See: Letter Dated September 13, 2007 from Alaska Governor Sarah Palin to the Honorable Ted Stevens and Lisa Murkowski, Alaska's U.S. Senators, Declaring Support for U.S. Ratification of the UN Law of the Sea Convention
Dear Sarah Palin and US Senator Lisa Murkowski, does the United States really need this type of 'seat at the table' to project American interests, influence and power in the Arctic?
See: Cliff Kincaid, Bush’s Toilet Bowl Treaty, Canadian Free Press (Oct. 30, 2007), at: http://www.canadafreepress.com/index.php/article/430 ].
[You should consider this question in light of the Bush administration's efforts to enter into a quid pro quo with Europe regarding the UNCLOS during 2007. See Lawrence A. Kogan, UNCLOS Alchemy, ITSSD Journal on the UN Law of the Sea Convention (Oct. 2007), at: http://itssdjournalunclos-lost.blogspot.com/2008/01/unclos-alchemy.html ].
Global Warming Triggers an International Race for the Arctic
As the ice melts, national rivalries heat up over oil and gas deposits and shipping routes
By Thomas Omestad
US News & World Report
Posted October 9, 2008
A new epoch is beginning at the top of the Earth, where the historic melting of the vast Arctic ice cap is opening a forbidding, beautiful, and neglected swath of the planet. Already, there is talk that potentially huge oil and natural gas deposits lie under the Arctic waters, rendered more accessible by the shrinking of ice cover. Valuable minerals, too. Sea lanes over the top of the world will dramatically cut shipping times and costs. Fisheries and tourism will shift northward. In short, the frozen, fragile north will never be the same.
The Arctic meltdown—an early symptom of global warming linked to the buildup of atmospheric greenhouse gases—heralds tantalizing prospects for the five nations that own the Arctic Ocean coastline: the United States, Canada, Russia, Norway, and Denmark (through its possession of Greenland).
But this monumental transformation also carries risks quite aside from the climate implications for the planet—risks that include renewed great-power rivalry, pollution, destruction of native Inuit communities and animal habitats, and security breaches. "The world is coming to the Arctic," warns Rob Huebert, a leading Arctic analyst at the University of Calgary. "We are headed for a lot of difficulties."
The vast stakes, along with some political grandstanding, are inspiring predictions that a new great game among nations is afoot—a tense race for the Arctic. That scenario got a shot of drama last year when two Russian minisubmarines made a descent to the seabed beneath the North Pole and planted a titanium Russian flag. The operation lacked any legal standing but symbolized Moscow's claims to control the resources inside a mammoth slice of the Arctic, up to the North Pole itself. To calm the mood, the five Arctic coast countries gathered diplomats in Greenland this May to agree that boundary and other disputes would be handled peacefully under existing international law. "We have politically committed ourselves to resolve all differences through negotiation," Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Möller said at the time. "The race for the North Pole has been canceled."
Or maybe just put on ice, so to speak. It is not certain that his assertion will hold up, given the long history of great powers vying for riches and strategic gain.
This summer, for the first time, both the fabled Northwest Passage through the upper reaches of North America and the Northern Sea Route above Russia opened up, apart from drifting ice. Overall, the expanse of Arctic sea ice was the second smallest in the 30 years of monitoring (summer 2007 was the smallest), and that left an islandlike polar ice cap surrounded by open water. In just the past five years, summer ice has shrunk by more than 25 percent, and so has its average thickness. One consequence of this change is that much of the sun's heat formerly reflected back out to space by the ice sheets is now being absorbed, entrenching the warming process. The acceleration of the ice melt is outstripping earlier predictions of a basically ice-free Arctic summer by mid- or late century. NASA climate scientist H. Jay Zwally now anticipates that most of the Arctic will lose summer ice in only five to 10 years. "We appear to be going through a tipping point," he says.
Already, the ice melt is threatening the traditional livelihoods of native Inuit peoples from Alaska to Greenland. In Alaska, Inuit hunting has grown more difficult because walrus herds have moved away with the receding ice. In Greenland, where glaciers are thawing, similar dislocations are happening, even while commercial interests undertake a "new gold rush" for natural resources, in the words of Inuit leader Aqqaluk Lynge. The Inuits want more say in how the High North is developed. "You have to settle things with us," says Lynge. "We are witnessing, almost, the death of our culture if we don't do anything."
And yet the changing Arctic is yielding big commercial opportunities. This summer, the U.S. Geological Survey estimated that the area above the Arctic Circle, which covers 6 percent of the Earth's surface, holds 13 percent of its as-yet-undiscovered oil and 30 percent of undiscovered natural gas—most offshore, not on land.
