The U.S. Navy does not have the assets it needs to conduct long-term Arctic maritime operations and will have to increasingly rely on the U.S. Coast Guard or international partners in order to accomplish its missions, according to a Sunday report in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.
According to the report, the U.S. Navy asked the U.S. Naval War College to conduct a war game in September 2011 to explore what the U.S. Navy would need to execute long-term missions in the High North. “We looked at search and rescue, oil spill response, maritime domain and maritime safety and security issues," Walter Berbrick, assistant research professor in the War Gaming Department at the Center for Naval Warfare Studies, told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. “They were all fictional scenarios.”
The war game’s conclusions, according to the report, may suggest looming challenges for America’s ability to project power and protect its interests in the Arctic. According to the report:
[T]he Navy is not adequately prepared to conduct long-term maritime Arctic operations; Arctic weather conditions increase the risk of failure; and most critically, to operate in the Arctic, the Navy will need to lean on the U.S. Coast Guard, countries like Russia or Canada, or tribal and industrial partners.
To sustain operations in the Arctic, the Navy needs ice-capable equipment, accurate and timely environmental data, personnel trained to operate in extreme weather, and better communications systems. Much of the environmental data will come from other Arctic nations.
The report particularly notes the U.S. Navy’s lack of ice-capable ships. “We have limited capability to sustain long-term operations in the Arctic due to inadequate icebreaking capability," Berbrick told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. "The Navy finds itself entering a new realm as it relates to having to rely on other nations." Interestingly, the report also notes that the Navy (in large part because of its lack of ice-capable ships) will increasingly work with the U.S. Coast Guard, which has had a greater presence in the region as of late. Yet the U.S. Coast Guard’s missions in the Arctic are also undermined by its inadequate icebreaking capability – although there is renewed interest in expanding the U.S. Coast Guard’s icebreaking fleet, which now consists of one active and two inactive vessels.
There has been a lot of activity in the South China Sea recently, and if you’re like me it is difficult to keep track of it all. Well luckily you don’t have to! Our Asia-Pacific Security team is doing it for you. That’s right: checkout our Flashpoints feature, an online web portal for those studying security in the East and South China Seas, for the latest developments in the region. I particularly recommend the timeline feature.
Also, if you didn’t already seen it, don’t miss Patrick Cronin’s op-ed in The New York Times on Wednesday where he puts the latest Philippine-China Scarborough Shoal scuffle in perspective and recommends how U.S. policymakers should think about engaging in the region.
Photo: Courtesy of CNAS.org.
This is a new feature to highlight the top tweets of the week to hit my Twitter feed (@wmrogers).
The Hill’s Energy and Environment Blog discusses the White House’s announced release of a new National Bioeconomy Blueprint on Thursday that is expected to make a broad push for investments in biotechnology, including renewable biofuels.
Circle of Blue links to a report in Forbes that discusses the growing strategic importance of water in China, driven in part by increasing demand as well as mismanagement of existing resources. According to the report, “The country’s water supply is smaller than that of the U.S., yet it must meet the needs of a population nearly five times as large. Industrialization has taken its toll on this already limited resource. Industrial and biological pollution has contaminated almost 90 percent of the underground water in Chinese cities.”
Later this morning CNAS will release a new policy brief that explores the national security and foreign policy benefits of ratifying the Law of the Sea Convention.
While the United States has to date protected its maritime interests without ratifying the Law of the Sea Convention (LOSC) – relying instead on the protections afforded by customary international law – the rise of modern navies and unconventional security threats are making this approach increasingly risky and will imperil U.S. national security interests. LOSC is the only global maritime regime that codifies longstanding maritime norms that are consistent with U.S. interests and protects the status quo. By failing to ratify LOSC, the United States forfeits its ability to shape the interpretation and execution of the convention and protect the provisions that support the existing international order, with consequences that will last for decades. Ratifying the treaty would demonstrate that the United States is serious about upholding international norms on maritime issues at a time when rising powers are challenging existing rules at sea and, as a result, American interests.
But what are those interests? How will LOSC specifically help the United States secure its access to the maritime domain, and achieve broader foreign policy and national security goals? That is the subject of Security at Sea. And while the list of benefits is extensive - and my effort to explore the benefits is by no means exhaustive - there are some specific security issues that I think will resonate with U.S. policymakers. As I argue in the policy brief, ratifying the treaty will:
While LOSC is no silver bullet – it won’t help address every challenge that the United States will confront at sea – ratifying the treaty will improve America’s ability to protect many of its global interests by providing a stronger legal foundation for its own maritime activities and helping to shape and enforce international norms and legal authorities. It is time for the U.S. Senate to ratifying LOSC and allow the United States to take advantage of the benefits that will accrue to American interests.
