Over the last several weeks, my colleagues and I have been trying to make the case for a national-level dialogue on the Arctic (see CDR Gilreath’s post from Wednesday and my National Journal piece from the first week in January). Our call for a national dialogue is in part driven by the need to build awareness among a larger audience about what the United States is currently doing in the Arctic, and then to have a conversation about what our national objectives are in the High North. Simply put, what do we want to achieve there? How much of a presence do we want to have? Are we willing to forfeit our leadership role to Canada, Russia or other Arctic (or non-Arctic?) states?
This photo – I think – helps get the conversation going. In this photo taken on January 16, 2012 in Nome, Alaska, a fuel tanker docks after being escorted through the ice by the U.S. Coast Guard Healy (the only operational polar icebreaker in the fleet), so that it can deliver more than 1.3 million gallons of fuel to the local community. Is this a priority mission for the Coast Guard, and, if so, is it resourced to continue executing this mission? Let’s have that conversation.
Last week, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) released its report, “A New Security Architecture for the Arctic: An American Perspective." The report provides concise summaries of the existing governance regimes for the Arctic and touches on many of the reasons the United States and other nations should care about the Arctic. It reprises the role of the Law of the Sea Convention, Arctic Council and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The authors also argue for creation of an Arctic Coast Guard Forum to address security concerns with membership comprised of the eight Arctic Council countries, plus other countries willing to contribute resources to the region.
Two of the key takeaways for me were the emphasis on the failure of the United States to create a comprehensive “large scale economic development plan for the region” and the lack of existing military assets suited to operate in this complex environment to protect, enforce and ensure our interests. From my perspective, the lack of a serious national discussion and investment in Arctic resources, coupled with the continued failure to ratify the Law of the Sea Convention, signals to other nations that we are willing to forfeit our leadership role in the Arctic. The longer we wait to engage in a national dialogue and set a firm course to implement a strategy, the more options we foreclose in the future. As we delay implementation and investment, others gain leverage through the development of critical infrastructure or assets needed to exploit resources in the region, including shipping ports to take advantage of potentially shorter trade routes, ice breakers to keep open sea lanes or allow development of oil and gas fields and patrol vessels to protect fish stocks.
Ideally, we should enter critical international negotiations over governance, use and protection of resources within the Arctic from a position of strength rather than weakness. That is not to suggest that partnerships are bad, or that the United States must have enough government assets to go it alone. Partnerships can be incredibly productive when they are mutually beneficial. Partnerships that are completely one sided in nature have little appeal and are difficult to sustain. Perhaps if we could afford to continue to build assets and infrastructure with nominal concern for costs we could make up for the lack of a comprehensive development strategy through sheer numbers of assets or breadth of capabilities. Yet in a time of financial austerity it would seem far better to invest in assets or partnerships that support a well developed national strategy.
A new post by Andrew Erickson and Gabe Collins in The Wall Street Journal’s China Real Time Report blog paints a great picture of how economic opportunities in the Arctic may redraw geopolitical relationships.
Erickson and Collins write that “Denmark has made a strategic decision to prioritize its economic relationship with China and is now becoming the key gateway for Beijing’s commercial and strategic entrée into the Arctic,” including being an advocate for China to have permanent membership on the eight-seat Arctic Council. In particular, Denmark seeks to use Greenland’s mineral wealth (including coveted materials like rare earths, uranium and iron ore) as a means of fostering stronger economic ties with China (Erickson and Collins note that exports have been steadily increasing between both countries over the last several years).
While both may gain in the near term (Greenland in particular will benefit from Chinese investments in infrastructure that the island is thin on, including more power lines and power stations), it is not hard to see that China benefits more from this new arrangement over the long term. As Erickson and Collins describe, “From Beijing’s perspective, having Chinese companies buy several billion dollars per year worth of pharmaceuticals and machinery and doing container shipping business with Maersk is well worth it to gain access to Arctic negotiating tables and Greenland’s minerals.”
Building off my 2012 policy wish list, here is a post I wrote for the National Journal’s Energy and Environment blog on why the Arctic should be a policy priority for the president and congress in 2012: “Time for Serious Attention to the Arctic.”
