One of the reasons we host the Natural Security blog is to have a venue to quickly share material that’s related to our work. And, of course, the purpose of the Natural Security program is to identify and assess how natural resource trends (e.g., consumption and scarcity), as well as climate change and biodiversity, influence U.S. national security and foreign policy. With that in mind, here is an emerging Natural Security trend that is worth keeping on the radar.
Yesterday, The Telegraph reported that Denmark is preparing to submit evidence to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf by 2014 that would lay claim to the continental shelf extending from Greenland, to include “five areas around the Faeroe Islands and Greenland, including the North Pole itself.” Denmark, of course, is not the first country to lay claim to the North Pole: Russia sent a mini-submarine to plant a flag on the North Pole in 2007, stirring concerns among Arctic nations, including the United States and Canada. But as Denmark prepares to make formal claims over the North Pole, it is a reminder that competition in the Arctic won’t just be with countries like Russia that we have had longstanding trepidations with. In fact, competition in the Arctic will likely be the testing ground for our relationships with long-time allies like Denmark – a NATO ally that has weathered international challenges with the United States for more than half a century – over how well we can cooperate together in a changing international environment as natural resources (including minerals, energy resources and fisheries) become more accessible in the High North as production in other parts of the world plateaus (or declines).
But cooperation is entirely possible in the Arctic, as well. International cooperation and coordination in the Arctic has existed for decades, including through international bodies like the Arctic Council, and important, yet lesser known international programs such as the Arctic Military Environmental Cooperation (AMEC) program. AMEC has provided a forum for states such as Russia, the United States and other Arctic nations to coordinate military-to-military training and combined missions around environmental protection, such as treatment and disposal of radioactive waste from nuclear powered submarines and waste generated at military early warning radar facilities that peppered the Arctic during the Cold War (with many still active today). Indeed, then the Soviet Union and the United States cooperated quite well under AMEC toward the end of the Cold War.
Cooperation with our allies and others in the Arctic would be easier for the United States if it ratified the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (a point I harked on earlier this week). Canada and the United States, for example, have had existing disagreements over whether the Northwest Passage constitutes an international strait or is sovereign Canadian territory. (If it were the latter, the United States would have to seek authorization to send U.S. Coast Guard and other naval vessels through it.) The Law of the Sea treaty would help the United States and Canada adjudicate these claims cooperatively by leveraging an existing international framework for managing these claims (though bilateral cooperation on this issue will be just as important). And similarly, the United States, Denmark and others could leverage the UN convention to mitigate similar challenges over territory around the North Pole and elsewhere.
The recent announcement that the Arctic Council agreed to coordinate search-and-rescue missions is a good indicator that cooperation is possible. But as Arctic nations assess their own national interests, friendly competition may be a trend that will continue to emerge among our longtime allies. It is hard to tell at this point, but it’s a trend worth watching.
Photo: Seawolf-class submarine USS Connecticut (SSN 22) surfaces above the ice in the Arctic Ocean during ICEX 2011 in March. Courtesy of Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kevin S. O'Brien and the U.S. Navy.