One of the research areas that we at CNAS have been exploring for the last several years is how the United States can make better use of satellites to enhance its understanding of the environment and the potential security consequences of environmental and climate change. In August 2010, for example, Christine Parthemore and I published a study exploring the decline of America’s Earth monitoring satellite capability and its implications for U.S. national security (See Blinded).
Our research has taken us to new areas of exploration, including how the United States can make better use of satellites to respond to natural disasters and provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HA/DR). Given that climate change could portend a future that may demand increased support from the United States to conduct HA/DR missions, it behooves national security policymakers to identify what tools and techniques the United States should have to adequately respond to future disasters.
Although not linked to climate change, tsunamis are an area that has drawn our attention as of late, especially in the wake of the March 2011 disaster in Japan. With demographic trends in Asia suggesting that more people are moving to coastal communities in seismically active regions (i.e, the Pacific Ring of Fire), more people could be vulnerable to earthquake-induced tsunamis. How should the United States think about ways to enhance its tsunami early warning system that can provide forewarning to coastal residents? NOAA’s Deep-ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunamis (DART) program that relies on a set of floating buoys to provide accurate readouts of tsunamis is facing budget cuts. As a result, the United States may actually be trimming back a critical capability that could be of greater demand in the future.
Could satellites offer an opportunity to enhance tsunami early warning systems that are cost effective and provide efficient notice to vulnerable communities? Potentially. Some of the existing (and interesting) proposals are still largely in research and development, so it is unclear of their costs when brought to scale, but they could potentially make good use of satellite systems to provide better information about an earthquake’s magnitude and the potential size of any tsunami generated by the seismic event – information that is critical to improving evacuation notices and determining the extent of the evacuation zone.
The South China Sea dispute is once again in the headlines, with notable developments that are raising some concerns about increased tensions in the region. On Saturday, Reuters reported that the Chinese military issued the sternest warning to date regarding U.S. military involvement in the territorial dispute, in part due to combined exercises with the Philippine military. “China's official Liberation Army Daily warned that recent jostling with the Philippines over disputed seas where both countries have sent ships could boil over into outright conflict, and laid much of the blame at Washington's door,” the Reuters report stated, adding:
‘Anyone with clear eyes saw long ago that behind these drills is reflected a mentality that will lead the South China Sea issue down a fork in the road towards military confrontation and resolution through armed force,’ said the commentary in the Chinese paper, which is the chief mouthpiece of the People's Liberation Army.
‘Through this kind of meddling and intervention, the United States will only stir up the entire South China Sea situation towards increasing chaos, and this will inevitably have a massive impact on regional peace and stability.’
On Sunday, Commander of the U.S. Marines in the Pacific Lieutenant General Duane Thiessen reiterated the United States’ defense commitment to the Philippines. In a statement to reporters on Palawan Island, Lieutenant General Thiessen said, “The United States and the Philippines have a mutual defense treaty which guarantees that we get involved in each other's defense and that is self explanatory,” according to a report by ABS-CBSNews.com.
Two years ago today the Deepwater Horizon offshore oil drilling rig experienced a catastrophic explosion off the Louisiana coast that destroyed the rig, killed 11 people and poured an estimated 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, demanding an unprecedented response from the U.S. Coast Guard and other local, state and federal agencies. The long-term environmental impacts and effects on coastal residents and the rest of the region are still not well understood.
Photo: Fire boats respond to the Deepwater Horizon rig on April 21, 2010. Courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard.
For those who did not tune in last week, this is a new feature to highlight the top tweets of the week to hit my Twitter feed (@wmrogers). The list is completely subjective, of course, but I hope it is helpful to readers interested in following natural security news a little bit closer.
The American Enterprise Institute (AEI) published a compilation of polls on the environment and energy, highlighting public opinion on a range of issues, from nuclear energy, the Keystone XL pipeline to global climate change. The findings are instructive, but I don’t necessarily agree with the analysis that AEI makes about some of the issues. For example, the report notes that “Global warming doesn’t rank at or near the top of issues people want the president and Congress to address. In January 2012, 25 percent said global warming should be a top priority, ranking at the bottom in terms of top priorities.” But read another way, a quarter of Americans find that global climate change should be the top priority for U.S. policymakers. Given the litany of challenges the country faces, isn’t it still substantial that 25 percent of Americans want action taken to address climate change and consider it a top priority? Regardless, the report is worth a read and you can make up your own mind about what it all means.