Energy companies are intrigued. Royal Dutch Shell, for instance, laid down $2 billion this year for drilling leases in the Chukchi Sea off of Alaska. BP will drop $1.5 billion to develop an offshore Alaskan oil field, and Exxon Mobil and Imperial Oil of Canada bid $600 million for an exploratory area on the Canadian side of the Beaufort Sea.
Last year, Norway's StatoilHydro showed that marauding ice packs and perilous cold could be overcome, launching the first commercial energy operation in Arctic waters. Norwegian tankers are now transporting liquefied gas from the Snow White field, 90 miles above the Norwegian shore, to Maryland's Cove Point Terminal, from which it is piped to consumers on the East Coast. With the development of new technologies, like production gear that sits on the bottom of the sea and reinforced tankers that can move bow-first in open water or stern-first to break through ice, the energy industry is readying itself for the Arctic age. "Technology will not hold up Arctic resource development," says Geir Utskot, an Arctic executive for Schlumberger Oilfield Services.
Fortunes may be made in other pursuits as well. The Arctic ice melt will expose mining opportunities for commodities from diamonds and gold to nickel, copper, and chromium. Sea temperature shifts could prompt some fish stocks to migrate to Arctic waters newly accessible to fishing vessels. Those vessels won't be the only ones heading north. Global cargo shipping could change radically because of newly usable Arctic sea lanes. Sailing over the top of the world could cut up to half the current shipping distance between East Asian ports and Europe or the eastern United States, providing an enormous saving in fuel costs and transit time.
Arctic tourism could also flourish. Chuck Cross, president of Bend, Ore.-based Polar Cruises, joined about 100 of his customers in June on the Russian nuclear icebreaker 50 Years of Victory. It set out from Murmansk, in Russia, to the North Pole; thinning ice made the journey a fast one. At the pole, they disembarked to picnic on the ice, though after some difficulty. "We had to maneuver around for more than half an hour because we couldn't find any ice big enough for those hundred people to get off the ship safely," he says.
The nations in the new Arctic game have also been maneuvering for position. All five either have mapped or are mapping the outward extensions of their continental shelves. That painstaking and expensive science is critical to making economic claims. The key piece of international law in the Arctic is the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. The United States, though not yet a signatory, is acting as though it will be.
[BUT, THE U.S. CONGRESS & THE ADMINISTRATION HAVE YET TO UNDERTAKE SUFFICIENT DUE DILIGENCE TO ASCERTAIN HOW THE TREATY'S 45 plus ENVIRONMENTAL REGULATORY PROVISIONS, ANNEXES, REGULATIONS & PROTOCOLS CAN BE USED TO IMPAIR SUCH ECONOMIC ACTIVITIES, AND SERVE TO BIND AMERICANS RESIDING AND CONDUCTING BUSINESS IN THE REMAINING 49 U.S. STATES!]
Under the treaty, a panel of specialists issues recommendations on where shelves end and international seabeds begin. States are entitled to exclusive economic rights to the sea and what lies underneath for up to 200 nautical miles off their coasts. The area of economic control can be extended if the continental shelf is shown to range farther.
There is much in dispute.
The United States and Canada will most likely make overlapping claims on their shelves, as will Norway and Russia. But the biggest problem may arise from a 1,240-mile underwater mountain range called the Lomonosov Ridge, which runs from Siberia to Greenland and Canada. All three may claim it as the natural extension of their homelands. In addition, the Arctic is rife with disagreements over boundaries and maritime passages. Canada and the United States cannot agree over their maritime boundary in the Beaufort Sea, nor on the status of the Northwest Passage. Canada considers the passage internal, while the United States and others view it as an international strait.
Russia has not ratified a previous treaty fixing its maritime frontier with the United States near the Alaska coast.
Canada and Denmark disagree over ownership of rocky Hans Island, and Norway and Russia differ over drawing a line in the Barents Sea.
"All the ingredients," says Scott Borgerson, an Arctic expert with the Council on Foreign Relations, "are present to create an unstable situation."
Amid that uncertainty, the Arctic nations are growing more assertive—especially the two with the longest Arctic frontage, Russia and Canada. The Russian flag-planting—dismissed as "a stunt" by U.S. and other officials—appealed to the nationalist mood in Russia, with the feat likened to the American moonshot of 1969. Asserted the expedition's leader, explorer and parliamentarian Artur Chilingarov, "The Arctic is ours." The Russian show drew poor reviews elsewhere, though, especially in Canada. "This isn't the 15th century," retorted then Foreign Minister Peter MacKay. "You can't go around the world and just plant flags and say, 'We're claiming this territory.' "
Russian officials say it was not a claim but rather part of a research voyage to chart the continental shelf. But Moscow's ambitions for the Arctic are raising anxieties. Last month, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev convened his Security Council to discuss the "strategically important" Arctic. He called for a law to set Russia's southern Arctic zone and described the pursuit of Russian interests there as a "duty to our descendants." With more than 20 icebreakers, seven powered by atomic reactors, Russia has unparalleled capabilities in the Arctic. "Geographically, they're far and away the dominant force up there," says Arctic expert Borgerson, a former Coast Guard officer. Russia conducted two scientific expeditions in the Arctic this past summer and has stepped up naval activity there. Its strategic bombers and reconnaissance planes have also flown over Arctic waters near Alaska, Canada, and Norway.
