Take Five is The Arctic Institute’s news roundup that gives you everything you need to know about what’s happened in the Arctic this week. Short in length but big on insight, from politics and culture to the environment and security, we look beneath the headlines to see what’s really going on. Published each Friday, our quick and fun redux breaks down the five biggest circumpolar stories with fresh editorial analysis so you can get caught up on the region in under five minutes. Take Five means you’ll never miss a beat on what matters most.
MMIWG commission, you had one job…
Although it started with the best of intentions when it launched in September of last year, Canada’s commission to investigate the disappearance or murder of thousands of Indigenous women and girls (known in Canada by simply the acronym MMIWG)—an issue Indigenous families and communities have been pushing hard for years to have the government take action on—has done so poorly on its stated objectives that the Native Women’s Association of Canada has given it a “failing grade” on a number of criteria and is calling for a public apology (CBC). Lampooned elsewhere as a “fortress of bureaucratic incompetence,” in a twist of irony, the commission seems particularly ineffective at contacting and working with families (CBC).
TAKE 1: But while the country is having nationwide celebrations in honor of its 150th birthday this year, to those familiar with Canada’s long and painful history of forced Indigenous assimilation, the failures of the MMIWG inquiry, while disappointing, are not entirely surprising. While non-Indigenous Canadians are slowly becoming more aware of the acute issues faced by Indigenous peoples, this isn’t necessarily translating into effective interventions and improved living standards, as evidenced by high food insecurity, homelessness, and unsafe living conditions (among other problems) in Canada’s North (Arctic Deeply, CBC, CBC, CBC). Perhaps with Inuit women’s org Pauktuutit getting official standing to work with the MMIWG commission will provide some impetus towards making some real progress on the ground (CBC).
A reinvigorated Silk Road: A bridge from China to the Arctic?
Beijing was the host of last week’s Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, a two-day summit that brought together leaders from all over the world, but especially Asia, Europe, and the Middle East to discuss China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative. Hailed as a Silk Road for the 21st century and clearly inspired by its antecedent from antiquity, the Initiative is a far-ranging plan for economic cooperation that emphasizes infrastructure investment and involves nearly 70 countries stretching from Indonesia to Egypt and Russia (Xinhua Net, Xinhua Net, CNN). President Putin made an appearance at the Forum, praising the project’s cooperative spirit (CNN).
TAKE 2: Of course, while the original Silk Road ran from east to west, version 2.0 also looks to the north with Russia’s natural resources in mind. It’s in both countries’ interests to invest in infrastructure to ship them out of Siberia, and two deliverables that came out of the forum speak to just that (Xinhua Net). On paper, China’s Arctic policy is officially about respect and cooperation, and while increasing its presence in the region could translate into more influence down the road, Russia will remain somewhat skeptical of its overtures until it’s clear that any new projects are truly to its advantage (The Diplomat, Jamestown Foundation).
Trump promises more icebreakers, but funding a mystery
Maybe the US Coast Guard won’t be sunk when it comes to icebreakers, after all. Speaking at the Coast Guard Academy’s commencement ceremony last week, Trump made the big announcement that he’s now planning to build six new icebreakers: three medium, three heavy. While a funding top-off wasn’t part of the promise, at least the Coast Guard doesn’t have to suffer the $1b cut to its budget as originally proposed (The Day).
TAKE 3: While this is great news for the Coasties considering that of its two operational icebreakers, its only heavy-class ship is a plucky 40 years old, how this proposal is different from Obama’s in 2015 remains to be seen as does where the funding is going to come from (The Day, ADN, Washington Post, Scientific American). And with much having been made in the US of Russia’s highly capable fleet (The Hill), if this is the start of an icebreaker race, with Russia’s substantial head start out of the gate, the US had better get some keels in the water.
Arctic Council now 7 observers larger
The news and analysis community continues to unpack the big Arctic Council ministerial meeting on May 11 in Fairbanks that saw the chairmanship pass from the US to Finland and the signing of an agreement to facilitate greater scientific cooperation. What’s also notable about this meeting is that seven new observers came on board, constituting about a third of all of those who applied. Switzerland, with its expertise on glaciers, was the only national government to make the cut; other new observers include the World Meteorological Organization, the Oslo-Paris Commission, and the West Nordic Council (TAS, Arctic Deeply). Yet again, the EU got turned down (TAJ)*.
TAKE 4: With the spotlight getting ever brighter on the Arctic, the Arctic Council is getting into the limelight, too, as more governments and organizations want to share their knowledge and leadership. And considering the Arctic’s global importance to things like sea level rise, ocean currents, shipping, and weather patterns, other observers, like India, Singapore, and Spain, hail from all over the world, having substantial polar research chops, regional economic interests, or both (TAS). As the saying goes, what happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic.
Arctic Challenge Exercise 2017: It’s like NATO, but not
Not too long after Norway’s Operation Viking, another military exercise has just started in the European Arctic. Called the Arctic Challenge Exercise (ACE), this every-two-year event that is one of Europe’s larger training exercises for fighter jets that began in 2013 is co-organized by Finland, Sweden, and Norway and is staged from each country’s northernmost military base (TBO, RCI, Defence Blog). Running until June 2, this year, it’s led by Finland and is involving seven other European countries plus the US, Canada, and NATO (RCI).
TAKE 5: The drill, which has the stated goal to “increase interoperability” (Defense.gov) between different air forces, isn’t a stranger to controversy, though. The last ACE in 2015 drew criticism from the Scandinavian left for what it views as a move to increase the militarization of the Arctic as well as to extend the reach of NATO (and Sputnik reports that protests have begun anew this year, too) (GUE/NGL). Recall that Finland and Sweden don’t belong to NATO: yet, ACE has overwhelmingly involved NATO members in the past, with this year being no exception. With the drill occurring close to Russia’s border on the heels of the recent NATO Parliamentary Assembly seminar in Svalbard (to which Moscow objected), tension accompanies fighter jets in the air.
* The Arctic Journal (TAJ) went offline in June 2017.