Professor Fravel tweets that India will continue to cooperate with Vietnam to exploit energy resources in Vietnam’s East Sea (also known as the South China Sea), despite objections from China. This has been a huge source of tension recently between India and China. China objects to “outsiders” getting engaged in the South China Sea dispute – an area that China claims is its territorial sea. (To learn more, read this post I wrote in September on India’s South China Sea gambit.)
A new report by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) outlines for Congress the key issues around modernizing the Coast Guard’s icebreaker fleet. According to the author Ronald O’Rourke:
Potential issues for Congress regarding Coast Guard polar icebreaker modernization include the potential impact on U.S. polar missions of the United States currently having no operational heavy polar icebreakers; the numbers and capabilities of polar icebreakers the Coast Guard will need in the future; the disposition of Polar Sea following its decommissioning; whether the new polar icebreaker initiated in the FY23013 [sic] budget should be funded with incremental funding (as proposed in the Coast Guard’s Five Year Capital Investment Plan) or full funding in a single year, as required under the executive branch’s full funding policy; whether new polar icebreakers should be funded entirely in the Coast Guard budget, or partly or entirely in some other part of the federal budget, such as the Department of Defense (DOD) budget, the National Science Foundation (NSF) budget, or both; whether to provide future icebreaking capability through construction of new ships or service life extensions of existing polar icebreakers; and whether future polar icebreakers should be acquired through a traditional acquisition or a leasing arrangement.
The report comes on the heels of a recent request from the Coast Guard for $8 million dollars for Fiscal Year 2013 to begin the acquisitions process for a new polar-class icebreaker that the Coast Guard says it needs to perform its critical missions in the Arctic and to protect U.S. interests broadly across the region. “The $8 million request is less than 1 percent of the $860 million being asked for icebreaker acquisition in the Department of Homeland Security’s five-year budget projection,” according to a recent report from The Navy Times. “Neither of the U.S.’s two heavy-duty Polar-class icebreakers is in service. The Polar Star is awaiting a $57 million upgrade set to be finished in December. Its sister ship, Polar Sea, has been docked in Seattle since 2010 with engine issues. The medium-duty polar icebreaker Healy is designed for research and cannot cut through the thickest ice.”
To read the full CRS report, click here.
A new study from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences offers an important reminder about the climate-energy nexus that has been largely missing from the energy conversation as of late.
There have been a lot of studies done recently on how America’s boon in domestic natural gas and oil production made possible by hydraulic fracturing can improve American energy security – specifically by reducing U.S. reliance on energy imports. Although this does little in the near term to assuage concerns about high oil prices given that oil prices are set by the international market, it does help mollify concerns about assured access to energy if the United States is increasingly relying on domestic production to supply its demand. Moreover, some studies have specifically noted that America’s abundance of natural gas could displace coal as the dominant feedstock in electricity generation, which could dramatically reduce U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions since natural gas produces about half as many GHG emissions as coal.
Yet this optimism about natural gas and its climate benefits may be premature, according to a recent study by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
This weekend’s news highlighted several ongoing territorial disputes across the Indo-Pacific region, from resource-rich Kashmir to the potentially hydrocarbon-rich South China Sea.
On the far West of the Indo-Pacific, The New York Times published a report on Sunday drawing attention to the Siachen Glacier and the intractable territorial dispute between Indian and Pakistan over Kashmir. The report comes on the heels of an avalanche last week that buried 138 Pakistani soldiers and civilians. “In outposts up to 22,000 feet above sea level, the temperature can plunge to 58 below, and linger there for months,” The New York Times reported. “Patrolling soldiers tumble into yawning crevasses. Frostbite chews through unprotected flesh. Blizzards blow, weapons seize up and even simple body functions become intolerable.” Indeed, what makes the Siachen Glacier noteworthy is not that it is the world’s highest battlefield, per se – it is that the conflict there is more a fight “against the mountain, not the man,” The New York Times reported.
The U.S. Coast Guard gave quiet attention to the Arctic this week. In preparation for its largest-ever deployment to the Arctic region this summer, the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut hosted a two-day conference on emerging security challenges in the High North. “The time for shaping and implementing Arctic policy is now,” said Coast Guard Commander Russ Bowman, a co-chair of the Arctic conference.
Photo: In Juneau, Alaska, a U.S. Coast Guard HC-130 Hercules airplane sits on the deck at the Alaska Army National Guard hangar after providing overflight support off the Alaskan coast. Courtesy of Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis and the U.S. Coast Guard.
