Partners in the north: Canada hosts the Arctic Security Forces Roundtable in Halifax

A multinational group of military officers and civilians pose for a photo on a ship
Halifax, Nova Scotia. May 1, 2018 - Members of the Arctic Security Forces Round Table, gather on the forecastle of Her Majesty's Canadian Ship (HMCS) Ville De Quebec. (Photo by: Able Seaman John Iglesias, Formation Imaging Services)

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By Lucy Ellis, Canadian Joint Operations Command Public Affairs

It’s a crisp, spring morning in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Generals and flag officers from seven Arctic nations and four key Arctic partner nations stand on the deck of a Canadian frigate, sailing past an impressive sight: Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship Harry DeWolf, the Royal Canadian Navy’s first Arctic Offshore Patrol Ship.

The moment is emblematic of this year’s Arctic Security Forces Roundtable (ASFR): Arctic nations must work together to move into the future of operating in the challenging region that is the global Arctic.

The conference took place from May 1 to 3, 2018. It brought together senior military officers, military and governmental Arctic experts, and academics specializing in defence and the Arctic, to promote greater regional understanding, dialogue, and cooperation in the Arctic region.

The participants were from seven Arctic states – Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, and the United States – as well as partner nations that are key to conducting operations in the Arctic – France, Germany, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom.

This was the first time that the ASFR has been hosted in North America since its inception in 2011.

“It gave us a chance to present Canada’s Arctic vision for the Canadian Armed Forces, from Strong, Secure, Engaged to our Arctic allies and partners,” said Major-General Bill Seymour, Chief of Staff Operations at the Canadian Joint Operations Command.

“We put the Canadian perspective on Arctic operations out there: it’s whole-of-government; it’s partnerships with other government departments and Indigenous peoples, and it’s collaborative in sharing information and Arctic knowledge with key Arctic nations. We demonstrated the CAF’s Arctic expertise, mandate and capability to operate there and our commitment to be present in the Arctic over the long term,” he continued.

The CAF is building on its Arctic expertise and has unique assets that enable it to operate in the North. Many of the CAF’s operations are in support of or in collaboration with another government department or agency, such as the Canadian Coast Guard, Environment and Climate Change Canada, or Parks Canada, to name a few.

As laid out in Canada’s defence policy, Strong, Secure, Engaged, the Department of National Defence is increasing its presence in the Arctic over the long term. That entails increasing training and exercises with Arctic partners. One area of cooperation that has recently opened up is the ability to conduct NATO exercises in Canada’s Arctic.

ASFR underscores the need to work together up in this region,” said MGen Seymour. “There’s a broad international desire to keep the Arctic as a zone that is cooperative and collaborative.”

Importantly, cooperation in the Arctic for Canada needs to include Indigenous partnerships. One panel brought together the recent former Commander of Joint Task Force (North), the Commanding Officer of 1 Canadian Ranger Patrol Group, and a Ranger platoon leader. They discussed the importance of Rangers to Canadian Armed Forces operations in the North, the skills and knowledge they bring and how that partnership helps assert Canadian Arctic sovereignty.

The Canadian Rangers have long played an important role in safeguarding Canada’s North. As many of the Rangers are members of northern Indigenous communities, they also provide a vital link from the federal government to people in the North.

The conference also examined upcoming threats, challenges, and opportunities in the Arctic. From climate change to competing interests of international powers, global attention on the Arctic continues to grow year over year.

The CAF’s vision for the Arctic was clear: success will come from increased presence and capabilities demonstrated through strong collaboration and cooperation in our northernmost areas.

Image gallery

  • A multinational group of military officers and civilians pose for a photo on a ship
  • Canadian sailors salute as a Norwegian officer walks up a ramp onto a ship
  • A female Norwegian general speaks with a male Danish officer on a ship
  • A multinational group of military officers and civilians stand on a ship and watch a helicopter fly close to the water
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