Evidence: Recently Added
The general discourse on the Arctic has focused on the risks of military escalation. Though security is a relevant factor when discussing Arctic issues, the region is unlikely to witness military escalation. U.S. Special Representative for the Arctic, Admiral Robert J. Papp, Jr., recent remarks suggest that Russia is not militarizing the Arctic are insightful. Papp noted that the U.S. does not believe Russia is acting unreasonably as the melting Arctic is driving increased maritime traffic in Russia’s waterways.
The Arctic region has tremendous global potential, if not for its resources, but for the environmental and ecological impact of its changing landscape. The nature of the environment in the Arctic favors collaboration rather than competition. The rhetoric may at times appear aggressive in nature, however Arctic nations, including Russia, understand that in order to reap the benefits of the Arctic, cooperation will be crucial. In a global environment marked by instability, conflict and a rise in mistrust, the Arctic region might prove to be a region where trust can be rebuilt and cooperation re-established between global powers.
Second, when Russia’s security moves in the Arctic are placed in the context of the nation’s larger trend to reform and modernize its armed forces, they appear less grandiose. In 2008, Russia embarked on one of the most ambitious military reforms, reorganization, and equipment modernization programs in its history, in which the Arctic is but one component. The plans call for more than 20 trillion rubles ($650 billion) by 2020 to completely overhaul its military hardware so that “by 2015, the proportion of the new generation of weapons should be 30 percent, and by 2020 reach 70-100 percent.”15 In contrast to other post-Soviet efforts, the current program has considerable political will behind it as evidenced by overall military spending in 2012 increasing by 24 percent – a jump of nearly $90 billion or 113 percent from 2003 military expenditures.16 Military spending is envisioned to jump 18 percent in 2014 and 60 percent from 2014-2016. The defense budget portion of the Russian GDP is envisioned to grow from 3.1 percent in 2012 to 3.9 percent in 2016.
A seventh reason for United States accession to the convention is the changing global security environment. A diminishing access to overseas bases coupled with con- tinuing instability in many parts of the world requiring naval presence (Somalia and Haiti are but two examples), when coupled with the growing naval power of many developing nations with regional ambitions, point to an increasing need for naval mobility by the United States. The last 2 decades in particular have witnessed an increase in naval conflicts as well as demarcation and fishing disputes." These trends make the need for a firmly stated and fully accepted compact ensuring maritime and naval mobility all the more necessary.23
The ability of the United States to achieve maximum flexibility and mobility within this changing global security environment could be greatly enhanced by accession to the 1982 Convention and the concomitant stabilizing of the world's oceans. This also has the strong potential to minimize and control disputes that directly or indirectly prejudice U.S. political, economic, and defense interests.24 As the world's leading maritime power, the United States must place a uniquely high premium on the ability to move by sea anywhere on the globe. While the current lack of an established global regime has not yet resulted in any overt denial of U.S. transit rights through straits or archipelagic waters, the issue is becoming a more contentious one." It is likely that a universally recognized treaty could avert such problems.
When all is said and done, the United States is the world's leading maritime nation and is tied to the use of the seas for political, economic, and military purposes. It has the most to gain from stability in laws governing the use of the seas, and stability over the long term can best be ensured by a widely ratified Law of the Sea Convention. Accession to the Convention by the United States will not be a panacea. Its rules are not perfect. But widespread ratification is likely to increase order and predictability, enhance adaptation to new circumstances, narrow the scope of disputes to more manageable proportions and provide means to resolve them, and greatly simplify the United States security paradigm. For the operational commander, ultimately charged with the responsibility for the men and women who may be taken in harm's way, the Law of the Sea Convention represents an essential first step in defusing contentious maritime issues.
Those who point to the freedom with which the U.S. Navy, in particular, has roamed the seas, and to the success of the Freedom of Navigation Program, miss many of the nuances of the way in which the Navy uses the seas. The United States takes extraordi- nary measures to ply the oceans responsibly. There have only been a small number of incidents of violence involving U.S. forces because we are very selective about when and where we choose to challenge excessive maritime claims.59 Naval commanders are ￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼given extensive guidance, primarily in The Commander's Handbook on the Law of ￼Naval Operations60, regarding their rights and duties, and they are enjoined to respect the rights of coastal states to ocean areas under their purview. Additionally, they are charged specifically to provide advance notice and reporting if they are entering into ￼￼￼￼ areas in which an international incident is likely.61 Where a Freedom of Navigation challenge of an illegal maritime claim is deemed appropriate, this challenge is not del- egated to the local commander, but must be thoroughly reviewed by higher authority before any Freedom of Navigation operation can take place.62 These factors have the practical effect of placing real-world limitations on U.S. operations—limits that would not exist if illegal claims were rolled back to conform with the Law of the Sea Convention.63
Regardless of the outcome of contention on, over, or under the oceans, as the world's most influential maritime power and leader of the de facto maritime coalition, oceanic conflict is ultimately unhelpful to the United States. The deaths of Libyan pilots as the result of United States protest of excessive maritime claims should be as upsetting to the United States as the death of an American airman in 1992 when the aircraft he was flying in was shot at by a Peruvian fighter aircraft 175 miles from the coast of Peru.64 Both incidents reflect a breakdown of the rule of law for the oceans and are ultimately bad for the United States.
In 2015, the United States will assume the chair of the Arctic Council. If the United States has not made decisions, backed by resources, on these topics before then, we will have missed a great opportunity. There is a real danger of conflict in the Arctic due to a lack of clarity about U.S. intentions in the High North. There is a danger that other countries may perceive U.S. inattention as weakness. In the absence of clear statement of policy, backed up by high-level attention and resources from the United States, there is a danger of misreading U.S. intentions about what it perceives as core interests in the Arctic. There is still time for the United States to change course. The United States is an Arctic nation: it should start acting like one.
In nowhere else in the world is the U.S. Navy so clearly outclassed in its ability to perform operations than in the Arctic. Today, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) says there is no need for a U.S. Navy presence, other than the strategic patrols that U.S. Navy submarines have been doing since early in the Cold War because the DoD does not view disputes in the Arctic as a likely source of conflict.23 For this reason, there are no DoD plans for building any additional Arctic bases or deep draft ports through 2020.24
On the other hand, the Russian Northern Fleet is its largest and most powerful fleet and has conducted extensive exercises in Arctic waters along Russia’s Northern Sea Route.25 In October 2013, the Russian Air Force re-opened a Cold War-era air base on Kotelny Island, far to the east of the Northern Fleet’s home port of Severomorsk.26 In November 2013, Russia’s Minister of Defense announced plans to create a new class of ice-protected vessels to patrol their Arctic coast.27 On October 3, 2014 Russian military radar installations on Wrangel Island and Cape Schmidt on the Arctic Coast started operations – these installations are only 300 miles from the Alaska coast, and would be much closer to any drilling operations in US waters than any US military or Coast Guard installation.28
The three other Arctic littoral nations (Canada, Denmark, and Norway) have also demonstrated their commitment to increasing their military presence in the region, improving infrastructure and augmenting fleet and troop levels rapidly. Canada is converting a deep-water port on Baffin Island into a major naval base, building eight new vessels via the Arctic Patrol Ship Project, and considering establishing training facilities in Resolute Bay near the Northwest Passage.29 The Danish military is creating an Arctic Response Force,30 and Norway has committed to purchasing 48 F–35 aircraft “for the continued presence of core areas in the High North.”31
That does not mean, however, that there is no threat of conflict over the Arctic. The danger, in fact, comes from an imbalance of attention. While the United States has largely ignored the Arctic, Russia and non-Arctic powers, especially China, have actively sought to find new geopolitical advantages in the melting ice. As the Arctic develops, it is clear there is a disparity of attention to the region, with some countries seeing it as central to their national affairs, while others, particularly the United States, pay little more than lip-service to their status as an Arctic power. It is this imbalance, and the uncertainty about the priority that the United States places on Arctic affairs, that could cause international misunderstandings or even conflict. This imbalance is apparent in the rush to resources, the promotion of new international trade routes, and—especially—the military power available in the Arctic.
Is this a rush to secure scarce resources in the High North? Will there be a new “Cold War” over disputed borders and resources. No: that threat is overblown because the legal institutions for governing territorial disputes, particularly the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea, are strong and generally recognized by all parties. All recent evidence shows that parties are inclined to resolve disagreements under the principles of the law, using both bilateral negotiations and multilateral fora like the Arctic Council.
Submarine infrastructure is already vulnerable to attack and will become even more so in the coming years, especially as undersea vehicles grow more advanced and accessible. Unprotected cables and energy infrastructure could provide adversaries with all kinds of opportunities to gain the upper hand. Hostile forces could, for instance, plant explosive charges in sensitive locations and threaten to pull the trigger. Or they could set off explosions without warning, throwing markets into chaos and disrupting military command-and-control systems. State and nonstate actors could conduct anonymous attacks or act under a false flag. Attributing responsibility for a covert attack would prove challenging, making deterrence extremely difficult. Such moves wouldn’t be unprecedented, of course: before undersea fiber optics dominated global communications, cable cutting was a regular part of warfare. In 1914, the United Kingdom severed all five of Germany’s undersea cables in the English Channel the day after declaring war, and belligerents regularly snipped enemy cables during World War II. But today, it would be more difficult to sever fiber-optic lines without affecting a much larger and more interdependent system—making a potential attack all the more damaging.