This is a new feature to highlight the top tweets of the week to hit my Twitter feed (@wmrogers). The list is completely subjective, of course, but I hope it is helpful to readers interested in following natural security news a little bit closer.
This is an interesting story to follow given the potential increase in demand for governments to support humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions due to climate-related and other natural disasters. Institutions like the U.S. military may be called on to support HA/DR missions in order to help dampen the impact of these natural disasters, which can have knock-on effects for security and stability.
The Hill’s Energy and Environment Blog links to a Wall Street Journal report on a new study by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that challenges that assumption the natural gas reduces greenhouse gas emissions compared to other fossil fuels. The study notesthat methane (CH4) leakages throughout the lifecycle production process could offset the greenhouse gas benefits. The study is very important given the recent attention to natural gas production in the United States, largely from shale rock.
A magnitude 8.6 earthquake struck off the coast of Indonesia’s Sumatra Island today prompting the governments of India, Indonesia and Thailand to issue tsunami warnings for the region. The earthquake revived memories of the devastating magnitude 9.1 earthquake the struck the Indian Ocean in December 2004, killing an estimated 250,000 across the region.
Early reports suggested that the initial earthquake’s depth and horizontal motion lessened the likelihood of a major tsunami. However, strong aftershocks continue to stir concerns about a tsunami forming in the Indian Ocean. At 11:43 a.m. GMT (7:43 a.m. EST), a magnitude 8.3 aftershock struck the region, prompting NOAA’s Pacific Tsunami Warning Center to issue a tsunami watch for the Indian Ocean. According to the warning, “Sea level readings indicate a tsunami was generated. It may already have been destructive along some coasts.” However, there are no reports of a major wave formation or tsunami event at the time of this writing.
Today’s Indian Ocean earthquake is a reminder of the importance of NOAA’s tsunami early warning systems, which are largely unrecognized national security assets. The constellation of buoys around the Pacific Rim and in the Indian Ocean measure changes in wave height that alert experts in Hawaii and Alaska about potential tsunamis forming in the wake of major earthquakes. The information is critical to predicting the size of tsunamis and forewarning coastal communities about when the waves may strike land. The system may seem unremarkable, but it is a critical capability that bolsters coastal states’ resiliency to potentially devastating tsunamis, giving communities ringing the coast time to evacuate and hopefully dampening the impact of these catastrophic events, which can have destabilizing knock-on effects. Despite the tragic loss of life, the tsunami early warning system proved critical in warning Japanese residents after last March’s magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami disasters, giving some residents time to evacuate. They also warned U.S. West Coast residents to evacuate vulnerable waterfront property.
Saleem Ali of the University of Vermont and author of Treasures of the Earth: Need, Greed and a Sustainable Future had a terrific piece in National Geographic Magazine on April 7 exploring the opportunities to transform the Siachen Glacier – the world’s highest battlefield – into an environmental peace park that could pay significant dividends for stability between Pakistan and India. Here is an excerpt of his article:
The New York Times reported yesterday that China is increasing its economic ties with the Caribbean, raising concerns among some U.S. diplomats and others that Beijing may be encroaching in a region of the world where Washington’s influence has waned in recent years. “Most analysts do not see a security threat, noting that the Chinese are not building bases or forging any military ties that could invoke fears of another Cuban missile crisis,” the report stated. “But they do see an emerging superpower securing economic inroads and political support from a bloc of developing countries with anemic budgets that once counted almost exclusively on the United States, Canada and Europe.”
Unlike in Africa and South America where Beijing’s activities have focused largely on securing access to raw materials like fisheries and minerals needed to sustain China’s strong economic growth, Beijing’s “presence in the Caribbean derives mainly from long-term economic ventures, like tourism and loans, and potential new allies that are inexpensive to win over, analysts say.” China has also taken steps to position itself as a credible international partner in support of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions in a region of the world prone to catastrophic hurricanes and other destabilizing events. In the wake of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, for example, China deployed search-and-rescue personnel, medical teams, seismological experts and tons of emergency supplies.
President Obama, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Mexican President Felipe Calderon met earlier this week at the White House and held a joint press conference in the Rose Garden on April 2, 2012. The three leaders discussed new avenues for multilateral cooperation, including advancing clean energy technology and combating climate change.
Photo: Courtesy of Chuck Kennedy and the White House.
A new report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) finds that the build-up of Arctic military capabilities is limited, with few indications that conflict is looming. According to the study, all five Arctic states – Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the United States – have increased their military capabilities in the Arctic in recent years in response to growing accessibly to the region owed largely to climate change.
