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WikiLeaks: US Held off on Arctic Sovereignty Claim To Avoid Influencing the 2008 Election

The Canadian Rangers train in the Arctic. Washington was persuaded by its Canadian embassy to hold off on issuing an aggressive claim on the Northwest Passage until after the 2008 Canadian election, according to a WikiLeaks cable.

WikiLeaks has leaked a diplomatic cable that suggests that in fear of influencing the outcome of the 2008 election – which gave Harper’s Conservatives a strengthened minority government – the White House delayed the release of a potentially controversial policy directive on the Arctic. The directive, titled the National Security/Homeland Security Presidential Directive, released in January 2009 was one of Republican President George Bush’s last policies before Democrat Barak Obama took office later that month.

The directive firmly reiterated the US rejection of Canada’s claims over the oil-rich Northwest Passage by asserting US military “sea power” in the region.

The decision to delay the announcement came after a confidential cable was sent from the US Embassy in Ottawa on September 12, 2008 – five days after the 2008 Election started and carried “WILKINS” Which presumably indicates the cable was sent or authorized by David Wilkins, the former US ambassador to Canada.

The cable was labeled “sensitive but unclassified” and “not for release outside of the US government.” It advised that the release of the new US policy in the midst of the Canadian election “has potential to insert the United States as an issue in the campaign and negatively impact US-Canadian relations.”

The cable notably suggests that “all parties vying in the election” would be likely to criticize the new US policy but that “other parties would be especially harsh in their criticism of Stephen Harper’s Conservatives for not having dissuaded the US from issuing that new policy.”

The message goes on to state additionally that "harsh criticism might resonate widely among the electorate, and we run the risk of provoking a response that could lead to a hardening of positions and a lessening of the overall excellent co-operation we maintain with Canada in the Arctic."

The cable concludes,"For these reasons, Embassy requests the Department and other Washington agencies delay the release of the NSPD/HSPD on Arctic policy until after the conclusion of the Canadian federal election on October 14."

The US released its directive on January 12, 2009 and leading experts such as Robert Huebert, a political scientist at the University of Calgary expressed surprise that there was “no effort here to sugarcoat anything” and framed the emerging international conflicts in the Arctic in “black and white” terms.

"I think Canada has gotten a real wake-up call with this," Huebert said at the time.

Key agencies were directed to define the full extent of US Arctic boundaries because of the country’s “compelling interest” in the region and highlighted climate change and defense against possible threats from terrorists that may arise as there is "a growing awareness that the Arctic region is both fragile and rich in resources."

The directive also contained a suggestion of unilateralism that sparked the bulk of Bush’s international criticism during his eight-year presidency.

The text stated:

"The United States has broad and fundamental national security interests in the Arctic region and is prepared to operate either independently or in conjunction with other states to safeguard these interests.

"The United States also has fundamental homeland security interests in preventing terrorist attacks and mitigating those criminal or hostile acts that could increase the United States vulnerability to terrorism in the Arctic region.

"This requires the United States to assert a more active and influential national presence to protect its Arctic interests and to project sea power throughout the region."

Greenpeace, an international environmental activist group weighed in to the US embassy cable and a number of other newly leaked cables on WikiLeaks that illustrate a picture of growing tensions between the US and Canada behind-the-scenes. The tensions come as both countries compete over boundary-making, military activity and economic development in the increasingly accessible Arctic region.

"These latest WikiLeaks revelations expose something profoundly concerning," Greenpeace oil campaigner Ben Ayliffe said in a statement. "Instead of seeing the melting of the Arctic ice cap as a spur to action on climate change, the leaders of the Arctic nations are instead investing in military hardware to fight for the oil beneath it.

"They're preparing to fight to extract the very fossil fuels that caused the melting in the first place. It's like pouring gasoline on a fire.”

In the end, it turns out that Bush wasn’t Harper’s amigo after all, he just needed an ideological friend to become a pushover to get the ball rolling for an American takeover.

Related Article: WikiLeaks Strikes Again… This time Concerning the Arctic and Afghanistan