The creation of the Polar Silk Road as an Arctic extension of China’s Belt and Road Initiative means that this neglected, and last unexplored domain of the Earth’s surface is opening up to a serious policy of development for the first time in many decades.

The opening up of the Arctic as the new frontier of human development requires that other Arctic nations learn from Russia’s plan to build the new nuclear powered domed city of Umka on the island of Kotelny only 1000 km from the North Pole. In order to meet the challenge of housing over 5000 workers and their families in the harsh arctic climate which requires internal climate control, waste evaporation, internal agricultural capacities and reliable energy, Russian designers have used the International Space Station (ISS) as their model. This ISS design is important since the Arctic will play a vital role in the investigation of cosmic radiation, a galactic (and intergalactic) phenomenon driving both the evolution of the living and non-living material on the earth.

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Canada’s advanced 1958 Frobisher
Bay Arctic Science City

In Canada, this model “city of the future” echoes back to the planned domed city of Frobisher Bay, Nunavut which Prime Minister John Diefenbaker had committed to build as an integral component of his 1958 “Northern Vision” campaign. Frobisher Bay’s design as produced by the Department of Public Works announced a domed city, encircled by 12 large towers housing 4500 workers and families connected by an underground network of tunnels.  In order to ensure that this city were truly one of the future, recreation facilities, shopping centers and other amenities were included to ensure that the comfort of Toronto would be something accessible even in the Arctic.

Speaking to a rally of 5000 supporters in Winnipeg, a vision unheard and unseen in Canadian history swept across the imaginations of all those attending:

“We intend to launch for the future, we have laid the foundations now, the long range objectives of this party. We ask from you a mandate; a new and a stronger mandate, to pursue the planning and to carry to fruition our new national development program for Canada…

This national development policy will create a new sense of national purpose and national destiny. One Canada. One Canada, wherein Canadians will have preserved to them the control of their own economic and political destiny. Sir John A. Macdonald gave his life to this party. He opened the West. He saw Canada from East to West. I see a new Canada- a Canada of the North… We will assist the provinces with their cooperation in the conservation of the renewable natural resources. We will aid in projects which are self-liquidating. We will aid in projects which, while not self-liquidating will lead to the development of the national resources for the opening of Canada’s north land. We will open that north land for development by improving transportation and communication and by the development of power, by the building of access roads. We will make an inventory of our hydroelectric potential… This is the message I give you my fellow Canadians, not one of defeatism. Jobs! Jobs for hundreds of thousands of Canadian people. A new vision! A new hope! A new soul for Canada,”

With this new vision for a transformed Canada, Diefenbaker stormed the campaign trail and beat all expectations by winning every single province in Canada but one. Never before had the Canadian population heard such boldness from a Prime Minister. For most of its history, Canada had been a nation founded upon moderate complacency, while bold risk taking and visionary leaders were for the Americans. Canadians were supposed to be shaped by a British constitution, and not of a revolutionary stock.

Prime Minister Diefenbaker in front of Frobisher Bay (left) and the Canada-Alaska Rail Connection (right)

Ultimately, Diefenbaker`s Northern Vision which incorporated a bold “Roads to Resources”, and frontier science program was to be funded by a re-chartered Bank of Canada. Diefenbaker’s brilliant financing approach took a page from Alexander Hamilton and Lincoln’s Greenback system which involved public bonds issued by Canada’s National Bank in order to connect both old maturing WW2 Victory Bonds as well as new bonds directed towards Canada’s development. Diefenbaker’s vision for a true national credit system was encapsulated in his 1958 radio announcement:

“This, the largest financial project in our history, offers an opportunity to all holders of victory bonds which were purchased as an act of patriotic faith during the war years, to re-invest them for the greater development of greater Canada. These monies that were advanced during the days of war, and which contributed to the victory, we now ask to be made available to speed the pace of peaceful progress and the program of national development… The action we are taking will make it possible for our nation to embark on a new era of peacetime prosperity far and beyond anything we have ever known.”

While this National Credit and Northern Vision program was derailed 60 years ago, Diefenbaker’s strategy is just as applicable today as it was in 1958.

Today’s Polar Silk Road which combines the boldest Arctic development strategy ever witnessed in the form of Putin’s northern vision alongside China’s Belt and Road has re-awakened Arctic development for the 21st century. Diefenbaker’s Arctic Vision complements the multi trillion dollar development policy of the Trans Eurasian Belt Development which Russian Railways President Vladimir Yakunin described on March 23, must be an “inter-state, inter-civilization, project. It should be an alternative to the current (neo-liberal) model, which has caused a systemic crisis. The project should be turned into a world ‘future zone’, and it must be based on leading, not catching, technologies.”

If western nations will be relevant in this new age of win-win cooperation and long term development, then the northern vision will have to be brought back to life alongside projects to finally connect Canada’s rail with Alaska as is now being discussed, as well as Alaska to Russia through the Bering Strait, which is a 140 year old idea whose time has come.