Vanguard Magazine

Feb/Mar 2013

Preserving capacity, General Tom Lawson, Chief of the Defence Staff, Keys to Canadian SAR

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ArcTic A Andrea charron is assistant professor in the Political Studies department at the University of Manitoba. She holds a PhD from the Royal Military college of canada and completed her postdoctorate at the norman Paterson School of International Affairs, carleton University ( NOrtHerN rescUe: caNadiaN respONsibilities tO tHe arctic sar agreemeNt t he Agreement on Cooperation in Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue in the Arctic – otherwise known as the SAR Agreement – signed by the eight Arctic States (Canada, United States, Russia, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Iceland and Sweden) in 2011 is wrongly considered binding on the Arctic Council. In fact, it is binding on the signatory states. However, if it were not for the working groups and task forces of the Arctic Council that are dedicated to wrestling with issues that impact the Arctic (the climate, the people and the ecosystem), such a common sense agreement would likely not have come to fruition so quickly – especially remarkable given that the Arctic Council makes decisions by consensus, a process not known for speed and collaboration. The SAR Agreement is modest by all accounts. Essentially, it is an agreement to: a) share information about the search and rescue capabilities each state has, including where these assets are positioned; b) to agree to come to the aid of each other when national capabilities are overwhelmed, poorly positioned, otherwise occupied, etc., and c) conduct joint exercises to improve/ establish interoperability between different militaries and civilian search and rescue agencies. The Arctic Council and its working groups (for example, the sustainable development working group) will help to coordinate much of the background work that will ensure that the eight states can honour their commitments. The SAR Agreement is not, however, an aberration to established rules with respect to maritime, land and airspace boundaries or any relevant national laws. First and foremost, it underlines the customary understanding about disasters in a polar geography that kills – the closest available asset (public or private) rescues first and deals with the ins and outs of compensation, jurisdiction and the like, after. Point A – to share information – is often dismissed as simply a data collection exercise. However, this is a major undertaking that includes the whereabouts and status of airfields, facilities, personnel, hospitals/clinics, fueling and supply services, coordination centres and communication assets, not to mention sharing procedures, training practices and information about equipment. And more important than the accounting is the requirement of states to analyse national capabilities, hopefully encouraging renewed and sustained attention to them, and promote their establishment, operation and maintenance. Point B – to aid others – while common sense, is largely thanks to the goodwill and spirit of cooperation that the Arctic Council engenders. Considering that five of the eight states are NATO members while three (Russia, Sweden and Finland) are not was thought to be an impediment to sharing (often military-related) information, let alone agreeing to allow foreign SAR agencies to operate in national jurisdictions. The SAR Agreement, however, emphasizes that all SAR activities will respect the laws of the state in whose jurisdiction the disaster occurs, that the incursions will be temporary and communicated to the state in question, and for the sole purpose of rescuing people and vessels/aircrafts/other craft regardless of nationality. FeBRUARy/MARch 2013 39

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