Thin Ice: Canada's Arctic Pact with the U.S.

Full sovereignty is vital ... we will accept no substitutes. Only with full sovereignty can we protect the entire range of Canadian interests.
Joe Clark, September 1985

By Phil Smith-Eivemark | 1988-04-01 12:00:00

CANADA AND THE United States signed the Arctic Pact in Ottawa on January 11, 1988. When U.S. Secretary of State, George Shultz, and External Affairs Minister, Joe Clark signed the pact ending months of negotiations between the two nations, Canada hoped this agreement would move the U.S. toward recognition of Canada's claim to sovereignty in the Arctic. In fact, the agreement did nothing to bring the two nations any closer in their dispute over Canadian Arctic waters. The American negotiating position is that, even though the Northwest Passage is geographically within Canada's territorial waters, acknowledging Canada's sovereignty rights over passage of foreign vessels would weaken the American position in areas such as Libya's Gulf of Sidra where the U.S. claims right of passage for its warships, despite the fact those waterways are also within other nations' geographic area of sovereignty. Canada, on the other hand, considers the Arctic waters to be part of its internal waterways. So, in announcing the agreement in Washington, President Reagan made it clear that the Arctic Pact was only a "pragmatic solution" and emphasized that the U.S. still opposes Canada's exclusive claim to Arctic waters.

THE ARCTIC PACT UNDERLINES THE Government's approach to any disputes Canada has with the United States concerning sovereignty issues. The dictionary defines 'sovereignty' as the condition of being politically free. The Canadian Government has the most bizarre manner of demonstrating this condition. In signing this one-sided pact with the United States, Canada effectively gave up its right to control the use of its national waters in the Arctic. Incredibly, upon giving in to the American demand, Prime Minister Mulroney revealed to the Canadian public that the pact was "fully consistent with the requirements of Canadian sovereignty." It appears that, for the Prime Minister, full sovereignty for Canada means being a U.S. protectorate. The Defence White Paper ties Canada's defence plans intricately to American interests, free trade will integrate our economy into theirs, and the Arctic Pact allows the Americans to deny Canada's claims over its own waters.

Washington has agreed to stop sending icebreakers through the Arctic without Canada's approval, but even this concession is slanted toward America's interests. The State Department has agreed that the U.S. would seek prior consent to any voyage into Canada's Arctic waters only on a case-by-case basis. The agreement seems to let the U.S. ask permission for passage of an icebreaker when it is already in Canadian waters instead of seeking prior approval before it leaves port. This concession is the high point of the pact for Canada.

Warships, both surface and subsurface, are not covered in this agreement. The U.S. claims that its unrestricted right to use Canadian waters was covered by earlier secret agreements and so did not have to be dealt with in the Arctic Pact. Canada will not know when American submarines are in its waters or what they are doing there.

Prime Minister Mulroney may meet with Soviet leader Gorbachev this spring to discuss Canada-Soviet cooperation in the Arctic. The Arctic Pact agreement will curtail Canada's ability to negotiate with the Soviets. How does one nation deal with another nation that does not have full control over its own territory? Mr. Mulroney's claim that this pact enhances Canada's sovereignty is a bad joke. The Arctic militarization proceeds against the expressed wishes of the Canadian people.

Peace Magazine Apr-May 1988

Peace Magazine Apr-May 1988, page 12. Some rights reserved.

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