This year, the Natural Security blog will feature more posts on the items you read on this year’s wish list. To kick off the New Year, next week CNAS will host an event on the South China Sea where we will formally launch our new report, Cooperation from Strength: The United States, China and the South China Sea. (RSVP to the event here.) The event will feature Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert, CNAS Senior Advisor and Senior Director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program Patrick Cronin, CNAS Senior Fellow Robert Kaplan, former Secretary of the Navy Richard Danzig, and Ambassador Chan Heng Chee, Ambassador of the Republic of Singapore to the United States.
The report includes a chapter on the role of natural resources in the South China Sea that focuses on more than just the region’s energy resources. It includes an examination of the broad resource and environmental trends affecting the region, from energy to fisheries, from minerals to climate change.
On December 1, 2011, the Government Accountability Office released a new report on the Coast Guard’s Arctic capability that is worth reading in full. The report cautions that “the most significant issue facing the Coast Guard’s icebreaker fleet is the growing obsolescence of these vessels and the resulting capability gap caused by their increasingly limited operations.”
It is particularly interesting to read the report in the context of the budget debate taking place on Capitol Hill. The authors of the report rightly acknowledge that expanding the capability necessary to accomplish the Coast Guard’s Arctic missions is particularly challenged by budget constraints and uncertainty about how much the Department of Homeland Security’s budget may decrease. According to the study:
Senior Coast Guard officials, based in Alaska, reported that resources for Arctic operations had already been reduced and were inadequate to meet existing mission requirements in Alaska, let alone expanded Arctic operations. These officials also reported a more than 50 percent year-to-year reduction between 2005 and 2009 in the number of large cutters available for operations in their region. Officials also expressed concern that the replacement of the 12 older high-endurance cutters with 8 new cutters may exacerbate this challenge. Given the reductions that have already taken place, as well as the anticipated decrease in DHS’s annual budget, the long-term budget outlook for Coast Guard Arctic operations is uncertain. The challenge of addressing Arctic resource requirements in a flat or declining budget environment is further underscored by recent budget requests that have identified the Coast Guard’s top priority as the recapitalization of cutters, aircraft, communications, and infrastructure—particularly with regard to its Deepwater program. Recent budget requests also have not included funding for Arctic priorities, aside from the annual operating costs associated with existing icebreakers.
Tomorrow, the House Transportation Committee’s Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation will hold a hearing on “Protecting U.S. Sovereignty: Coast Guard Operations in the Arctic.” (Available for viewing by webcast.)
According to a background memo provide by the subcommittee, the purpose of the hearing is in part to examine if the Coast Guard has the ability to execute its statutory missions in the Arctic. Capabilities, including Coast Guard icebreakers, are obviously an important element in evaluating if the Coast Guard is setup to fulfill its missions in the High North, so I’m hopeful to see some discussion about the lack of U.S. icebreaking capabilities, and how that affects the Coast Guard. I wrote a post exploring this issue last week that I think is worth revisiting. Here’s hoping it tees up some of the questions we’ll hear asked by the members tomorrow.
Last Monday, Businessweek published an excerpt from a new book by David Fairhall, Cold Front: Conflict Ahead in Arctic Waters. Besides the provocative title (which, by focusing on conflict does not help further our understanding about the challenges and opportunities that lie in the Arctic), the book looks rather interesting.
In the excerpt from Businessweek, Fairhall describes in brief the history of polar icebreakers, including their evolution to nuclear propulsion in Russia. “Today, a dozen countries operate icebreakers. Canada needs them in large numbers to cope with winter, not only in the Arctic but also in the St. Lawrence River and Hudson Bay. Scandinavians use them to keep Baltic ports clear,” Fairhall writes. “The U.S. has strategic and scientific interests in both the Arctic and Antarctica, for which it has three polar-class vessels.”