In Canada, meanwhile, the government has also struck a tough tone, appealing to nationalist sensitivities. That tack has political benefit, especially as the ruling conservatives stand for re-election this month. A strand of the Canadian identity has always revered the great white north: "The true North, strong and free! From far and wide, O Canada, we stand on guard for thee," goes the country's national anthem.
After the Russian flag planting, Ottawa seemed primed to take up the challenge. " 'Use it or lose it' is the first principle of sovereignty in the Arctic," says Prime Minister Stephen Harper. He has portrayed the region as a key to future Canadian prosperity. His government has decided to double, to 200 nautical miles from the coast, its jurisdiction over shipping and plans to spend $100 million on geomapping over the next five years. On the military side, it is running annual Arctic "sovereignty exercises" and will establish a cold-weather training center at Resolute Bay and a deep-water port. Canada's Navy will also acquire eight more ice-strengthened patrol ships.
The United States, for its part, has not acted with the same urgency.
"We are behind when it comes to what is happening with our other Arctic neighbors," says Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. The lagging begins with the Law of the Sea convention. Despite Bush administration support, Senate ratification of the 1982 treaty remains blocked by conservative Republicans fearful that the treaty will give away American sovereignty.
The other four Arctic coastal states have adopted the convention and are eligible to file their claims for economic control. The Pentagon has also appeared slow to focus on the region. The U.S. Coast Guard maintains just two working icebreakers, with another docked until repairs are authorized. The question of expanding the icebreaker force has been left unanswered, while a broader, interagency review of Arctic policy has continued for nearly two years. A new national security policy directive is nearing completion.
[THIS IS A FALSE 'STRAW MAN' PRETENSE FOR THE CLAIM THAT U.S. RATIFICATION OF THE UNCLOS IS NECESSARY IN ORDER TO PARTICIPATE IN THE RULE & PRACTICE-MAKING NOW CALLED FOR. LEGAL SCHOLARS HAVE IDENTIFIED HOW THE U.S. COULD ALSO FILE CLAIMS FOR ECONOMIC CONTROL OF AN EXTENDED CONTINENTAL SHELF WITHOUT HAVING TO RATIFY THE UNCLOS. ALL THAT IS NECESSARY IS FOR THE U.S. CONGRESS TO AGREE THAT ROYALTY FEES WILL BE PAID BY THE U.S. GOVERNMENT TO THE UNITED NATIONS INTERNATIONAL SEABED AUTHORITY FOR THE ABILITY TO DRILL ON THE OUTSIDE CONTINENTAL SHELF. THE UNITED NATIONS IS DESPERATELY IN NEED OF FUNDS - IT IS HIGHLY UNLIKELY THAT IT WOULD TURN DOWN SUCH A GRACIOUS OFFER.]
Still, the United States did begin continental-shelf mapping around Alaska last year and this, turning up evidence that the U.S. continental shelf claim may extend north of Alaska by at least 600 nautical miles. The CIA is said to be analyzing Russian Arctic activities closely, and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency has delivered to the Coast Guard a sophisticated model of the Lomonosov Ridge and the High Arctic. The Coast Guard set up a temporary base this past summer at Point Barrow, Alaska, and tested operating in the Arctic. The service's commandant, Adm. Thad Allen, emphasizes the need to prepare for handling oil-spill cleanups and tourist-ship rescues and for policing ship traffic in remote seas. But the resources are lacking. "There's water up there where there didn't use to be, and I'm responsible for it," he says.
Josh of Oct 09, 2008 15:45:48 PM [permalink] [report comment]
Imagine if all the focus, energy and money spent on "saving the planet" and instead focused on more important Global issues such as endemic hunger. Wouldnt we all be better off
mike of MAOct 14, 2008 12:45:19 PM [permalink] [report comment]
IT BELONGS TO SANTA.
LEAVE IT ALONE.
F of PAOct 14, 2008 16:16:14 PM [permalink] [report comment]
Dean of OROct 14, 2008 18:05:23 PM [permalink] [report comment]