July 13, 2011

The Arctic Heats Up: New EO and Survey Expeditions

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
” 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.

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.

the same time, NOAA
launched its Fairweather survey
to map the sea Healy in Icefloor 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.

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.

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.