and naval platforms.

As Canada’s four Forward Operating Locations (FOLs) had aged, it had become necessary to dedicate more and more resources to operate and maintain the facilities. This resulted in the establishment of small military garrisons at various northern sites. These garrisons were widely seen as evidence of an increased security footprint; however, in reality the small detachments (of 10 persons or less) had much more to do with infrastructure maintenance than anything else. A side benefit of the increased military presence in the North was a limited capability to deal with a range of minor emergencies as well as limited support for ground search efforts.

Numerous groups debated gaps in Canada’s northern security capabilities. Some noted that the explosive growth in the wealth of Canada’s North provided a security challenge that spoke almost as much to a military capability set as to an increased presence of RCMP detachments, Coast Guard, Border Services, and various safety-related agencies from federal and territorial governments.

Prelude to Crisis
Asia had been experiencing marked political and economic change, with several republics and provinces breaking away from mature nations. Organized crime syndicates were suspected of financing and facilitating these drives for independence.

Across the 2020s and 2030s this phenomenon (i.e., a breakdown of existing nation states) had been observed in various ways on four continents. Several of the new Asian republics emerged as politically ungovernable regions where international rogue elements flourished. In particular, the eastern Republic of Xenostate became a hub for criminal organizations attracted by the region’s vast reserves of natural resources (including diamonds, gold, silver, oil, gas and coal).

Legitimate corporations, which had occasionally dabbled in black market activities such as firearms, narcotics, and the sex-trade began to venture further and further into the criminal world. The result was the emergence of increasingly powerful syndicates. By 2030 a Xeno firm known as ZHAPROV had achieved a size and power akin to other Asian energy giants.

In 2036, following several successful offshore oil operations, ZHAPROV bid for and won exploration rights for the first time in Canada. Successful wells were proven within a year, and by 2038, operations on the northern shore of Prince Patrick Island, NWT, were launched. The ZHAPROV lease covered a relatively small region on the shore of this desolate island in the western region of the Canadian Arctic archipelago. The ZHAPROV operation included a small logistics settlement near the mining facility, an austere harbour, a small airstrip, equipment warehouses, accommodations, and oil storage facilities. The facility was staffed primarily by ethnic Xenos.

With the oil potential of Prince Patrick growing more and more attractive, ZHAPROV applied early for exploration rights to the entire island. Canadian denial of the ZHAPROV request was routine (i.e., rights for some of the other parts of the island were to be auctioned in different years from 2041 to 2045 time frame); however, ZHAPROV protested. When it became evident that neither protests nor inducements accelerate the ZHAPROV request, the firm decided to pursue other options.

Crisis Onset: Sequence of events
2039: Throughout the shipping months, a number of sources – Northern Ranger patrol reports, RADARSAT II imagery, NORAD and independent US imagery – reported that the level of logistics activity at the ZHAPROV mine on Prince Patrick Island had accelerated sharply.

Early September 2040: Two ships, one icebreaker and one ice-strengthened ship, departed from an undisclosed North Asian port; 96 hours prior to entering Canadian waters, they report their presence in accordance with NORDREG, listing a routine cargo of mining equipment and supplies bound for the ZHAPROV mining settlement on Prince Patrick Island.

15 September 2040: Upon arrival at Prince Patrick Island, the ship harboured on the southern shore in Mould Bay, a site not requested in the NORDREG submission and a site not authorized by the environmental regulations of Canada.

17 September 2040: Following discovery of this development, the Canadian Coast Guard attempted to clarify the intent of the deviation from plans by contacting the vessels by radio. All attempts at communications failed.

19 September 2040: The Canadian Coast Guard notified the relevant other government departments, including Border Services, Indian and Northern Affairs, DND, DFAIT, and the Solicitor General. The Government Operations Centre began to monitor the situation.

21 September 2040: Independent surveillance reports utilizing Canadian and NORAD resources confirmed that an offloading of supplies was progressing at a rapid pace. Analysis indicated that preparations for drilling operations were proceeding at a site not authorized for ZHAPROV or any other firm.

22 September 2040: Further analysis of other surveillance data indicated that either one or two foreign submarines were present in vicinity of Prince Patrick Island.

23 September 2040: Before Canada even asked the question, the U.S. confirmed the presence of submarines (numbers unconfirmed) in the vicinity of Prince Patrick and Melville Islands, asserting that they were not USN vessels. When Canada enquired, Russia denied any knowledge of the submarines. Other Asian nations also appeared to have no knowledge of the recent activities.

24 September 2040: A Northern Ranger patrol conducting an annual training exercise on Melville and Eglinton Islands was tasked by Headquarters Joint Task Force North to investigate.

25 September 2040: Further analysis of remote surveillance data showed that the staff presence on Prince Patrick Island had clearly surged from the roughly 100 staff previously present at the ZHAPROV facility in the North to almost 1000, most of which were located at the new facility in the South. It also appeared that some sort of commercial or military activity had commenced long before the arrival of the vessels.

26 September 2040: Further analysis indicated that the ZHAPROV airstrip on Prince Patrick Island was in heavy use by helicopters ferrying cargo from the vessels. Whenever the airstrip was not in use, it was routinely closed by local staff who parked heavy trucks at key points along the airfield. The abandoned airstrip at Mould Bay was effectively closed by well-placed piles of debris at several locations along the airstrip.

1700 hours, 27 September 2040: More than 10 kilometres offshore at a point south of Mould Bay, Prince Patrick Island, the Ranger Patrol was met by a patrol on snow machines that appeared to be from the ZHAPROV landing. Communication was impossible due to language barriers, but the message from the ZHAPROV patrol was clear: “Go away, now!” There was no threat of violence, but many automatic weapons were very clearly in evidence. Uniforms were not visible. The patrol also reported hearing unusual sounds, very distant and very loud, similar to, but not quite like thunder…

1730 hours, 27 September 2040: The PM asked the Minister of National Defence to identify options “to deal with an unauthorized foreign presence in Canada’s North.” The Prime Minister’s Office advised all members of the Privy Council to be prepared to receive briefings on matters of urgent national security.

Meeting the Challenge
Once sheltered by the obstacles of harsh climate, rugged terrain and southern indifference, the relative isolation of the Arctic of the past will be largely eclipsed by the realities of 2040. Technological innovation, climate change, politics, and economic and commercial interests coalesced to engender interest, access and growing activity on a level that decades earlier would have appeared fanciful. Clearly, however, “the promise” that the region holds walks hand in hand with potential perils.

The fictional vignette described above deliberately raises more questions than answers. Yet the trends from which the situation is derived are genuine. Moreover, the future challenges they raise underline the need for sound planning within the Canadian Forces today to ensure that they are prepared to meet Canada’s northern security requirements in the years and decades ahead.

Nancy Teeple holds an M.A. in War Studies from the Royal Military College of Canada. In the summer of 2008, she conducted research on Arctic security issues for the Land Staff, working with the Directorate of Land Concepts and Designs in Kingston.

To comment on this article or discuss the scenario with the author, please email: acaforum@gmail.com