Retired U.S. Navy Admiral James Stavridis, former head of U.S. European Command and supreme allied commander of NATO, recently wrote a good piece on how the United States should address security issues in a rapidly-changing Arctic. He starts by acknowledging the impact of climate change, and what that means for security in the “high north”:
There is a steady reduction in the year-round Arctic ice formations resulting from global warming — a 40 percent reduction in ice over the past 30 years. This means that hydrocarbon and mineral resources (billions of barrels of oil, much of the world’s undiscovered gas, and a trillion dollars of deep seabed minerals) will be more exposed, that Arctic shipping will increase (a million tons last year), and that tourism will increase (a million visitors last year alone), especially in the summer months. This will present potential problems from oil spills, dangers to wildlife, search and rescue for commercial shipping and tourist boats, and open zones of maneuver for the navies of the Arctic nations to interact.
He then goes on to make four recommendations for U.S. action to address these issues:
- “First, the United States needs to be better prepared to operate up north.” – including more icebreakers and “interagency teamwork”
- “Second, we need to double down on international cooperation via the Arctic Council.” – also calls on the U.S. to ratify the UN Law of the Sea Convention
- “Third, we need to work as closely as we can with Russia in the Arctic.” – suggests that the Arctic presents a “zone of cooperation” between the U.S. and Russia
- “Fourth, the United States should invest a reasonable amount in the sensors and technology to map and track the Arctic — satellites, reconnaissance flights, and undersea monitoring.”
Admiral Stavridis closes by emphasizing the need for greater attention to the Arctic by the U.S.:
Nearly 100 years ago, American Rear Admiral and Medal of Honor recipient Richard E. Byrd said of the opposite pole that he was hopeful that “Antarctica, in its symbolic robe of white, will shine forth as a continent of peace.” If we are to create a similar zone of peace in the High North, we have some work to do.
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