Canada, Russia, spies, and the Arctic

Media reports about Sub-Lieutenant Jeffrey Paul Delisle, the Canadian naval intelligence officer who is alleged to have provided state secrets to a “foreign entity”, are pointing the finger at Russia as the probable recipient (“Naval officer allegedly leaked secrets to Russia: Source,” CTVNews, 16 January 2012.)

Much of the media coverage of the case relies on former and unnamed intelligence sources and outside “experts” and thus should be taken with a grain of salt. Assuming espionage activities did take place, however, it is certainly plausible that Russia’s intelligence agencies were involved. One speculation is that Russia was seeking information about how to avoid ocean sensors that can track the movements of their submarines in the Arctic and other oceans.

UBC professor (and Rideau Institute advisor) Michael Byers suggests that the Canadian government should respond to the incident by engaging constructively with Russia over the Arctic (Douglas Quan & Bradley Bouzane, “Navy Spy Caper could be linked to arctic territorial dispute,” Postmedia News, 17 January 2012).

Russia’s pursuit of such information, Byers argues, was probably an effort to “cover its bases” in case of future tensions:

“Given that Russia’s principal military strength remains its nuclear submarine fleet . . . and needs to be able to access the Atlantic Ocean via some relatively narrow waterways, having inside information as to the acoustic sensor locations of NATO countries would certainly facilitate the covert movement of those vessels.”

He stressed, however, that with Russia’s current standing in the global community, including its recent addition to the World Trade Organization, there’s no reason for it to “upset the apple cart.”

A larger question, Byers said, is how Prime Minister Stephen Harper chooses to respond to the situation.

“You can either kind of shrug it off in terms of foreign relations . . . or you can use it as an opportunity to stir up some controversy in international relations,” he said. “I would encourage the Harper government to take the former approach and to shrug this off. We all know that espionage happens and we also know that as far as Russia goes, that steering Russia in a more co-operative direction is good for everyone.”

Another recent call for Arctic security co-operation comes from Olin Strader of the Arctic Institute, who argues that an Arctic Council Security Agreement is the best way to ensure long-term Arctic security (Olin Strader, “An Arctic Council Security Agreement: Preventing Militarization and Ensuring Stability and Security of the Arctic (Part 1),” Arctic Institute, 17 January 2012):

To avoid jeopardizing the current stability of the Arctic, brokering an Arctic Council Security Agreement is perhaps the best way to avoid militarization of the Arctic in the longer-term. Long-term stability in a region could be jeopardized by misunderstandings and further exacerbated by a general lack of a shared vision.

However, a regional security agreement should be put in place as the Arctic opens to increased exploitation to guarantee stability and security. Without one, events are left to chance and chance is a fickle partner.

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