National Security Implications of Climate Change for U.S. Naval Forces
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Related to the increased international activity and interest in the Arctic described above, the fact that the United States has signed but not yet ratified the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea18 will become even more problematic with time and as more states call for international recognition of their Arctic claims (see Box 1.3). For example, the five Arctic coastal states—Canada, Russia, Norway, Denmark (based on its territory Greenland), and the United States—are in the process of preparing Arctic territorial claims for submission to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf. Russia’s claims to the Lomonosov Ridge, if accepted, would grant Russia nearly one-half of the Arctic. By remaining outside of UNCLOS, the United States seriously compromises its ability to take part in negotiations regarding the claims of other nations.19 UNCLOS provides a legal framework for the settlement of such disputes.
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FINDING: The committee has studied the implications of the failure of the United States to ratify the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) from the standpoint of potential impacts on national security in the context of a changing climate. As climate change affords increased access to the Arctic, it is envisioned that there will be new opportunities for natural resource exploration and recovery, as well as increased ship traffic of all kinds, and with that a need for broadened naval partnership and cooperation, and a framework for settling potential disputes and conflicts. By remaining outside the Convention, the United States makes it more difficult for U.S. naval forces to have maximum operating flexibility in the Arctic and complicates negotiations with maritime partners for coordinated search and rescue operations in the region. (Chapter 1)
RECOMMENDATION: The ability of U.S. naval forces to carry out their missions would be assisted if the United States were to ratify UNCLOS. Therefore, the committee recommends that the Chief of Naval Operations, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, and the Commandant of the Coast Guard continue to put forward the naval forces’ view of the potential value and operational impact of UNCLOS ratification on U.S. naval operations, especially in the Arctic region. (Chapter 1)
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Freedom of the seas issues addressed in UNCLOS are also important for U.S. naval forces, beyond an increasingly accessible Arctic due to melting sea ice. U.S. naval forces depend upon global strategic mobility and tactical maneuverability to conduct the spectrum of sea-air-land operations in the pursuit of national interests. Similar to NSPD-66, the 2005 United States National Strategy for Maritime Security identified freedom of the seas as a top national priority.22 Also, the Department of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff discussed the major national security benefits of the Law of the Sea Convention in a 1996 report. The foremost benefit seen by this group was reported as global access to the oceans throughout the world—specifically, freedom of navigation, overflight, and telecommunications— and a stable and nearly universally accepted convention to promote public order and free access to the oceans and the airspace above them.23
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Beyond the Arctic, the committee anticipates increased HA/DR missions by U.S. naval forces as a result of projected increases in extreme climatic events. To support this potential increasing mission for humanitarian assistance to climate refugees and disaster-relief operations, allied partnerships will be essential. Hence the committee sees ratification of the Convention as an important national priority to leverage the enormous “soft power” of the treaty to share burdens and reduce the national security risks to the naval and joint forces and the nation. Becoming a party to the Convention then is clearly in the U.S. naval forces’ best interests as the Arctic opens as a fifth ocean of interest.
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In the case of the Arctic Ocean, the five Arctic coastal states are Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia, and the United States. Russia ratified UNCLOS in 1997. In December 2001, Russian officials submitted a claim that 120 million hectares of underwater terrain between the Lomonosov and Mendeleev ridges be confirmed as a continuation of the Siberian shelf. Norway ratified UNCLOS in 1996 and submitted its claim in November 2006. Canada and Norway ratified UNCLOS in 2003 and 2004, respectively, and are in the process of preparing claims for submission. The United States has not ratified UNCLOS. However, the United States is working closely with Canada to gather and analyze data through the Extended Continental Shelf Project for the submission of Canada’s claim. This effort is led by the U.S. Continental Shelf Task Force, an interagency body, chaired by the Department of State with co-vice chairs from NOAA and the Department of the Interior. Both U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard representatives participate on the Task Force. According to the U.S. Arctic Research Commission, the United States could lay claim to an area in the Arctic of about 450,000 square kilometers and the seabed resources therein. However, as a non-party to UNCLOS, the United States cannot participate as a member of the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf; neither can the United States submit a claim under Article 76.