Trump might be preparing for a summertime showdown with Trudeau if the reports are correct that he’s seriously considering ordering the US Navy to sail through the Northwest Passage that Canada claims as its internal waters, though this would be less of a negative signal to Russia and China than a positive one to his northern neighbor’s rising conservative opposition ahead of heated elections this fall that realistically have the possibility of unseating the incumbent.
US Secretary of State Pompeo threw down the gauntlet on Monday during a speech at the Arctic Council summit in Finland by announcing that his country will challenge Russia and China’s interests in the Arctic Ocean, but lost amid the heavy reporting on the emergence of yet another geographic front in the New Cold War were his words about how America doesn’t recognize Canada’s claims to the Northwest Passage that Ottawa regards as its internal waters. This came a week after Navy Secretary Richard Spencer told the press that the US was seriously considering a ship through this maritime trade route as part of a “freedom of navigation operation” along the lines of what it’s presently conducting across the South China Sea and understandably caught the attention of Canadian media. Radio Canada International released an extensive report on this scenario which touched upon about the problems that such a prospective development could have for bilateral relations with the US, as well as the technical difficulty that its southern neighbor’s navy might have in carrying this out since it’s not known to have any ice-strengthened surface vessels capable of safely doing so.
It’s still unconfirmed whether Trump will order this operation over the summer or not, but in the event that he does, then he’d likely be doing it as less of a negative signal to Russia and China than a positive one to Canada’s rising conservative opposition ahead of heated elections this fall that realistically have the possibility of unseating his ideological nemesis Trudeau. The Canadian premier has been a thorn in Trump’s side ever since he took office, a minor but very obnoxious annoyance who the President verbally put in his place in the past but who he nevertheless still has a personal problem with. Bearing in mind that it’s more likely for Trudeau to back down in the face of a summertime showdown with Trump than the other way around, this would certainly provoke a nationalist reaction in Canada that could only help the conservatives triumph at the upcoming polls, especially if Trudeau reactively threatens to politicize the “New NAFTA” in response but ends up getting economically punished in one way or another by Trump instead. After all, Trudeau will have to do something if the US violates Canada’s sovereignty, but Trump is probably prepared for all scenarios.
The bigger picture other than the US’ militarization of the Arctic Ocean and its related waterways is its willingness to use military means for pressuring Canada and possibly tipping the scales of the upcoming election against Trudeau, which interestingly amounts to a combination of direct (sailing through the Northwest Passage) and indirect (“hacking” the vote) interference in its neighbor’s sovereign affairs. This is an objective observation devoid of any value judgement whatsoever but curiously points to a more muscular approach towards Canada that hasn’t been practiced in years. The message, if Trump chooses to send it, would unambiguously be that the US regards its so-called “allies” as vassals that it can “rough up” whenever it feels like it, unashamedly doing so as publicly as possible in order to humiliate them on the world stage and make an example out of them. Trump really doesn’t like Trudeau on a deep personal level after his Canadian counterpart insulted him following last year’s failed G7 summit, so it would be the perfect revenge for the American President to actively engineer the conditions to ruin his re-election through a summertime showdown in the Northwest Passage.
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