Dr. Jay Gulledge is a Senior Scientist and Director of the Science and Impacts Program at the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, and a Non-Resident Senior Fellow at the Center for a New America Security. He is a co-author (with Dr. Rob Huebert) of Climate Change & National Security: The Arctic as a Bellwether, a new study published by the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions.
Today the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions – C2ES, formerly the Pew Center on Global Climate Change – is releasing a new report, Climate Change & National Security: The Arctic as a Bellwether. The lead author of the report is Dr. Rob Huebert, Associate Director of the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary.
Official military doctrine in the United States now holds that “climate change, energy security, and economic stability are inextricably linked.” Nowhere is this linkage more clearly illustrated than in the Arctic, and that’s why we think the region is a bellwether for how climate change may reshape global geopolitics in the post-Cold War era.
As the planet has warmed over the past few decades, temperatures in the Arctic have been increasing at about twice the global rate. And the Arctic sea ice cover has been shrinking much faster than scientists anticipated. The five smallest sea ice covers ever recorded have all occurred in the past five summers. As a result, the Northwest Passage through the Canadian Archipelago has opened up every summer since 2007, and the Northeast Passage along Russia’s coastline has opened up every summer since 2008.
New and expanded shipping routes through the Arctic can cut the distance to transport goods between Asia, North America, and Europe by up to 4000 miles. We’re seeing increased interest and investment in oil and gas exploration. The United States Geological Survey estimates that 30 percent of the world’s undiscovered gas and 13 percent of undiscovered oil lies in the Arctic. Russia likely possesses the largest share of any country. There’s also growing interest in tourism and fishing.
As the economic potential of the Arctic becomes more apparent, governments and militaries have begun to reposition themselves. What’s happening in the Arctic is the starkest example yet of the way climate change directly affects international security.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
U.S. policymakers and military officials are giving the Arctic some more attention.
On Saturday, The Navy Times reported on the Coast Guard’s request to Congress to purchase a new heavy-icebreaker to bolster the U.S. presence in the Arctic. “Rising global temperatures and melting sea ice are opening the Arctic as a new frontier for research, travel and oil drilling — and creating more area for the Coast Guard to patrol,” the report said. “To keep up, the Coast Guard is asking for $8 million in the fiscal 2013 budget to begin procurement of a new large icebreaker.” The total cost of the icebreaker is projected around $860 million. The initial $8 million is to, as the report notes, get the procurement process started.
The U.S. Coast Guard currently lacks the icebreaking capability it needs to secure U.S. interests in the Arctic. “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 Navy Times said. “The medium-duty polar icebreaker Healy is designed for research and cannot cut through the thickest ice.”
For those of you who have not been following the national security or defense journals recently, the U.S. Naval Institute’s Proceedings published in its February 2012 edition a great article by U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) Commandant Admiral Robert J. Papp Jr. on the Arctic, paving the way – I hope – for a national level discussion on U.S. interests and goals in the High North.
“The Arctic region—the Barents, Beaufort, and Chukchi seas and the Arctic Ocean—is the emerging maritime frontier, vital to our national interests, economy and security,” Admiral Papp writes. “The difference [between the Arctic and the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans] is that in the rest of the maritime domain, we have an established presence of shore-based forces, small boats, cutters, and aircraft supported by permanent infrastructure and significant operating experience. Although the Coast Guard has operated in southern Alaska, the Gulf of Alaska, and Bering Sea for much of our history, in the higher latitudes we have little infrastructure and limited operating experience, other than icebreaking.”
Admiral Papp describes the U.S. Coast Guard’s responsibilities in the Arctic and, by doing so, lays out how the Coast Guard should be prepared to lead. “Our first challenge is simply to better understand the Arctic operating environment and its risks, including knowing which Coast Guard capabilities and operations will be needed to meet our mission requirements,” Admiral Papp states. This includes addressing the lack of USCG infrastructure that can support shore-based operations, as well as “ensuring that Coast Guard men and women have the policy, doctrine, and training to operate safely and effectively in the northern Arctic region.” In addition, the Coast Guard is “working closely with other key federal partners to lead the interagency effort in the Arctic,” leveraging its experience with “speaking the interagency language” and success with engaging the range of public and private stakeholders active in the Arctic, from local tribes to corporate adventurers.
Last Friday I pointed out that the U.S. Coast Guard Healy helped the Russian tanker Renda deliver 1.3 million gallons of fuel to Nome, Alaska.
It may sound like a normal mission for the Coast Guard, but I’m assured there’s nothing normal about traveling through the ice-covered Arctic in the middle of winter. I think there is a tendency to forget that icebreakers perform a crucial mission in the Arctic, during relatively ice-free summers or in the dead of winter. In this particular instance, the Coast Guard was helping assure delivery of fuel to the Alaskan town. According to a U.S. Coast Guard news release, “The [fuel] delivery was necessary due to an early winter storm that prevented a scheduled fuel resupply to the city [Nome].”
In a meeting I had last week, an official painted a vivid picture for me about the importance of an icebreaker and what this niche capability actually gives the United States. The USCG Healy began escorting the Renda out of Nome on January 20, 2012 for the nearly 400 mile journey across the frozen Bering Sea. According to this official, as the Healy was breaking through the ice, the Bering Sea continued to freeze over, extending its frozen reach. I thought this was an interesting point and one that certainty points to the importance of icebreakers in helping commercial vessels plow through the ice, if for nothing else but to avoid a Sisyphusian-like situation that traps commercial vessels in an endless sea of ice. On Monday, after 10 days of icebreaking, both the Healy and Renda reached ice-free waters and have parted ways. The Healy has returned to its homeport, Seattle.
Icebreakers perform a critical function. U.S. policymakers need to have an honest conversation about what the U.S. mission needs to be in the Arctic and then decide what resources it needs to support that mission. Having an understanding about the role U.S. icebreakers perform in the Arctic should help get the conversation going.
Photo: The Healy breaks through ice on its journey to Nome, Alaska. Courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard.
Last Thursday the Environmental Law Institute (ELI) hosted a panel on “Offshore Oil & Gas in the Arctic: The Next Five Years.” The event was focused on planned lease sales by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) for the Chuckchi and Beaufort Seas in the coming five years. BOEM is one of three new agencies created within the Department of Interior to replace the former Minerals Management Service. BOEM is responsible for developing and managing the nation’s offshore energy resources, including the leasing of oil and gas blocks on the outer continental shelf. In November 2011, BOEM published its Draft 2012-2017 Oil and Gas Leasing Program requesting comments from the public. Read the notice here. The comment period closes February 8, 2012. Though the ELI program focused on the Arctic - the area likely to draw the most intense comments - the draft covers all proposed U.S. offshore lease sales through 2017. The proposed lease sale dates off Alaska’s coast are 2013 for the Cook Inlet, 2015 for the Beaufort Sea and 2016 for the Chukchi Sea. You can view the draft in its entirety as well several other related documents here.
Among the key thoughts I took away were that the later dates for the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas locations reflect a desire to continue to study the region as well as to afford the opportunity to learn from the drilling slated to occur in these areas in 2012. These leases present significant challenges such as the remoteness of the locations, the lack of supporting infrastructure close by and challenges in conducting spill response in this harsh environment. However, the leases are located in much shallower water than the deepwater drilling currently occurring in the Gulf of Mexico.