Posts tagged ‘Norway’
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 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.
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.”
Arctic Council Meeting
The eight-member Arctic Council holds its ministerial meeting in Sweden later this month and, according to The Arctic Institute’s, Arctic This Week newsletter, observers are speculating about which countries/entities will be admitted as full observers at the session, which starts May 14 in Kiruna, Sweden.
Participants at an academic conference in Montreal last month thought China would be tapped but the European Union wouldn’t, according to Nunatsiaq News. The eight permanent members (Norway, Iceland, Sweden, Finland, Canada, Denmark, Russia and the United States) each have, in effect, a veto over observer candidates, and some are unhappy with the EU’s ban on seal products.
But the EU’s ambassador to Canada is confident EU will get in despite objections about the ban from countries like Canada, which takes over as chairman for the next two years at the meeting in Sweden, according to iPOLITICS.
The council is an intergovernmental forum that tackles issues confronting Arctic nations and indigenous peoples of the Arctic. At the last ministers’ meeting, they agreed on an arctic search and rescue treaty.
Avoiding Cold War in a Cold Place
Together, these eight form the Arctic Council, an international forum created in 1996 to promote cooperation, coordination and interaction among the eight Arctic states and also involve the indigenous communities in the High North. Some of the topics of common interest include sustainable development and environmental protection.
In 2011, the eight Arctic Council members completed the Arctic Search and Rescue Agreement, the first binding treaty concluded under the Council’s auspices.
Rich oil and mineral deposits are believed to lie beneath the Arctic Sea and its underwater coastline. One of the world’s last great fisheries is also in Arctic waters. All of these valuable resources will become more accessible at climate change and other factors melt more and more summer ice in Arctic waters. That will open up sea lanes for transporting cargo and passengers as well as oil and natural gas exploration.
While the Arctic states have worked out agreements dealing with these natural resources little has been done to prevent or adjudicate conflict, says Paul Arthur Berkman, a biological oceanographer at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Writing in the New York Times opinion pages today (March 14), Berkman says the potential for conflict is high – even if tensions now are low.
“How, for instance, will each nation position its military and police its territory?” asks Berkman, adding: “How will the Arctic states deal with China and other nations that have no formal jurisdictional claims but have strong interests in exploiting Arctic resources?”
It’s an important topic to mull. To read more, click here.
“War” Near the Top of the World
New photos and information on air operations.
More than 16,000 troops from 14 countries just completed a weeks-long exercise in the frozen hinterlands of Norway and Sweden training in winter warfare skills such as infantry maneuvering and amphibious landings in extreme temperatures.
Called Exercise Cold Response 2012, the biennial training exercise – hosted by the Norwegians – is in its fifth iteration. In addition to Norway, the largest troop contingents among NATO countries included Canada, France, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States. Other participants included Sweden and Finland, two non-aligned Nordic countries, who belong to NATO’s Partnership for Peace program.
The exercise began March 5 with a week of acclimation for troops not used to Norway’s harsh winters. Operations ran from March 12-21 with a few clean-up and departure duties beginning March 21.
U.S., British and Dutch Marines conducted joint amphibious assault operations along the northern Norwegian coast near Bardufoss. The Royal Netherlands Navy’s landing ship platform Hr. Ms. Rotterdam served as a base for the U.S. British and Dutch marines. The HMS Bulwark, a British amphibious assault ship, served as headquarters for the joint staff.
Other land operations were conducted mainly in Troms County along the northern coast. Maritime operations also covered parts of Nordland County. And air operations were conducted from Andøya, Bardufoss, Bodø, Evenes and Ørland air bases in Norway, and Luleå in Sweden. Those ops covered most of Northern Norway and parts of Swedish air space.
Smaller forces and air assets operated in the border areas from Narvik in Norway to Kiruna in Sweden, and Swedish military aircraft flew in Norwegian territory from Swedish air bases.
Other units taking part in the exercise included about 800 soldiers from the 1st Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment and some 215 Finnish soldiers from a Jager (ranger) company.
For the first time the exercise included air operations that crossed national borders. A Royal Norwegian Air Force cargo plane flew a transport run from Norway to Sweden and back again. Norwegian F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter jets supplied air cover over Norway with Swedish JAS Gripen 39 fighters taking over in Swedish airspace. But tragedy struck on March 15 when the Norwegian C-130J Hercules cargo plane crashed into a mountain just over the border near Kiruna in Sweden, killing all five crewmen on board.
Air operations concluded with a large force engagement exercise with 36 aircraft participating including Norwegian and Belgian F-16s and Swedish Gripens. A Swedish pilot served as mission commander in the exercise, which tested coordination and aircraft management, including air refueling.
To see a video of the troops, ships, planes, helicopters and tanks in action, click here.
To a video of Norwegian tanks and troops, click here.
Two Reconnaissance Platoon corporals from the 1st Battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment prepare to “ambush” a combat vehicle with an 84mm rocket launcher during Exercise Cold Response 2012 in northern Norway. The 800 soldiers from the 1st Battalion were among 16,000 participants from 14 nations — including a company of U.S. Marines — in the Norwegian-led invitational military exercise, which just ended.
We’ll have a full report Monday on the fifth iteration of this massive exercise — the largest yet — which saw Swedish fighter jets, Norwegian tanks, British helicopters, Dutch landing craft and Canadian armored all terrain vehicles roaming the seas, skies and woods near the Arctic Circle.
The exercise was marred by the crash of a Norwegian C-130J transport plane, killing all five on board.
On Thin Ice
Arctic sea ice is melting at such a rapid rate that officials warn Arctic waters may be ice free during the summer months by 2030.
Mark Serreze, director of the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center, says sea ice is melting at a record pace – as much as 150,00 square kilometers per day. Not only is the area of ice-covered waters decreasing, but the ice is thinner making it more susceptible to melting. “We are on track to see an ice free summer by 2030,” Britain’s The Guardian newspaper quotes Serreze.
That’s good news for some seafaring countries like China that would like to take a shorter route across the Arctic Sea to deliver manufactured export goods to Europe. But it is a concern for other countries like Canada, worried about retaining sovereignty over its Arctic coast and the mineral wealth projected to lie beneath the frigid waters.
Large deposits of oil, natural gas and minerals – including rare earths needed to manufacture high tech equipment – are believed to lie beneath Arctic waters. Canada and the U.S. are concerned that untapped wealth could spark a “Cold Rush” by other Arctic countries trying to claim large underwater tracts based on the extent of continental shelves beneath the sea.
U.S. and Canadian authorities are also worried about oil spills and possible shipping disasters in the remote region. The U.S. Coast Guard says it has no rescue ships or helicopters in the High North to handle such emergencies, Reuters reports. There is no permanent Coast Guard station that far north. It would be extremely difficult to mount an emergency response to an Arctic oil spill on the scale of BP’s oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Robert Papp told an Arctic ice symposium in Washington recently.
Eight Arctic nations – including the United States, Canada, Russia and Norway – signed an agreement in May to cooperate in search and rescue operations above the Arctic Circle. (See May 12 4GWAR Blog post)
Has Arctic Circle Land Rush Started?
Just days after the nations of the High North met in Greenland to discuss common problems and approve an Arctic search-and-rescue treaty, comes word that one of them plans to lay claim to the land under the North Pole.
The report comes just days after leaders of the eight countries that make up the Arctic Council – Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Russia and the United States – met in Nuuk, Greenland to approve the search-and-rescue treaty and begin addressing such issues as oil and natural gas drilling.
But reports of a leaked Danish government document, first reported by Danish news media, say Denmark plans to make a claim for part of the land beneath the North Pole and elsewhere in the Arctic before a 2014 United Nations deadline.
The report on Denmark’s plans also comes shortly after leaked U.S. diplomatic cables reveal the Arctic states are rushing to stake claims to the region, which is believed to be rich in minerals. As much as 25 percent of the world’s untapped petroleum fields are believed to lie beneath the Arctic’s ice ans frigid waters. The cables, released by Wikileaks, indicated most of the Arctic nations – including Denmark – are anxious to stake a claim before the ice melts.
Scientists say climate change and global warming could melt much of the polar ice, making the waters around the North Pole navigable – and more accessible for oil and gas exploration and drilling.
In a token gesture, Russia asserted its land claims in 2007 when it placed a small metal Russian flag in the sea bottom beneath the pole. Canada, which asserts is has sovereigity over any Northwest Passage between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans – should the ice melt prediction come true – has conducted military exercises (some with U.S. and Danish participation) to assert its sovereignty in the region. Norway has also hosted multi-national wargames in the Arctic — the most recent had a defense-of-North Sea-oil fields as part of its scenario.
The U.S. Norway and Denmark – through its rule over Greenland – are the only other countries that border the Arctic Ocean. Here is a Russian publication’s take on the controversy, including an explanation of why Denmark thinks it has a claim on the North Pole.
Most of the Arctic nations conduct military exercises and scientific missions in the region’s seas and skies. In the photo above, the Seawolf-class attack submarine USS Connecticut (SSN 22) returns to port at Naval Base Kitsap-Bremerton after participating in Ice Exercise (ICEX) 2011 in the Arctic Circle.
The Connecticut and the Virginia-class attack submarine USS New Hampshire (SSN 778) worked with the Navy’s Arctic Submarine Laboratory and the University of Washington Applied Physics Laboratory to test new equipment and train for under-ice operations in an Arctic environment.
Way Up North
The northern nations that form the Arctic Council are set to sign an agreement on a search and rescue treaty this week.
