Military activity is on the rise in the Arctic. The Canadian military, for example, is bolstering its presence in the region, in part to offset Russian influence and to prepare for the opening of the Arctic Circle to resource exploitation and commercial travel. In fact, this week, the Canadian military is conducting the largest military exercise to-date – Operation NANOOK – with some 1,000 troops, air and naval assets and unmanned drones. “All of this is very much about enlarging the footprint and the permanent and seasonal presence we have in the North," Canadian Defense Minister Peter McKay said last month in Afghanistan. “Members of the Canadian Forces say military capabilities are growing and becoming more complex in the North – a key component of reasserting claim to the region,” The Toronto Sun reported last week. “The Canadian military is not looking at what the issues are today but what are the threats and hazards that Canadians could see, governments could see, not only today, but in the future, to see what capabilities we could need to address those threats and hazards,” said Canadian Lt.-Gen. Walter Semianiw, commander of Operation NANOOK.
Russia has also taken steps to bolster its military presence in the Arctic. In July, Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov announced that Russia would protect its territorial claims in the High North with an Arctic military force. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin made a similar pronouncement in July: “We are open for a dialogue with our foreign partners and with all our neighbors in the Arctic region, but of course we will defend our own geopolitical interests firmly and consistently." According to published reports, “Moscow plans to build at least six more icebreakers and spend $33 billion to construct a year-round port on the Arctic shores.”
As my short time here at CNAS is just about over – having focused primarily on South China Sea research – it seems as though I will be leaving as the oil and gas rich Arctic region revives a conversation about the High North with some of the same strategic questions and concerns that are being raised in the South China Sea.
Earlier this week, the U.S. Navy task force for climate change completed its latest assessment of the Arctic region. (The assessment is part of a five-year plan, released in May 2009, to guide Navy policy, actions and investment regarding the Arctic.) The findings in the report seem to foreshadow a situation in the Arctic much like the one that is continuing to develop in the South China Sea – a region where “nations jockey for control of potentially lucrative resources buried beneath the ocean floor.”
It appears that DOD updated its Unified Command Plan to assign NORTHCOM the lead on the Arctic just in time. The pace of Arctic-area activity by the United States, Russia and Canada seems to have spiked over the past week.
Yesterday, President Obama signed an Executive Order on “Interagency Working Group on Coordination of Domestic Energy Development and Permitting in Alaska” in order to:
…establish an interagency working group to coordinate the efforts of Federal agencies responsible for overseeing the safe and responsible development of onshore and offshore energy resources and associated infrastructure in Alaska and to help reduce our dependence on foreign oil…To formalize and promote ongoing interagency coordination, this order establishes a high-level, interagency working group that will facilitate coordinated and efficient domestic energy development and permitting in Alaska.
The mainstream media coverage of this EO provides plentiful quotes from energy industry and environmental group representatives. But it did not slip past my eyes that the Department of Defense is first in the list of required agencies in this interagency working group.
At the same time, NOAA launched its Fairweather survey vessel to map the sea floor in a piece of the U.S. Arctic territory off the northwest coast of Alaska, updating water depth measurements in this area for the first time since the 1800s. The Canadian Coast Guard vessel Louis St-Laurent and the U.S. Coast Guard's Healy are also conducting joint survey work further out at sea to more thoroughly map the continental shelf. The Russian icebreaking vessel Akademik Fyodorov is doing the same.
All this mapping ties directly to the rising tensions in the Arctic that made headlines in the past week: Russia recently announced plans to position two brigades in a few of its Arctic towns, followed by an announcement from Canada that it would hold an elaborate, month-long exercise in the Arctic involving around 1,000 military personnel. Following this news, Russia announced plans this week to submit a new map of its Arctic seabed claims next year, and Canada plans to do the same by the end of 2013 as each seek to maintain and expand their territorial claims in the Arctic.
On a related note, does anyone else see these as *really* good dates by which the Senate should ratify UNCLOS?
Photo of the Healy courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard.
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).
Over the last several years, the United States has elevated the Arctic region as a U.S. national security prerogative. Just days before leaving office in January 2009, President Bush issued National Security Presidential Directive 66, stating that “the United States has broad and fundamental national security interests in the Arctic region and is prepared to operate either independently or in conjunction with other states to safeguard these interests.” In April 2011, President Obama signed a revised Unified Command Plan (UCP), designating U.S. Northern Command as the lead command for Arctic issues in the Department of Defense. (Previously, authority over the Arctic region had been split among U.S. European, Northern and Pacific Commands, complicating unity of effort within the Department of Defense.) The UCP change arguably signaled a shift in the Arctic’s strategic priority, giving the military greater latitude in determining current and future capabilities for Arctic missions.