Some of the increased military activity is likely a response to the changing geostrategic environment that will make military capabilities increasingly important for power projection that states need to maintain in order to secure access to lucrative natural resources and other national interests. According to the SIPRI study, for example, “Russia’s Arctic policy underlines the importance of the Arctic as a principal source of natural resources by 2020,” and “Denmark’s defence policy underlines the changing geostrategic significance of the Arctic.”
Despite the increased deployment of military assets, Arctic states are continuing to pursue new avenues of cooperation, mollifying concerns – at least for the time being – that tensions will worsen as the region becomes more accessible. Last year, the Arctic Council – an intergovernmental forum for Arctic states to address challenges in the High North – hosted a high-level forum that led to an agreement for countries in the region to increase search-and-rescue cooperation given the growing concerns surrounding increased eco-tourism and commercial shipping that could portend future law enforcement challenges. Some states’ newly deployed military assets are intended for search-and-rescue purposes, according to the SIPRI study. Canada, for example, will replace older C-130s and other aging aircraft with 17 new search-and-rescue aircraft in the next several years.
Debate over ratifying the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is ramping up in Washington. There has been a lot of attention given to how the treaty can help the United States secure its interests in places like the Arctic and the South China Sea – and rightly so given that challenges to U.S. maritime interests in these regions have serious implications for American security and its global leadership role. Yet other regions also exemplify the central role that UNCLOS ratification will play in securing U.S. interests at sea, including just off the U.S. coast.
As the U.S. Gulf Coast continues to reel from the devastating months-long oil spill that plagued the region in 2010, the United States is likely to be hamstrung in managing future disasters unless it ratifies UNCLOS. Offshore oil drilling in non-U.S. waters is a particular worry for U.S. officials – including the Coast Guard. Recent activities along Cuba’s continental shelf have exacerbated concerns that an oil spill akin to the Deepwater Horizon incident could impact an area of the U.S. coastline that stretches from eastern Florida to North Carolina’s outer banks. Reports suggest that Cuba’s capacity to respond to a major oil spill is minuscule, with only five percent of the assets needed to respond to an accident. Given that Washington does not maintain official diplomatic ties with Havana, it is unclear how the United States and Cuba would cooperate around an oil spill that could have economic and environmental implications for U.S. coastal communities.
A perennial dispute between Baghdad and the Kurdish Regional Government over how to manage Kurdistan’s oil resources is exacerbating tensions between the Iraqi central government and the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region.
Baghdad and Erbil brokered an oil revenue sharing agreement in 2011. The deal allowed the Kurdish Regional Government to export oil to Baghdad, which would then export oil to the international market through Iraq’s main oil exporting body, the State Oil Marketing Organization. Baghdad agreed to share half of the oil revenues with Erbil. However, Baghdad has reportedly failed to make payments for the oil since May 2011. According to one report, “The Kurdish region's Ministry of Natural Resources said Sunday that Baghdad had not made any payments to Kurdistan since May 2011. A ministry statement said that Kurdistan has ‘reluctantly decided to halt oil exports until further notice,’ due to the lack of payment. The region has been shipping about 50,000 barrels a day to Baghdad.” The Wall Street Journal added that “The Kurds say that Baghdad owes them some $1.5 billion,” in back payments.
The Indonesian government retreated from a planned increase in government-subsidized fuel prices on Saturday due to widespread protests that caused the government coalition that initially backed the plan to fracture. Indonesians have long enjoyed subsidized fuel prices, with gasoline prices at about US$2 a gallon. More than 10,000 demonstrators gathered around parliament to protest the legislation during parliamentary debate, with police reportedly firing tear gas and using water cannons to disperse the crowd.
Failing to increase fuel prices could potentially have a wide political reach as the Indonesian government struggles to rein in a ballooning budget that could stall the country’s economic growth. “The subsidies accounted for 20 per cent of government total spending last year, and analysts have said that cutting is needed if the government wants to limit its deficit and make room for investing in long-term growth projects,” The Financial Times reported on Saturday. “The country's fuel-subsidy bill has ballooned to more than $15 billion a year and could climb to close to $30 billion as global oil prices have been rising this year,” The Wall Street Journal added on Sunday. “The amount of money Indonesia spends to keep petroleum prices low is more than 15% of the country's budget and more than it spends on its military or its infrastructure.” What is more, the failure to pass the legislation could portend a difficult political future for Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. According to The Wall Street Journal, “His inability to control his coalition and get the original plan passed could not only trigger a bigger budget deficit for Indonesia, analysts said, but it could also signal a political deadlock that could hurt future policy making.”