Arctic Security Considerations and the U.S. Navy's Roadmap for the Arctic
As a result, the Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the globe. Specifically, scientists are observing retreating sea ice, melting glaciers, and shrinking snow and permafrost areas.6 The summer ice cap is estimated to be only half the size it was fifty years ago.7 Sea-ice extent in the Arctic has decreased steadily since the 1950s and in September 2007 reached a record low that was 39 percent below the 1979–2000 mean. September 2008 experienced the second-lowest Arctic ice extent on record, at 34 percent below the 1970–2000 mean. In September 2009, when the Arctic reached its minimum ice extent for the year, it was recorded at the third-lowest extent since 1979 satellite measurements began, further demonstrating the declining trend in summer sea ice over the past thirty years (see the figure).8
Although estimates for when the Arctic will experience ice-free conditions in the summer range from 2013 to 2060, the consensus of most models and researchers is that the Arctic will experience ice-free conditions for a portion of the summer by 2030.9 It is important to point out that no research or model simulations indicate that winter sea-ice cover of the Arctic Ocean will disappear during this century. This reinforces the point that the Arctic will still be a very challenging environment in which to operate.
One future change in the Arctic region is greater accessibility to, and availability of, natural resources, including offshore oil and gas, minerals, and fisheries. The Arctic contains 10 percent of the world’s known petroleum reserves and approximately 25 percent of its undiscovered reserves.18 The U.S. exclusive economic zone has a potential thirty billion barrels of oil reserves and 221 billion cubic feet in natural gas reserves.19 Minerals available for extraction in the Arctic include manganese, copper, cobalt, zinc, and gold. Coupled with a rise in global demand for natural oil and gas resources and improved accessibility, the Arctic has become a new focus for oil companies looking for untapped resources. Already $2.6 billion has been spent on active oil and gas leases in the Chukchi Sea.20 Yet the extraction of these minerals and petroleum reserves depends heavily upon development and deployment of resilient technology that can function in such harsh conditions, marked by lack of infrastructure and long distances to markets.
The legal regime applicable in the Arctic is the customary international law as reflected in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). While the United States has not ratified UNCLOS, it considers the convention’s navigation and jurisdiction provisions to be binding international law. The convention advances and protects the national security, environmental, and economic interests of all nations, including the United States, codifying the navigational rights and freedoms that are critical to American military and commercial vessels. It also secures economic rights to offshore natural resources.26 Article 76 of the convention allows nations to claim jurisdiction past their exclusive economic zones on the basis of undersea features that are considered extensions of the continental shelf, if a structure is geologically similar to a nation’s continental landmass.27 In May 2008 five of the Arctic nations adopted the Illulissat Declaration, which acknowledges that “the Law of the Sea is the relevant legal framework in the Arctic” and that there is “no need to develop a new comprehensive international legal regime to govern the Arctic,” committing the signatories to an “orderly settlement of any possible overlapping claims.”28
Currently there are overlapping, unresolved maritime boundary claims between the United States and Canada, Canada and Denmark, Denmark and Norway, and Norway and Russia. At this time, none of these disputed boundary claims pose a threat to global stability. While the United States and Canada disagree on the location of the maritime boundary in and northward of the Beaufort Sea, the United States considers Canada a close ally, and the dispute does not jeopardize this relationship.29 Unfortunately, the United States is the only Arctic nation that has not joined UNCLOS, despite support from President Barack Obama and the Bush and Clinton administrations. Because the Illulissat Declaration recognizes the law of the sea as the framework for deciding issues of Arctic territoriality, the United States will likely find itself at a disadvantage when critical Arctic conversations occur.30