Last week, Secretary of State Clinton attended the Seventh Ministerial Meeting of the Arctic Council, the first U.S. Secretary of State to attend the meeting of Arctic nations, reiterating America’s concerns in the Arctic, while emphasizing the need for international cooperation. The meeting concluded with the Arctic Council’s first binding agreement for council members –Russia, Canada, Finland, Norway, Iceland, Sweden, Denmark and the United States – to coordinate search-and-rescue operations. Needless to say, the U.S. government – between the Departments of Defense and State and others in the interagency – has been better positioning itself to adapt to the challenges of a melting Arctic that scientists say could be ice free for one month out of the year by 2030 as a result of global climate change. Yet in order to fully prepare for the challenges of an open Arctic, especially around competing claims for minerals and energy resources, the United States needs to ratify the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
I’ll start this wrap-up with the coolest natural security-related news from the weekend: the Navy has sent some submarines to the Arctic on exercises to do who knows exactly what, but surely in part to signal the U.S. presence in the region.
Faithful readers of the Natural Security blog will know that the U.S. military, and the Navy in particular, is on the forefront of understanding the national security implications of climate change and transitioning to renewable sources of energy. Yet at the UN climate talks, the dominant perception of the United States and its government is of climate deniers and international laggards, unable to muster the political will to act on climate change domestically or abroad. So, in an effort to dispel some of the criticism, the State Department set up the U.S. Center at the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) negotiations in Cancun, Mexico from November 29-December 10, 2010. Part propaganda exercise and part information-sharing hub, the pavilion in the NGO observers building hosted a series of events surrounding the national and global impacts of climate change and U.S. climate change policy.
I had the opportunity to attend the talks in Cancun as part of the Adopt a Negotiator program, and on Thursday, December 9th, I made my way to the U.S. Center for the “National Security Implications of Climate Change,” an event featuring Rear Admiral David Titley, Director of the Task Force on Climate Change, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy Amanda Dory, Dr. Jeffrey Marqusee, Executive Director of Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program and Chief of Staff of U.S. Southern Command General Juan Ayala and moderated by Lieutenant Colonel Paul Schimpf.
Any audience member who may have been skeptical about how seriously the Navy is taking climate change probably had their fears allayed by RADM Titley’s statement that “we in the very top of the Navy believe that climate change is real and is having big impacts on the Navy.” Titley explained that much of the Navy’s concern about climate change is not about climate models theorizing what may happen in the future, but the very real changes that they are seeing in the Earth’s oceans and the Arctic. As global temperatures rise, the Arctic is warming 2 times faster than the rest of the world and Arctic sea extent continues to melt and thin from year to year.
An ice island calved off of the Petermann Glacier, located in northwest Greenland, on August 5th. This image, taken by NASA's EO-1 satellite, shows the 275 kilometer island's migration (upper-left quadrant of the image). The calving was significant because it represented the single largest area loss for Greenland. Professor Jason Box, posting on the Byrd Polar Research Center's blog, points out that "while it is unreasonable to pin an individual cracking event of a glacier on Global Warming, even if enormous, the retreat of Petermann glacier is most certainly part of a pattern of global warming." The Petermann Glacier has retreated 21 kilometers since 2000, and based on data and images taken since 1962, its retreat has reached a new minimum. The 2009-2010 winter and May 2010 were the warmest on record in Nuuk, Greenland. Abnormally high air termperatures in Greenland have been linked with observations of reduced sea ice concentration and warming sea surface temperatures this year.
Note from Alex: This is officially my last post on the Natural Security blog! I have learned so much in my time at CNAS. I had a blast writing for the blog and I look forward to engaging with the Natural Security community for years to come. Working with Christine and Will, as well as the rest of the CNAS staff, has been a truly wonderful experience. As always, thanks for reading!
The average Arctic sea ice extent for July 2010 was the second lowest on record (the record low was in July 2007). The total ice extent was 8.4 million square kilometers, which was 1.71 million square kilometers less than the 1979-2000 average (shown in the above image by the magenta line). According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, the ice retreat for this July is part of a trend that shows a linear rate of decline of 6.4 percent. Translation? It’s official: Arctic ice data is suggesting a retreating trend, not just a random pattern of expansion and decline. Worse (at least for the polar bears), this means that the oldest, thickest ice is now being lost, not just the ice that accumulates between summer melting.
Photo: Courtesy of the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, CO.
Last week, the Quadrennial Defense Review Independent Review Panel released its final report on the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR). The five-month review of the QDR was an opportunity for a panel of national security and defense experts (including CNAS Commander-in-Chief Dr. John Nagl) to assess the shortcomings of the QDR and its processes, and to analyze U.S. national security priorities and challenges from outside the Department of Defense bureaucracy. According to the report:
The issues raised in the body of this Report are sufficiently serious that we believe an explicit warning is appropriate. The aging of the inventories and equipment used by the services, the decline in the size of the Navy, escalating personnel entitlements, overhead and procurement costs, and the growing stress on the force means that a train wreck is coming in the areas of personnel, acquisition, and force structure. (Emphasis mine)
When I hear train wreck I think Li Lo or Mel Gibson. Despite that distraction, I kept reading.
The panel of experts identified four key national interests that have shaped U.S. national security policy since WWII:
Since 1945, the United States has been the principal architect and remains the principal leader of a durable and desirable international system. American security rests on four principles: the defense of the American homeland; assured access to the sea, air, space, and cyberspace; the preservation of a favorable balance of power across Eurasia that prevents authoritarian domination of that region; and provision for the global “common good” through such actions as humanitarian aid, development assistance, and disaster relief. (P. 25)