Military exercise in Arctic aims to send message without spreading COVID-19

Military exercise in Arctic aims to send message without spreading COVID-19

OTTAWA — Canada and some of its closest allies have kicked off a three-week naval exercise in the Arctic that aims to send a message of unity against potential adversaries in the North without spreading COVID-19 to local communities.

The training exercise known as Operation Nanook has been a mainstay for the Canadian Armed Forces since 2007 but this is the first year that the U.S., France and Denmark will all be participating as well.

Canadian and U.S. naval officers told reporters during a briefing Tuesday that the involvement of those other nations reflected the importance of co-operation among allies when it comes to military operations in an increasingly important part of the world.

Western countries as well as potential adversaries such as Russia and China have been steadily expanding their military footprints and activities in the region as climate change makes it easier to reach and operate in, raising concerns about the threat of a conflict.

“The message is the Arctic is strategically important, it’s becoming increasingly important and it’s important for our collective national security,” said Vice-Admiral Steven Poulin, commander of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Atlantic area.

“And I think the participation is a reflection of a mutual commitment by the partners and allied nations to share goals to that end.”

Yet this year’s iteration of Operation Nanook is also smaller than past versions, which have included personnel and equipment from across the Canadian military, particularly the Canadian Rangers, as well as other federal departments.

Rear Admiral Brian Santarpia, commander of the Royal Canadian Navy’s Maritime Forces Atlantic, said this year’s exercise will not include any land-based forces and focus almost exclusively on naval operations because of concerns about spreading COVID-19.

“Much of Nanook we decided not to conduct this year because we didn’t want to be a vector into our own remote populations, where they’re quite protected from COVID now just by that very fact of being remote,” Santarpia said.

The three Canadian navy ships and four foreign vessels participating will not make any stops in Canada’s Far North. Their only port call will be to Nuuk, Greenland, to refuel. Sailors will not be allowed off their ships.

Canada’s three territories have been largely spared from any COVID-19 outbreak, with only a handful of positive cases reported.

The Canadian and allied warships will focus most of their activities in the Davis Strait between Baffin Island and Greenland, which is considered part of the Northwest Passage.

Canada and the U.S. have been at odds for decades over whether the passage is Canadian or international waters, a question Santarpia, Poulin and Vice-Admiral Andrew Lewis, commander of the U.S. 2nd Fleet, studiously avoided.

“It’s a complex issue that involves more lawyers than naval officers and it has a lot to do with interpretations of international law,” Santarpia said.

“This exercise is really designed to let us work better together than we already do and we’ll let the lawyers worry about the rest of it.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 4, 2020.

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

Military

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Central zone has 20 active cases of COVID-19

Province identified 143 new cases across Alberta on Wednesday

Black and Indigenous Alliance at Wetaskiwin City Hall

The Alliance gathered Saturday for a peaceful protest on City Hall grounds.

COVID-19: Active cases in central zone up Tuesday

Central zone active cases remains lowest of all zones

Central zone active cases down to 20

Province provides update

Ladies Golf Scramble raises $3,355 for local charity

All proceeds raised will be donated to the Education Plus Fund for the WRPS district.

Liberals vow wage-subsidy extension to 2021, revamp of EI system in throne speech

Canadian labour market was hammered by pandemic, when lockdowns in the spring led to a loss of 3 million jobs

First annual Best of Wetaskiwin Readers’ Choice Awards

Enter to win a $200 gift card for Canadian Tire.

Canada’s active COVID-19 cases top 10,000 as daily new cases triple over the past month

Dr. Tam repeated her warning to young people, who have made up the majority of recent cases

Liberal effort to reset policy agenda panned by rivals as too much talk, not action

Trudeau said it’s ‘all too likely’ families won’t be able to gather for Thanksgiving next month

Grand jury indicts police officer in Breonna Taylor death

Officer Brett Hankison was charged with three counts of wanton endangerment

Missionary plane dedicated at Ponoka, Lacombe airports

MiracleAir flies humanitarian missions to Nicaragua

RCMP investigating after far-right groups disrupt anti-racism rally in Alberta

Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer said she respects the right of peaceful assembly, but denounces racism and violence

Refresh of Liberal government’s agenda comes amid new looming COVID-19 crisis

Lockdowns saw fed spending soar to historic levels in effort to offset pandemic’s blow to Canadians’ livelihoods

Public health officials urge Canadians to limit contacts again as COVID-19 cases rise

Canada has committed $1 billion to buy at least 154 million doses of vaccines from five different companies

Most Read