The Arctic: A New Partnership Paradigm or the Next "Cold War"?
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Global climate change is bringing about epochal transformation in the Arctic region, most notably through the melting of the polar ice cap. The impact of these changes, and how the global community reacts, may very well be the most important and far-reaching body of issues humanity has yet faced in this new century. A number of nations bordering the Arctic have made broad strides toward exercising their perceived sovereign rights in the region, and all except the United States have acceded to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which provides an international legal basis for these rights and claims.1 Similarly, while most Arctic nations have been planning, preparing, and program- ming resources for many years in anticipation of the Arctic thaw, the United States has been slow to act on any of the substantive steps necessary for the exercise of sovereign rights or the preservation of vital national interests in the region.2
The United States must move outside the construct of unilateral action in order to preserve its sovereign rights in the Arctic, capitalize on the opportunities available, and safeguard vital national interests in the region. In today’s budget-constrained environment and as a Nation at war with higher resource priorities in Iraq and Afghanistan than in the Arctic, it is unrealistic to believe that any significant allocation will be programmed for addressing this issue.3 Since the United States is too far behind in actions necessary to preserve its critical interests as compared to the other Arctic countries, the Nation must take the lead to cultivate a new multilateral partnership paradigm in the region.
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In support of multilateral Arctic partnerships are a number of broad-based and disparate organizations and policies nonetheless unified in support of the issue, and additional support comes from consequential benefits inherent in UNCLOS accession. Overarching is National Security Presidential Directive (NSPD) 66, “Arctic Region Policy,” released in 2009. Among the directive’s policy statements is a robust admonishment for accession to UNCLOS:
Joining [the UNCLOS treaty] will serve the national security interests . . . secure U.S. sovereign rights over extensive maritime areas . . . promote U.S. interests in the environmental health of the oceans . . . give the United States a seat at the table when the rights that are vital to our interests are debated and interpreted . . . [and] achieve international recognition and legal certainty for our extended continental shelf.19
Furthermore, NSPD 66 persuasively promotes multinational partnership in the Arctic to address the myriad issues faced in the region.20 Likewise, the Department of Defense, as articulated in its 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review, strongly advocates accession to UNCLOS in order “to support cooperative engagement.”21 Also among the tenacious supporters of accession are the U.S. Navy, whose leadership stresses that UNCLOS will protect patrol rights in the Arctic, and a number of environmental groups who want to advocate on behalf of Arctic fauna and flora.22 In addition, the oil industry lobby representing Chevron, ExxonMobil, and ConocoPhillips asserts that oil and gas exploration cannot reasonably occur without the legal stability afforded in UNCLOS.23 In a consequential benefit of accession, the extended U.S. continental shelf claims could add 100,000 square miles of undersea territory in the Gulf of Mexico and on the East Coast plus another 200,000 square miles in the Arctic. Accession acts to strengthen and extend Arctic jurisdiction, open additional hydrocarbon and mineral resource opportunities, add to the stability of the international Arctic framework, and boost the legal apparatus for curtailing maritime trafficking and piracy.25 The benefits appear to outweigh the costs as the United States is increasingly moving to a position of strategic disadvantage in shaping Arctic region policy outcomes by failing to ratify UNCLOS.
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In defense and protection of the border and resource areas, Russia continues to bolster military presence and capability in the Arctic. In addition to the Northern Fleet, whose naval military capabilities run the full gamut of surface and subsurface operations, Moscow has created the Federal Security Service Coastal Border Guard.67 Additional activities in the border and coastal areas include development of control infrastructure and equipment upgrades for the border guard, implementation of an integrated oceanic monitoring system for surface vessels, and a number of equipment and weapons testing and deployment initiatives.68 Many of these initiatives demonstrate presence and resolve, such as the 2007 launch of cruise missiles over the Arctic, additional Northern Fleet exercises in 2008, and the resumption of Arctic aerial and surface patrols not seen since the end of the Cold War.69 While many of these actions may appear provocative, Russia has also asserted its commitment to working within the framework of international law, partici- pated actively in the Arctic Council and other international bodies, and expressed interest in partnership in the region, particularly in the area of SAR.70 In the aggregate, Russia emerges as among the most prepared of Arctic nations for the opportunities available and may well be poised to gain early regional commercial and military supremacy with the goal of similar successes in the international political arena.71 Russian commitment to mul- tilateral venues, along with the demonstrated attitudes of other Arctic nations, presents the opportunity for U.S. partnership in the region.
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Ratify and put into full force the UNCLOS Treaty. This is a key first step to provide the international legal baseline and credibility for further U.S. actions in the region. While not essential to partnership, accession nonetheless demonstrates U.S. will- ingness to operate in a cooperative rather than a unilateral manner within the international arena. Through UNCLOS, the United States will gain international recognition of exclusive rights over an additional 300,000 square miles of undersea territory along with the expected potential for lucrative hydrocarbon and mineral resources therein. Accession will also secure the United States a strong position to shape and influence the region for the preser- vation of its vital interests.