A New Security Architecture for the Arctic: An American Perspective
While Arctic coastal states will play a dominant role in the Arctic, non-Arctic states that benefit from Arctic hydrocarbons and ice-free shipping routes will also seek a role. China, in particular, has focused financial, scientific, and political capital in the Arctic. As the world’s largest shipping nation, with 46 percent of gross domestic product40 derived from the shipping industry, China is aware that any changes to world shipping routes will have “a direct impact on [its]...economy and potential trade with respect to both imports and exports.”41 China is concerned that “the advantage of the Arctic routes would substantially decrease if Russia were to unilaterally charge exorbitant service fees for ships passing through its EEZ waters”42 and thus is advocating strong international cooperation within multilateral governing structures. In response to future Arctic opportunities, China has built the world’s largest non-nuclear-powered icebreaker, Xuelong (Snow Dragon), which has completed four scientific expeditions to the Arctic Circle to conduct oceanographic surveys and scientific research.43 In September 2010, the Polar Institute of China concluded an agreement on polar research cooperation with the Norwegian Polar Institute, to which China will contribute advanced instruments and laboratories, and will build a research center and a new ice- class research vessel.44 China has already engaged Canada in bilateral meetings to confront poten- tial issues that could arise from the changing Arctic environment; it is also eager to build relations with the Nordic countries in hopes of establishing cooperation between Chinese and Norwegian companies in extracting Arctic energy resources.
Unfortunately, as UNCLOS nears its 40th anniversary, the United States has yet to ratify the treaty despite strong urging from the U.S. Defense and State Departments, as well as from the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In its “Arctic Roadmap,” the U.S. Navy actively supports accession to UNCLOS because it provides “effective governance: freedom of navigation, treaty vs. customary law, environmental laws, and extended continental shelf claims.”33 Joining UNCLOS would give the U.S. government a clear framework in which it could more effectively confront growing difficulties pertaining to freedom of navigation in the Arctic region. By not ratifying the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, the United States is at a considerable economic disadvantage as the other Arctic coastal states submit their claims. The United States maintains the world’s largest EEZ and has 360 major commercial ports. With potential claims of up to 600 miles of possible resource-rich continental shelf territory in the Arctic, remaining outside the UNCLOS only erodes the position of the United States in the region.
These difficulties have been made explicitly clear in recent reports from the Department of Defense and the U.S. Navy. The Department of Defense has noted that its “lack of surface capabilities able to operate in the marginal ice zone and pack ice will increasingly affect accomplishment of this mission area [sea control] over the mid- to far-term.”34 Moreover, the U.S. Navy “acknowledges that while the Arctic is not unfamiliar for the Navy, expanded capabilities and capacity may be required for the Navy to increase its engagement in this region.”35 These challenges are likely to increase moving forward unless further action is taken. As discussed below in further detail, the fact that the United States has yet to ratify UNCLOS compounds these issues.
UNCLOS holds specific value for the Arctic security environment as it lays out a set of rules on how to divide disputed territory and resolve possible tensions. It also represents the only path for Arctic coastal states to submit scientific claims to extend their outer continental shelf, which provides important clarity for future economic development. While the five Arctic coastal states are limited by their exclusive economic zone of 200 nautical miles from their coasts, the convention allows them to extend their economic zone if they can prove that the Arctic seafloor’s underwater ridges are a geological extension of the country’s own continental shelf. Within 10 years of ratifying the UNCLOS, countries must submit evidence to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, the governing body created to deliberate on these submissions, to make their case for an extended continental shelf.
The foundational element of any U.S. security strategy for the Arctic, including NSPD-66, is to ensure freedom of navigation. As a nation heavily dependent on shipping and maritime access, the United States has a vital national interest in supporting the most stringent enforcement of open sea lanes of communication. The most effective tool for governing and enforcing the right of free passage in international straits is the UNCLOS treaty.
The fact that the United States has not ratified the treaty is of key relevance to its efforts to ensure freedom of navigation in the Arctic and to take full advantage of the region’s economic benefits. A product of nine years of international collaboration and active U.S. participation, UNCLOS entered into force in 1994 and provides the most comprehensive framework available for governing the world’s oceans, including the Arctic. The treaty established internationally rec- ognized measures to claim sea areas and rights to territorial waters, exclusive economic zones, and extensions of national underwater continental shelves. Currently 161 countries and the European Union have joined the convention.32 While the United States has not ratified the treaty, it does view the treaty as international customary law and abides by nearly all its articles. It is unclear when the U.S. Senate will ratify the treaty, although both the Bush and the Obama administrations have sought ratification.
In addition to large deposits of Arctic oil, gas, and other natural minerals, the Arctic Ocean is connected to several significant breeding areas of fish stocks, which are anticipated to move farther north as an apparent result of changes in Arctic water temperatures. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has stated that this shift has been going on for the past 40 years, with some stocks nearly disappearing from U.S. waters as the fish “seem to be adapting to changing temperatures and finding places where their chances of survival are greater.”23 In fear of uncontrolled new developments, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council decided in 2009 to ban all commercial fishing in a 200,000-square-mile Arctic area, from the Bering Strait to the disputed U.S.-Canadian maritime border. As a reshifting of fish stocks takes place, increased fishing oppor- tunities are likely to result in disputes over quotas and fishing areas. The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) is already patrolling the Bering Sea border with Russia, which has been the source of some tension because of overfishing and boundary disputes. Norwegian and Russian cooperation on fishing in the Barents Sea has generally been promoted as a positive example of border cooperation, but incidents between the Norwegian Coast Guard and Russian trawlers have occurred from time to time, such as the arrest of the Russian trawler Sapphire II for illegal dumping of fish in waters around Svalbard in late Sep- tember 2011. While the company owning the trawler was given a €57,000 fine, both Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre moved quickly to diffuse the issue and stress that there was “no conflict” between the countries regarding fisheries.24 With increased fishing activity in the Arctic, such issues are again likely to develop. At the same time, increased activity demands increased capacity from the national coast guards, as a large part of search-and-rescue activity revolves around fishing vessels.