Russian troops above America’s border: Canada’s ‘Red Dawn’ moment?

In August 2007, at the end of a series of war games uniting China and Russia, the Russians planted their flag at the North Pole, that singular place on earth where the world’s axis seems to align itself with the North Star. The planting of the flag was a Sputnik moment, but underwater. Its purpose was to territorialize our northern regions as surely as a dog of war would pee on the frozen tundra to ward off Canadian coyotes. It should have been, but President George W. Bush, his imagination full of visions of Armageddon in the Holy Land conjured by Appalachian mountain preachers, missed it. Presidential hopefuls, Mitt Romney and Rick Perry in particular, should not. Until recently, threats to America via the splendid isolation of the Arctic seemed absurd. But now it is reported that Russia intends to send a combat brigade.

The Arctic is transforming before our eyes, Heather A. Conley reports on Christmas in The Washington Post, and not just because the ice is melting. The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that the Arctic contains 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil resources and 30 percent of its gas resources. And as the ice melts, cargo transport could increase from the 111,000 tons in 2010 to more than 1 million tons in 2012, according to some Russian estimates.

It is increasingly the site of military posturing. “Russia has plans to establish a brigade that is specially equipped and prepared for military warfare in Arctic conditions,” Conley writes.

Does the presence of a Russian brigade present an existential threat to Canada; a “Red Dawn” moment? Because if it does, it presents the same threat to America.

President Obama did the right thing in sending a few hundred troops to Australia, apparently symbolic action geared to the rise of China’s influence in the region. But questions arise if we would likewise defend our far more intimate Anglosphere kin, Canada.

Canadian foreign-policy scholar Irvin Studin at the University of Toronto’s School of Public Policy and Governance has single-handedly and perhaps presciently warned of a “new strategic reality” in which war could come to our continent. Under new circumstances, he writes, the U.S. “might very well raise the threshold beyond which it would be willing to directly defend or intervene to defend Canada in the event of an attack. The U.S. of this new century [weakened economically and weary of war abroad] will let many sleeping dogs lie.” The astonishing rise of Ron Paul’s isolationism is testament to Studin’s thesis.

The Star, a Canadian periodical, reports that Russia’s new Arctic security force will include 590 ground- and sea-based units and 384 aviation units, raising fears that this is a disguised and destabilizing military buildup. Russia says it is to guard against terrorists, smugglers, illegal fishers and other interlopers. But Putin’s fresh show of force includes a multibillion-dollar program to build a new generation of nuclear submarines to patrol the Northern Sea Route, he announced last month.

Any threat on Canada's northern borders is as great a threat to America as it is to Canada. It is said that there is nothing between Minnesota and the Arctic Circle but a bunch of fences. I’ve been there. There are no fences. But now a Russian brigade is on the way.