The eight-member council is holding its bi-annual ministers’ meeting in Nuuk, the capital city of Greenland this week. Among the agenda items, a treaty that would govern how Arctic countries respond to, and coordinate with each other in the event of a major catastrophe such as an airplane crash or cruise ship sinking in the Arctic. At least three ships – including a cruise ship and two oil tankers – ran aground off the coast of Greenland in 2010, requiring emergency response operations.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov were both in Nuuk for the meeting. State Department officials say Clinton’s presence shows the U.S.’s increased interest in Arctic affairs.
The treaty – the first legally binding one agreed upon by the Arctic Council since it was formed in 1996 – is needed to coordinate search and rescue operations on the 13-million-square-mile waters of the Arctic. The Arctic Sea and surrounding waters are expected to become more navigable as polar sea ice melts in future years. That ice melt has touched off a series of issues in the High North (the area within and around the Arctic Circle) including the effect of development on indigenous people, maritime commerce across the region, oil and natural gas drilling and boundary disputes.
In 2007, Russia touched off territorial concerns when one of its submarines planted a metal flag at the bottom staking a symbolic claim on the mineral wealth believed to be there. Meanwhile, China has stepped up its scientific expeditions in the Arctic, and Canada is engaged in a massive project to survey its underwater boundaries in advance of the expected sea traffic through once icebound waters.
China is not a member of the Arctic Council, which was founded in 1996, but it has ad hoc observer status and is seeking permanent observer status – as is the European Union. The opening up of the Northwest Passage across the Canadian north could speed the shipment of Chinese export goods to Europe.
The members of the council are: Canada, Denmark (which controls Greenland), Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Russia and the United States.
When the Horizon’s Not Horizontal
Here’s an inside look at a Royal Navy Lynx helicopter on counter-narcotics patrol in the Caribbean. The chopper, part of Commando Helicopter Force, flew from the amphibious assault ship, HMS Ocean, during an anti-drug deployment this summer.
The Lynx helos, equipped with surface search radars, have a top speed of 150 mph (40 km/h) and a range of over 300 miles (480 kilometers) making them able to cover vast areas of the sea.
It’s been a busy year for the “Mighty O,” the largest warship in the Royal Navy. In February and March the big ship’s helos, landing craft and Royal Marines and sailors participated in a multi-nation cold weather exercise, Cold Response, in the Arctic waters off Norway.
The HMS Ocean left homeport Plymouth in June for a multi-mission deployment. First stop was a large amphibious exercise as part of Britain’s Auriga naval task group off the coast of North Carolina with the U.S. Navy’s USS Kearsarge amphibious group and the U.S. 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit.
August saw the Mighty O in the Caribbean region providing direct assistance to the U.S. Joint Interagency Task Force based in Key West, Fla. That was followed by a three-day joint exercise with the Brazilian Navy and Marines followed by participation in a UK trade and industry exhibition in Rio de Janeiro in September.
This month the HMS Ocean is in West African waters. First stop, Lagos, Nigeria for a training and diplomatic mission coinciding with celebrations of Nigeria’s 50th anniversary of independence (from the British Empire). After maritime security operations in the Gulf of Guinea, HMS Ocean will return to the UK later this year.
Chinese Arctic Expedition
Although it doesn’t border Arctic waters, China is very interested in the High North and is sending a research vessel and ice breaker to Arctic waters this summer, according to an AFP report. Climate change is predicted to cause drastic melting of ice in the Arctic waters, finally opening up the Northwest Passage in coming decades.
Such a passage could cut the shipping time for Chinese goods exported to Europe but control of any sea passage raises sovereignty concerns for the five nations that do border Arctic waters: Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the U.S. There’s also the issue of untapped oil and natural gas reserves in the High North — and who owns them. China one of the world’s leading manufacturers and exporters has a near insatiable hunger for oil and other natural resources.
China, already an ad-hoc observer of the Council of the Arctic States, is seeking permanent observer status.
Pakistan Getting Upgraded F-16s
In an effort to shore up Islamabad’s support for the war on terror the U.S. is finally providing upgraded F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan.
The first three of 18 Fighting Falcon jets were delivered June 26 to Shabaz Air Base in Pakistan. They were flown by Pakistani pilots who have been training on the sophisticated aircraft at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona.
The newest F-16s have night attack capability and all weather precision targeting technology. The new jets can drop both smart and dumb bombs. The U.S. hopes the new aircraft will be used to step up attacks on Taliban and al Qaeda strongholds in the tribal areas along the Afghanistan border.
U.S. jet sales to Pakistan were halted to mark American displeasure with Pakistan’s nuclear program. That chilled relations between the two countries until after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The Bush administration agreed to sell the new F-16s in 2005. Admiral Mike Mullen, chaiman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff says the U.S. is working hard to win back Pakistan’s trust after years of estrangement in the 1990s.
Pakistan is paying $1.4 billion for the 14 new F-16s and $1.3 billion more to upgrade its existing fleet of the fighter bomber.