Yet where it gets interesting – at least from a national security perspective – is the gap between U.S. and Russian icebreaking capabilities. As Fairhall explains, “Still, no one disputes the predominance that Russia achieved by adapting nuclear propulsion to icebreaking. These vessels need a great deal of power and the ability sometimes to remain at sea for long periods without refueling -- both things that a nuclear reactor can deliver.”
Ever wonder what the U.S. Navy does during its annual ICEX training in the Arctic? All Hands Television has the scoop in this video of the 2011 exercises that runs less than 10 minutes and is worth watching. Watch the video here. Below I have also provided some quick takeaways that I thought were interesting. Some of them are intuitive but are worth highlighting:
What I find particularly interesting is how much time the U.S. Navy’s Public Affairs team put into developing this video in what seems like a direct effort to explain why the Arctic is important to not just the U.S. Navy, but the country as a whole. It’s a great video, and I hope we’ll see more. Perhaps it’s the beginning of a big push to educate policymakers in Washington just as they prepare to make important decisions about federal budget cuts this fall.
Yesterday’s announced deal between Exxon Mobile and Russia’s state-owned Rosneft came as a bit of a surprise. My initial reaction, to borrow Homer Simpson’s catchphrase: “D’oh!” For one, it seems like a rather off-balance arrangement, at least according to initial reports, that puts Russia on track to reap huge benefits while putting Exxon Mobile on risky footing. As The New York Times aptly put it, “the deal means wading deeper into Russia’s risky business environment.” Indeed, if past events are any indicator, Exxon Mobile will need to be very cautious if the deal moves forward. According to The New York Times report:
Russia has reneged on deals with Western oil companies before. In 2006, for example, it compelled Royal Dutch Shell to sell 50 percent of a Sakhalin offshore development to Gazprom, a state company — after Shell spent a decade and more than $20 billion of its own money and that of other investors to build the project’s infrastructure.
Some analysts are optimistic, however. “The deal also signals a thaw in U.S-Russian relations,” The Washington Post reported. “Cliff Kupchan, director of the Eurasia Group, noted that just three years ago, U.S. energy firms were shut out of deals in Russia. ‘Since then,’ he said, ‘we’ve had a reset in the relationship under President Obama, from cooperation on Iran to the START treaty, and we’re seeing that improved relationship seeping into energy.’”
The U.S. Navy’s Task Force Climate Change recently released its latest assessment in support of the Navy’s Arctic Roadmap. What I found particular interesting given our work on the gap between the climate science and national security policy communities (see Lost in Translation: Closing the Gap Between Climate Science and National Security Policy) was the explicit mention of the Navy’s need to generate its own scientific assessments and information to shape its decision making. The Navy conducted its own assessment in part because the pace at which the independent scientific information from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is produced is not adequate to support the military’s Program Objectives Memorandum (POM) cycle – that is, the memo guiding the services’ 6-year programmatic needs. It is important to note that “Significant force structure and end-strength changes, as well as major system new starts must be identified” in the POM (see my post yesterday on the need to make hard choices about naval capability and force structure in Arctic). According to the Navy’s report:
This first biennial report provides a comprehensive assessment of the state of the Arctic environment, including the oceanography, hydrography, meteorology, fisheries, ice-extent, and climatic trends. This is important because the IPCC refresh rate is too long to meet the budget POM cycle, so this assessment will periodically synthesize existing scientific reports to inform POMs, specifically POM-14; this allows the Navy‘s decisions to be based on sound science, and not use one source only, but a consensus of accepted sources. (Emphasis added)
Another interesting point that is worth mentioning is the Navy’s assessment of Arctic fisheries, and the potential challenges that could loom as Arctic nations jockey for resources in the High North. “The impact of current and future Arctic fisheries on the marine environment and marine biodiversity in the Arctic is not likely to be fundamentally different from impacts to the marine environment and biodiversity in other parts of the globe,” the report found. “However, the challenge in enforcing fishing regulations is much different due to the harsh nature of the Arctic environment. Increased access to Arctic fisheries could lead to over-exploitation of target species and a variety of impacts on non-target species, for instance on dependent species due to predator-prey relationships, on associated species due to by-catch and on benthic species due to bottom fishing techniques.”