Get Canada Out of NATO!

Military Exercises in the Canadian Arctic

On March 1, the Department of National Defence (DND) announced that Operation (Op) NANOOK-NUNALIVUT, a military exercise conducted annually since 2007, would take place in and around Resolute, Nunavut and Yellowknife, Northwest Territories from March 1 to 17. The exercise involved more than 300 Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) members and about 50 military personnel from the U.S., Belgium, Germany and France. It involved long-range patrols, austere logistics and below-ice diving. According to DND, its aim is to strengthen the CAF's presence in the Arctic and help improve the military readiness of partners which "includes the delivery of training, as well as practicing techniques to ensure the CAF remains coordinated with our Allies and partners."

"Op NANOOK-NUNALIVUT is one of four comprehensive annual activities designed to exercise the defence of Canada and to secure our northern regions, all under the name of Op NANOOK. These exercises take place from early Spring to late Summer, demonstrating the CAF's presence and exercising Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic," DND says.

How the presence of foreign forces, especially U.S. military personnel, defends Canada's sovereignty in the Arctic is anyone's guess. DND says that Op NANOOK-NUNALIVUT is "an all-domain defence and security operation designed to foster greater combined and joint interoperability with regional and international partners." The CAF personnel included Regular and Reserve Force personnel from several units in Quebec, Ontario, New Brunswick and the Northwest Territories. The approximately 50 foreign military members include "Around 30 members of the U.S. 86th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (86th IBCT); With the Dive Task Force: Approximately 5 Belgian Naval Component Clearance Divers; Approximately 5 French Army Combat; and A German Dive Medical Officer as an observer."

Arctic Indigenous Peoples and non-indigenous residents have a long and proud tradition of fighting for a peaceful Arctic region. These include massive opposition to U.S. atomic bomb testing on Alaska's Amchitka Island in the 1960s and 1970s, peace campaigns in northern countries, and a long struggle led by Innu and Inuit peoples against low-level supersonic military flights by the Canadian government and various NATO countries throughout Labrador and northern Quebec in the 1980s and 1990s. From the time Canada first ratified the North Atlantic Treaty in 1949 which, amongst other things, it used to justify the establishment of U.S. military bases in Canada, the Innu nation fought every inch of the way against the appropriation of their traditional lands for U.S. and NATO bases and the damage to their way of life. During the 1980s and 1990s, Canadian federal authorities carried out over 400 arrests of the Innu people who heroically fought against the development of a NATO Training Base in Labrador.

Left: Innu women demonstrate in the mid-1980s against NATO overflights and for self-determination for their homeland which they call Nitassinan. 

In 2009 at a conference in Reykjavik, Iceland, NATO declared the Arctic a "strategically important region." The U.S., Canada and NATO make no secret about why they need a military group deployed in the Arctic region. U.S. and some Canadian icebreakers have been deploying to defend what are called the national interests of those members of the alliance who claim their right to the natural wealth of this part of the planet despite what studies show regarding ownership of the sea bed. The Arctic contains about 90 billion barrels of unexplored crude and enormous reserves of natural gas, which could be comparable to those of Russia making up about 30 per cent of global gas reserves. The U.S. is keen on establishing its hegemony over the Arctic to make sure Russia cannot make use of the resources in arctic water and the seabed within its sovereign territorial limits. Experts say that by 2030 Russia will be using many of its Arctic gas deposits to extract about 50 per cent of its natural gas such as the Shtokman deposit in the Barents Sea which experts say contains 4 trillion cubic metres of gas.

Call to Make the Arctic a Zone of Peace

In 1989, in a powerful statement that still resonates today, Mary Simon, then President of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference (ICC), wrote eloquently about the need to establish an Arctic Zone of Peace. She pointed out in her article that a vital starting point is to "recognize that vast regions in northern Canada, Alaska, Greenland and eastern Siberia constitute first and foremost the Inuit homeland" and that Inuit people do not want their traditional territories treated as "a strategic military and combat zone between eastern and western alliances."[1]

Of course, today this same Mary Simon is Canada's Governor General which makes her Commander-in-Chief of Canada's Armed Forces. As such, she plays a major role in recognizing the importance of Canada’s military at home and abroad and could no longer voice such opinions. Nonetheless, what is written in 1989 resonates today. She noted at that time that the Inuit people, who have lived in the circumpolar regions for thousands of years, are the Arctic's legitimate spokespersons. Because their lands and communities "transcend the boundaries of four countries" (i.e. U.S., Canada, Greenland (Denmark) and Russia), the Inuit are in "a unique position to promote peace, security and arms control objectives among Arctic states," she wrote.

"Any excessive military build-up in the North," she stated, "whether by the Soviet Union [which was still in existence then] or the United States, only serves to divide the Arctic, perpetuate East-West tensions and the arms race, and put our people on opposing sides."

Youth in Iqaluit, Nunavut defend their future and their right to a say in what takes place on their territories in a climate march, June 5, 2019.

From an Inuit viewpoint, an Arctic zone of peace would not allow nuclear weapons or testing of weapons of mass destruction, nor military activities that "disrupt or undermine the communities, territories, rights and security of aboriginal and other northern peoples." In that regard, safeguarding the Arctic environment "must take precedence over military exercises and activities."

It is unfortunate that today, Simon is Commander-in-Chief of the very armed forces Canada is deploying in the arctic to establish U.S. hegemony and conduct NATO military exercises to make Russia an enemy and endanger the cause of world peace. Another aim of the U.S. to seize control of the Canadian Arctic is to make sure the Northwest Passage cannot be used as a sea route by any country seeking to shorten the passage between Europe and Asia by 7,000 kilometers, as compared to the route through the Panama Canal. Nonetheless the position the ICC took in 1989 when Simon was its Chair remains valid today.

As a first step, the ICC proposed that Arctic nations must declare that an Arctic zone of peace should be a central objective for them, possibly brought about in stages. Furthermore, that, from these countries, "there must be an express commitment that their future military and arms control policies will be consistent with the objective of a zone for peace" and that Canadian and Nordic state territory "must not be used by any country for offensive and destabilizing military purposes."

In addition, nuclear weapons and all air- and sea-launched cruise missiles must be banned and the naval uses of the Arctic reviewed, keeping in mind that "the principle of unrestricted 'freedom of navigation' on the high seas is out-dated and open to abuse by military powers."

An important step in reversing the trend of militarization would be to develop an "international legal framework that codifies offences against the peace and security of humankind" and that these standards would include such human rights "as the right to peace, the right to development and right to a safe and healthy environment."

In closing, on behalf of the ICC, Mary Simon urged "all Arctic governments, regardless of their military affiliation or nuclear status, to embrace the idea of an Arctic zone of peace" and that for those whose ancestral home has always been the Arctic the future of the North merits no less!


1. Mary Simon, "Toward an Arctic Zone of Peace: An Inuit Perspective," Peace Research, Vol. 21, No. 4 (November 1989). Canadian Mennonite University.

This article was published in
Volume 54 Number 2 - March 2024

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