ARCTIC NATION: Arctic Council Grows, U.S. Arctic Strategy

May 17, 2013 at 2:12 am Leave a comment

U.S. Arctic Strategy

“The United States is an Arctic nation,” begins the new National Strategy for the Arctic Region, released last week by the White House.

Coast Guard photo by Air Station Kodiak

Coast Guard photo by Air Station Kodiak

With the apparently inevitable melting of polar sea ice, areas of the Arctic previously locked in by thick ice will be open – at least in summer months – for maritime shipping, oil and gas exploration, commercial fishing scientific research and tourism. The mineral riches beneath the Arctic Sea – which is bordered by six nations, Canada, Denmark (which controls Greenland), Iceland, Norway, Russia and the United States — have prompted concerns about a “Cold Rush” of industries, corporations, speculators and governments hoping to take advantage of resources once thought inaccessible. But there are many more nations in Europe and Asia that want a say in how the top of the world is managed. [More on that in Arctic Council item below].

The brief (12-page) document released by the White House last Friday outlines where U.S. policy should be going in the High North. It calls for three strategic priority efforts:

  1. Advancing U.S. security interests in the Arctic, including operating vessels and aircraft through, over and under the airspace and waters of the Arctic. Providing for future U.S. energy security is also seen as a national security issue.
  2. Pursuing Responsible Stewardship of the Arctic, and that includes protecting the environment, conserving its resources and considering the needs of native peoples in the region.
  3. Strengthening International Cooperation to advance common interest and keep the region stable and free from conflict. The eight-member Arctic Council, which includes Sweden and Finland as well as the six previously mentioned Arctic nations, approved an Arctic Search and Rescue Agreement in 2011.The opening of sea lanes through Arctic nations’ territory and the extent of the mineral riches beneath the ice has raised concerns about who owns what and who controls territorial waters. A few years ago, a Russian underwater robot placed a Russian flag beneath the North Pole to assert Russia’s stake in the region. And Canada has been gearing up its defense forces and mapping its Arctic coastline to secure sovereignty over its portion of the region. The U.S. Continental shelf claim in the Arctic region “could extend more than 600 nautical miles from the north coast of Alaska,” according to the Arctic Strategy statement.

Scientists estimate that as much as 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered but recoverable oil and 30 percent of its undiscovered natural gas deposits – as well vast quantities of mineral resources, including rare earth elements, iron ore and nickel – lie beneath the waters of the Arctic Circle. Easier access has all sorts of implications. It could break the monopolies some nations like China have on resources such as rare earths (needed in advanced weapons systems and mobile devices). It could also take business away from transit points like the Panama and Suez canals and create all sorts of headaches for countries like Canada if all the world’s shipping starts taking unrestricted shortcuts through their backyard.

The United States will seek to enhance “sea, air and space capabilities as Arctic conditions change,” the new strategy says, adding that “We will enable prosperity and safe transit by developing and maintaining sea, under-sea and air assets and necessary infrastructure.”

The new Arctic Strategy also calls for eventual U.S. acceptance of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. The United States is the only Arctic state that is not a party to the convention. The complex series of agreements defines the rights and responsibilities of national governments in their use of the world’s oceans. Despite the support by Presidents Bush and Obama, the Pentagon, State Department and several major business and industry groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, opponents in the Senate have blocked ratification of the treaty largely on sovereignty and national defense grounds.

Patricia F.S. Cogswell, the senior director for Transborder Security on the National Security Staff, an a special assistant to the president for Homeland Security, says administration officials will be hosting roundtable discussions in Alaska sometime next month to discuss the best ways for implementing the concepts laid out by the strategy.

Arctic Circle Nations

Arctic Circle Nations

Arctic Council Grows

The eight member Arctic Council held their biennial ministers meeting in Kiruna, Sweden this week and decided to admit six nations – five of them Asian – as permanent observers. Only nations with territory in the Arctic (Canada, Denmark [Greenland], Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States [Alaska] can be members. Permanent observers can’t vote or speak at the meetings but they can automatically attend, unlike non-permanent observers.

The start of the Arctic Council meeting in Kiruna, Sweden this week. (Arctic Council photo)

The start of the Arctic Council meeting in Kiruna, Sweden this week. (Arctic Council photo)

Added to the list of 26 existing observer nations were: China, India, Italy, Japan, Singapore and South Korea. No non-state entities, like Greenpeace, were approved. And the application of the European Union – which has a dispute with Canada’s Inuit people over trading in the skins, meat and other parts of seals – was put on hold.

Canada’s Health and Northern Development Minister Leona Aglukkaq took over the two-year council chairmanship from Sweden’s Foreign Minister Carl Bildt.  The United States is slated to take over the chairmanship role in 2015.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told the council meeting that he looked forward to filling out the details of the new U.S. Arctic strategy “with all of you over the course of the next few years.”

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Entry filed under: Arctic, Asia-Pacific, Disaster Relief, Homeland Security, National Security and Defense, Weaponry and Equipment. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

FRIDAY FOTO (May 10, 2013) FRIDAY FOTO (May 17, 2013)

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