Race For The Arctic?

2015-11-20T10:15:30+00:00 November 20, 2015|
Emergency response, navigation, and charting has not kept pace with the rapidly changing polar region. (Credit: Shutterstock)

(Click to enlarge) Emergency response, navigation, and charting has not kept pace with the rapidly changing polar region. (Credit: Shutterstock)

With the Arctic becoming more accessible due to receding ice, and congressional interest in the Arctic agenda on the rise with the U.S. chairmanship of the Arctic Council, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs held a Joint Subcommittee hearing titled, “Charting the Arctic: Security, Economic, and Resource Opportunities.”

In his opening statement Chairman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) asked, “Scientific programs and research… help us to understand the Arctic environment but to what end is our government working… to build the infrastructure which enables strategic economic development, mineral, oil, natural gas extraction?” Ranking Member Gregory Meeks (D-NY) and Representative Don Young (R-AK) subsequently pointed out the importance to consider the whole picture, including environmental impact of the economic development, national security, and well-being of indigenous people. A rapidly warming Arctic climate presents new shipping routes, increased opportunities for trade and oil and gas exploration, and additional tourism – but it also threatens traditional ways of life and increases the risk of environmental pollution.

Addressing Congress’ concern about Russia’s military and infrastructure presence in the region, retired Coast Guard Admiral Robert Papp Jr. (U.S. Special Representative to the Arctic) said that the Arctic is “safe and stable,” and that the U.S. and other Arctic states (including Russia) are cooperating to increase Arctic Ocean safety and security. Partnerships between Arctic states’ governments, the private sector, and indigenous communities are being fostered for both emergency response coordination and environmentally responsible maritime activity in the region. Admiral Papp added, “the Arctic Council is working to expand the Arctic reach of the Global Ocean Acidification Observing Network… and raise public awareness of this threat to the entire Arctic food web and the people whose livelihoods depend on these creatures.” To protect the Arctic marine biodiversity, the U.S. will convene a new set of international negotiations to prohibit commercial fishing in the high seas of the Arctic. Finally, Admiral Papp stressed that there is no “Race for the Arctic.” “Contrary to many media reports, there is no race for resources or land grab underway in the Arctic. The Arctic coastal states are proceeding in an orderly manner to define their continental shelf limits according to the provisions set out in the Law of the Sea Convention.” The witness panel agreed, however, that Congress not passing funding measures has undermined Arctic efforts and that the U.S. is in desperate need of new ice breakers.

Rear Admiral Timothy C. Gallaudet (U.S. Navy) asserted that the Navy will continue to cooperate with the Coast Guard to address emerging opportunities and challenges caused by the seasonal opening of the Arctic Ocean waters. That includes development of Arctic capabilities and capacity in step with changing environmental conditions, and leading efforts to better understand the complex polar environment and more accurately predict its operational environment in support of safe navigation. The Coast Guard is working with the Department of Defense to advance maritime domain awareness by testing numerous types of technologies and capabilities for use in the Arctic, including communication systems, and unmanned vehicles.