(Bloomberg) -- Canada is preparing a long-awaited Arctic strategy to respond to the growing threat posed by Russia and to strengthen security ties with northern NATO members.

The country has the second-largest Arctic region in the world after Russia but a much lighter presence there in terms of population, military and infrastructure. Canada is taking action as the geopolitics of the North have rapidly changed, the country’s foreign minister said Tuesday.

“We need to assess the fact that we are no longer in a ‘high North, low tension’ reality, which has been the foreign policy of Canada for a long time and of the Arctic Council,” Melanie Joly said in an exclusive interview.

The former approach, also sometimes referred to as ‘Arctic exceptionalism,’ was based on relatively calm and cooperative relations between the eight member countries of the Arctic Council in recent decades. The policy disintegrated after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and President Vladimir Putin’s nation now poses a threat to Canada’s northern security, Joly said.

To that end, the country will release its Arctic foreign policy this fall, which will be based on a 2019 framework developed with Indigenous peoples but will include a new international chapter. Its latest defense strategy, released in April, also focused heavily on building polar military capabilities.

The upcoming policy document will be influenced by Sweden and Finland having joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which allows for stronger “security architecture” in the Arctic, Joly said.

“We not only will work on military cooperation, military exercises, share intelligence,” she said, but also coordinate defense procurement. “And that will be at the core, not only of the defense policy update, but also foreign policy.”

NATO officials have also expressed concern about China’s Arctic ambitions, particularly given the closer ties it has forged with Russia on oil and gas shipments through Arctic waters. Canada shares those concerns, which further underpin the need for more cooperation on security among the seven NATO Arctic states, Joly said. However, it also recognizes the need to continue to engage with China, she said. 

As climate change has begun opening the global Arctic, countries from around the world, including China, have released Arctic strategies. In 2022, Canada’s Indo-Pacific strategy, launched by Joly’s department, flagged Asia’s growing interest in the Arctic and included a lengthy section on China, which it referred to as an “increasingly disruptive global power.”

It’s important that Canada safeguard its sovereignty along the Northwest Passage, including investing in much-needed infrastructure, she said, adding that the country ordered new icebreakers years ago and that process is “well advanced.” It will need to make decisions about the timeline for new submarines and whether they should be nuclear-powered, she said, and the government knows the military procurement process needs to be sped up. 

“This is about the security of North America. This is about the security also of our Arctic allies, including the transatlantic ones. And I think this is a pivotal decision for our own country that people in 20, 30 years will look back and say, ‘That was the right decision to make,’” she said.

Canadian prime ministers have taken different approaches to the enormous area — which is larger than India — including turning to international law to resolve boundary disputes, relying on military investment or sometimes using people to establish sovereignty, as in a notorious 1950s policy that saw Inuit tricked into relocating to High Arctic islands where they faced enormous hardship. Going forward, Indigenous engagement will be key to shaping policy, Joly said.

Having finally resolved a half-century border dispute between Canada and Denmark, it’s also important that other border issues are resolved, including overlapping claims by Canada and the US to part of the Beaufort Sea, located north of Alaska and Yukon.

“This is certainly something that I will want to address in the Arctic foreign policy,” Joly said.

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