Risk Reduction in the Arctic

Risk Reduction in the Arctic is a project developed by BASIC, funded by the Department of National Defence of the Government of Canada, that looks at Canadian Submarine Recapitalisation, Human Security and Risky Resources in the Arctic.

Why the Arctic?

The Arctic has been a region of peace apparently immune to conflicts. It has remained predominantly a region of international cooperation and successful international institutions. Currently, however, with climate change, the melting of Arctic sea ice, and increasing state competition for resources and power in the region, the geopolitics are changing. The so-called ‘Arctic exceptionalism’ may be ending to leave room for interstate competition. This significantly increases the risk of conflict in the Arctic and raises new – or exacerbates existing – risks in relation to human security, resource exploitation, and the militarisation of the region. BASIC has embarked on three projects aimed at identifying these risks and developing risk reduction measures through a multi-stakeholder approach based on comprehensive engagement with a wide range of Arctic stakeholders, including indigenous communities.

Risks for Human Security

This project forecasts emerging risks and threats to human security in the Arctic region and investigates the utility of different confidence-building and risk reduction measures. In addition to a comprehensive report, it provides a risk assessment framework to assist Canada and the Department of National Defence in preparation for the risks that climate change and increased state competition pose to humans living in the Arctic, including and especially indigenous communities. The project additionally develops subnational, bilateral and multilateral confidence-building and risk reduction measures to manage these risks, now and in the future.

Risky Resources

This project forecasts the emerging risks of great power competition over resources and sea routes in the Arctic following climate change and changes to power dynamics in the region by, for instance, the arrival of new major powers. In addition, the project investigates the utility of different confidence-building and risk reduction measures to handle these risks now and in the future.

Canadian Submarine Recapitalisation within the Context of Climate Change

This project examines the impact of climate change on Arctic underwater warfare requirements with the goal of informing the recapitalisation process for the Royal Canadian Navy’s submarine fleet. Canada’s previous attempts to include an under-ice capability for its submarines had failed due to high cost, public concerns over militarised nuclear power, and lack of credible threats in Arctic waters. However, climate change is reducing the extent and severity of Arctic sea ice in the Russian half of the Arctic, potentially affecting Russian nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) posture. Given Russia’s continued use of Arctic sea ice as a shield for its SSBNs, its reduction may see them being forced to patrol closer to the North American side of the Arctic.

Programme Manager and Senior Policy Fellow: Dr Gry Thomasen

Policy Fellows: Chiara Cervasio and Chris Spedding

Consultant Policy Fellow: Timothy Choi

Programme Assistant: Eva-Nour Repussard

This project has been funded by the Targeted Engagement Grants, from the Mobilizing Insights in Defence and Security (MINDS) programme at the Department of National Defence of the Government of Canada.

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