Some recent happenings in the Arctic:
In a World Politics Review article published last Friday, I wrote that despite record low ice melt last year, the Arctic’s harsh environment is not giving way to commercial growth as quickly as some may expect. For example, after a hopeful summer, Shell suspended its oil and gas exploratory drilling in part because its equipment kept getting damaged by dangerous ice floes and strong ocean currents. Operations are expected to resume this summer.
As a result, U.S. policymakers charged with safeguarding America’s interests in the Arctic should continually recalibrate their expectations for commercial and other activity in the region in order to enhance their planning efforts. After all, the kinds of resources that the U.S. Coast Guard and other federal agencies will need to bring to bear in the Arctic are linked to the pace and development of activity in the region. And while the Arctic may one day be buzzing with eco-tourists, oil and gas drillers and deep sea fishers, it may fall short of our expectations and we should plan accordingly.
Read the full piece on World Politics Review here.
The Shell drilling rig that ran aground off the Alaskan coast on New Year’s Eve was secured on Monday, officials said. The drilling rig Kulluk, pictured here on January 3, ran aground near an uninhabited island after a winter storm caused it to break free from the tug boat cables used to tow the vessel to Seattle. The grounding is the most recent in a string of setbacks for Shell’s Arctic drilling efforts and has given more evidence to critics charging that Shell and other international drilling companies are not yet Arctic ready.
The prospect of slower commercial activity in the Arctic should give pause to U.S. policymakers making plans for the Arctic. In particular, the resources necessary to protect U.S interests in the region – such as Coast Guard search and rescue and spill response assets – will depend in part on the pace of commercial activity in the region. These recent Arctic incidents should encourage policymakers to recalibrate their assumptions about activity in the region.
Photo: On January 3, the Kulluk remained grounded 40 miles southwest of Kodiak City, Alaska. Courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard.
Natural resource and environmental issues have gained more attention from the national security and foreign policy communities in recent years– from concerns related to the U.S. rare earth supply chain to opportunities that might accrue from America’s growing abundance of natural gas. Which ones might get pressing attention in 2013? Here’s a list of the top U.S. policy trends I’ll be watching in 2013, in no particular order.
Natural resource trends topped international headlines in 2012 – from illicit resource trade in Afghanistan to energy competition in the South China Sea. Which ones should readers track in 2013? Here’s a list of the five international trends I’ll be watching in 2013, in no particular order.
In July, the U.S. Coast Guard launched “Arctic Shield,” an operation intended in part to assess the service’s Arctic capabilities, including those related to search and rescue and disaster response and environmental protection.
The U.S. Coast Guard expects that demand for search and rescue response will increase as the Arctic becomes increasingly crowded, from energy companies exploring for offshore petroleum, commercial shippers plying the opening sea lanes to eco-tourists exploring the Arctic landscape.
In this photo, a U.S. Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew from Air Station Kodiak, Alaska, prepares to launch a search and rescue mission from Coast Guard Forward Operation Location Barrow, Alaska on July 25, 2012.
Photo: Courtesy of Petty Officer 2nd Class Elizabeth H. Bordelon and the U.S. Coast Guard.
On Sunday, The New York Times published a report that outlines some of the key issues that the U.S. Coast Guard must grapple with as it assumes greater responsibility in the Arctic, including how it will conduct search and rescue missions, as well as oil spill response.
According to The New York Times report, the Coast Guard began a pilot project in July known as Arctic Shield, “combining search and rescue responsibilities with disaster response and maritime safety enforcement,” a likely first step towards increasing its presence in the region.
Perhaps one of the most pressing challenges that the Coast Guard must face is the lack of physical infrastructure in the Arctic Circle, particularly its own shore-based infrastructure from which it can conduct a range of missions. Most of the Coast Guard’s personnel and equipment in the region is based in Kodiak, Alaska, almost 1,000 miles south of Barrow, Alaska – the northern most U.S. town – from which the Coast Guard will presumably be operating from.
As we in the United States are struggling with massive heat waves, others are moving to cooler temperatures – including the Chinese. Last week, the Chinese icebreaker, Xue Long, (“Snow Dragon”) departed on a three month Arctic expedition (its fifth Arctic expedition). Along the way, the Xue Long will conduct scientific experiments and study the effects of changes in the Arctic ecosystem on climate. The fifth voyage of the Snow Dragon will be its longest and farthest to date and its first attempt through the Northern Sea shipping route. According to the Chinese National Antarctic Research Expedition (CHINARE), scientists will be studying sea ice in and around the Bering, Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, the Bering Strait, Canada Basin, and the Mendeleev Ridge. After traversing through the Arctic Ocean, Xue Long will sail to Iceland for a research visit which underscores the growing cooperation between Iceland and China. (During Premier Wen Jiabao’s April visit to Iceland, the two countries signed a geothermal energy accord.)
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton joined Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store on a tour of an Arctic research vessel while visiting Tromso, Norway on June 2, 2012. “The world increasingly looks to the North," Secreatry Clinton told reporters following the two-hour tour. “Our goal is certainly to promote peaceful cooperation,” she added.
Photo: Courtesy of the U.S. State Department
The United States is pushing for an Arctic agenda that promotes resource cooperation among Arctic and non-Arctic countries as part of a broader effort to foster diplomatic engagement in the High North. During a recent visit to Tromso, Norway in the Arctic Circle, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton emphasized that the United States is “committed to responsible management of those [Arctic] resources,” including oil, natural gas and other mineral resources. But while much attention is being focused on these lucrative mineral resources, there are significant opportunities for the United States and the other Arctic countries to enhance broader international cooperation, beginning with fisheries conservation.
The Arctic is emerging as one of the most important maritime domains in the world. Environmental change is giving rise to new sea lanes that will cut the transit time between the Pacific and Atlantic, and opening up new areas for commercial development, including for oil, natural gas and minerals extraction, as well as fishing. There is no doubt that the opening of the Arctic is leading today to increased military, commercial and scientific activities. As these activities increase, it will become ever more important for Arctic countries and non-Arctic countries to cooperate around a range of emerging trends, including offshore energy development that could generate environmental challenges, commercial activity that could contribute to greater demand for search and rescue and other law enforcement capabilities, and increased military presence from Arctic (and potentially non-Arctic) countries that could foment uncertainty and lead to misperceptions about other countries’ intentions in the region.
As U.S. policymakers look for opportunities to enhance cooperation in the Arctic Circle, it may be useful to begin with fisheries conservation. This rather low-politics area of engagement could get partners comfortably engaged in a discussion on Arctic issues that could then snowball into a broader conversation about cooperation around other security and foreign policy interests in the region.
Here are a couple of ways that cooperation around protecting fisheries may serve broader foreign policy purposes in the Arctic Circle: