Revision of Struggle for Arctic resources could devolve into conflict from Thu, 07/31/2014 - 23:09
Based on the methodology established for this analysis, it can be reasonably assessed that conflict in the Arctic is likely. To put this another way, with a score of 18 out of 24 possible points, there is a 75 percent chance that maritime disputes involving the United States and Russia will occur in the Arctic necessitating the show or use of force to achieve a political objective. It should be reiterated that this assessment is acknowledged to be an analytically subjective conclusion and that the intervals of measurement are notably coarse. The evidence presented in this analysis, however, supports this conclusion. Policy-makers should take care not to discount the physical indicators and declared policies of other Arctic nations when judging the seriousness of their intent to protect their various claims in the region. Advocates of a “Pax Arctica” involving regional cooperation ignore the more pragmatic factors underlying international relations and the actual limits of international institutions and economic incentives in restraining actors’ behavior in an anarchic system.
Finally, in the longer term, the gradual opening of Arctic waterways to commercial traffic on a seasonal basis by 2030 will increase the need for persistent and pervasive constabulary patrols by all Arctic nations in order to regulate this activity. Not only will more ice-capable patrol vessels be required, but so too will be a robust logistics infrastructure, to include basing, transportation, supply, and communications. This third window for conflict in the Arctic will probably occur in the 2030 to 2045 time frame. The increase in commercial traffic activity will heighten tensions in U.S.-Canadian relations if a political compromise on the status of the Northwest Passage has not been reached, keeping in mind that the ultimate status of Russia’s Northeast Passage would be likewise affected. As Canada is extremely sensitive to matters of Arctic sovereignty and Russia is are unlikely to welcome unrestricted movement through its backyard, it should be expected that the same nationalist sentiment that erupted in the Sino-Japanese row over the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands would likewise be manifest in these cases as well, leading to a quick, and potentially intense, confrontation involving the United States, Russia, and Canada.
Despite the melting icecap's potential to transform global shipping and energy markets, Arctic issues are largely ignored at senior levels in the U.S. State Department and the U.S. National Security Council. The most recent executive statement on the Arctic dates to 1994 and does not mention the retreating ice. But the Arctic's strategic location and immense resource wealth make it an important national interest. Although the melting Arctic holds great promise, it also poses grave dangers. The combination of new shipping routes, trillions of dollars in possible oil and gas resources, and a poorly defined picture of state ownership makes for a toxic brew.
The situation is especially dangerous because there are currently no overarching political or legal structures that can provide for the orderly development of the region or mediate political disagreements over Arctic resources or sea-lanes. The Arctic has always been frozen; as ice turns to water, it is not clear which rules should apply. The rapid melt is also rekindling numerous interstate rivalries and attracting energy-hungry newcomers, such as China, to the region. The Arctic powers are fast approaching diplomatic gridlock, and that could eventually lead to the sort of armed brinkmanship that plagues other territories, such as the desolate but resource-rich Spratly Islands, where multiple states claim sovereignty but no clear picture of ownership exists.
The fact is, the Arctic is becoming a zone of increased military competition. Russian President Medvedev has announced the creation of a special military force to defend Arctic claims. Last year Russian General Vladimir Shamanov declared that Russian troops would step up training for Arctic combat, and that Russia’s submarine fleet would increase its “operational radius.”55 Recently, two Russian attack submarines were spotted off the U.S. east coast for the first time in 15 years.56
In January 2009, on the eve of Obama’s inauguration, President Bush issued a National Security Presidential Directive on Arctic Regional Policy. It affirmed as a priority the preservation of U.S. military vessel and aircraft mobility and transit throughout the Arctic, including the Northwest Passage, and foresaw greater capabilities to protect U.S. borders in the Arctic.57
The Bush administration’s disastrous eight years in office, particularly its decision to withdraw from the ABM treaty and deploy missile defence interceptors and a radar station in Eastern Europe, have greatly contributed to the instability we are seeing today, even though the Obama administration has scaled back the planned deployments. The Arctic has figured in this renewed interest in Cold War weapons systems, particularly the upgrading of the Thule Ballistic Missile Early Warning System radar in Northern Greenland for ballistic missile defence.
The Canadian government, as well, has put forward new military capabilities to protect Canadian sovereignty claims in the Arctic, including proposed ice-capable ships, a northern military training base and a deep-water port.
Earlier this year Denmark released an all-party defence position paper that suggests the country should create a dedicated Arctic military contingent that draws on army, navy and air force assets with ship- based helicopters able to drop troops anywhere.58 Danish fighter planes would be tasked to patrol Greenlandic airspace.
Last year Norway chose to buy 48 Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jets, partly because of their suitability for Arctic patrols. In March, that country held a major Arctic military practice involving 7,000 soldiers from 13 countries in which a fictional country called Northland seized offshore oil rigs.59
The manoeuvres prompted a protest from Russia – which objected again in June after Sweden held its largest northern military exercise since the end of the Second World War. About 12,000 troops, 50 aircraft and several warships were involved.60
Jayantha Dhanapala, President of Pugwash and former UN under-secretary for disarmament affairs, summarized the situation bluntly: “From those in the international peace and security sector, deep concerns are being expressed over the fact that two nuclear weapon states – the United States and the Russian Federation, which together own 95 per cent of the nuclear weapons in the world – converge on the Arctic and have competing claims. These claims, together with those of other allied NATO countries – Canada, Denmark, Iceland, and Norway – could, if unresolved, lead to conflict escalating into the threat or use of nuclear weapons.”61 Many will no doubt argue that this is excessively alarmist, but no circumstance in which nuclear powers find themselves in military confrontation can be taken lightly.
Further, the responses of Arctic nations have been framed more as nationalistic and emotional arguments, rather than legal opinions. Despite the dubious legal authority of the Russian flagplanting in 2007, the incident provoked a degree of international consternation. True, a "19th Century imperial land grab" n242 in the Arctic is not a feasible outcome, since UNCLOS does provide a mechanism for resolving disputes that can be relied on to a certain extent. However, the illegality of a land grab does little to dampen the excited clamor of an Arctic "resource rush," poorly disguised by the other Arctic States. For example, Canada's Foreign Minister at the time objected to the imperial nature of Russia's expedition. n243 Prime Minister Stephen Harper also hopes that Canada's renewed commitment to the region will bolster its longterm presence and strengthen the nation's sovereignty over the Arctic. n244 A Danish scientist has stated that "'the Vikings hope to get [to the Arctic] first.'" n245 The Russian scientist and legislator Artur Chilingarov has avowed that "'the Arctic is ours and we should demonstrate our presence.'" n246 There is good reason to expect that the frenetic scramble to establish Arctic sovereignty will only gain momentum as the ice continues to recede, especially considering "the alacrity with which coastal states [first] 'implemented' the sovereign rights ... with respect to oil and gas, fisheries, and other natural resources of the economic zone and continental shelf" when UNCLOS entered into force.
Once long neglected in terms of governance and management, the Arctic is slowly attracting greater attention as a region in need of an effective legal regime following the observed and potential the impact of climate change in recent time.29 Science has provided overwhelming evidence of human-influenced Arctic climate change and the likelihood that the pace of change is accelerating. Scientists predict that the Arctic may be ice-free for the first time in recorded history by as early as 2013.30
An ice-free Arctic has two important implications. First, it will expose vast regions of seabed that are rich in natural resources, making extraction of these resources possible. It is estimated that about 30 per cent of undiscovered gas and 13 per cent of undiscovered oil can be found in the marine areas north of the Arctic Circle.31 According to the USGS estimates, Arctic region has the hydrocarbon reserves of 90 billion barrels of oil, 1,669 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, and 44 billion barrels of natural gas liquids.32 Second, an ice-free Arctic will open previously impassable shipping lanes, thereby, improving prospects for Arctic navigation. The most promising route, historically known as the "Northwest Passage" may become navigable, which would reduce the length of the voyage between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans by an astonishing 9000 kilometers.33
This will result in two separate but related problems. First, the increased value of the region due to commercial exploration and trade will prompt Arctic nations to rush to establish their claim over the region. In fact, many Arctic countries, pursuant to Article 76 of the UNCLOS, are preparing to submit requests to the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf to establish the outer limits of their continental shelves.34 This has caused the spectre of rising tension over yet to be asserted maritime claims over the vast Arctic Ocean. The tension been further acerbated by the feasibility to extract the potential hydrocarbon resources in the Arctic seabed. The receding polar ice cap has ignited the competition for the mineral rights in the Arctic seabed. The competition arises from the fact that the Arctic is ―the only place where a number of countries encircle an enclosed ocean,35 which gives numerous countries a valid claim for the same territory.36
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.
Currently, there is no major tension between the Arctic states. They all want peaceful solutions to their border disputes and see the advantages of freedom of navigation through the Northern Sea Route and the Northwest Passage. However, at the time when the coastal nations are able to increase their oil production in the Arctic, conflict can more easily occur. A shortage of energy and other resources will make the nations more determined to solve their border issues, which may increase the tension between them. Even if Russia cooperates with the other coastal Arctic nations today, there is a growing uncertainty about the stability and aspirations of this regime. Several scholars express concerns about a new “cold war” in the region. Rob Hubert, a professor of political science at the University of Calgary warn about the beginning of an arms race, and claims that the Arctic states talk about cooperation, but are preparing for conflict.27 NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, Admiral Stavridis, has also argued, “For now, the disputes in the north has been dealt with peacefully, but climate change could alter the equilibrium over the coming years in the race of temptation for exploration of more readily accessible natural resources.”28
The primary argument against the potential for conflict in the Arctic is that political leaders are appealing to international institutions to resolve disputes before they become militarized. A corollary to this argument is that, via the trappings of economic interdependence, Russia’s need for advanced technology to locate and exploit its potentially vast reserves of hydrocarbons will sufficiently weigh in Moscow’s political calculus to prevent Russia from taking militarized action against neighbors to defend its political-economic claims in the region. Given the reality of political objectives, actions, and intentions, coupled with the dearth of reliably interdependent economic ties, this chapter has exposed these “mitigating factors” against conflict as little more than wishful thinking.
While it is undeniable that the Arctic states are using international institutions focused on Arctic issues, they appear to do so out of political convenience—not out of a commitment to peaceful cooperation. The participating nations all actively pursue a combined environmental and safety agenda with their partners through the Arctic Council. Its charter, however, explicitly bans the organization from discussing issues related to military security, a point reinforced by the Ilulissat Declaration of the five Arctic states: that no legal enforcement regime other than the UNCLOS is needed in the region.