Arctic Council Floor Speech

***As Prepared For Delivery ***


***As Prepared For Delivery ***

MAY 23, 2011


Thank you Mr. President.  Last week I was honored to participate in a historic trip to attend the 7th Ministerial meeting of the Arctic Council in Nuuk, Greenland with Secretary of State Clinton and Secretary of the Interior Salazar. 

The Arctic Council, founded in 1995, is an intergovernmental association of eight member states with territory inside the Arctic Circle. The group includes Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, the Russian Federation and the United States of America. There are also six permanent participants representing indigenous people of the region.

The trip was historic because it was the first time a Secretary of State has led the United States delegation to an Arctic Council meeting.  It was also the first time a member of Congress has attended. We met with the foreign ministers of the eight Arctic Council nations and representatives of indigenous groups to discuss issues related to Arctic governance, climate change, environmental protection, and watched the ministers sign a historic search and rescue agreement. 

It was music to my ears to hear Secretary Clinton say that the United States is an Arctic nation and as such we have responsibilities in the region.  We are an Arctic nation because of Alaska and its indigenous people.

The Arctic Council also increased its organizational structure by forming a standing Secretariat, to be based in Tromsø, Norway, and by establishing criteria for the admission of new observers to the Council. 

The People’s Republic of China, Japan, Republic of Korea, Italy and the European Union are all seeking observer status to the Arctic Council.

The search and rescue agreement, the first ever legally binding agreement among Arctic states negotiated under the auspices of the Arctic Council, will strengthen the cooperation on search and rescue between Arctic states.  As Arctic sea ice decreases, maritime activities are increasing in the Arctic. Aviation traffic is also on the rise as new polar aviation routes cross the Arctic air space in several directions.  Limited rescue resources, challenging weather conditions, and the remoteness of the area render SAR operations difficult in the Arctic, making coordination among the Arctic nations imperative.

 The U.S. Coast Guard will be the lead federal agency for search and rescue in the Arctic.  Historically, while the Coast Guard has a long and distinguished history of operating and conducting rescues in the Arctic, the current status of the Coast Guard’s surface and aviation fleets makes conducting search and rescue operations in the Arctic extremely challenging.  With the scheduled decommissioning of the POLAR SEA, the Coast Guard will only maintain one heavy ice breaker in its fleet, which is not expected to return to service until 2013.  While the Coast Guard does have a medium endurance ice breaker, HEALY, the cutter is not equipped to handle the thick multi-year ice that is present in the Arctic. 

 On the aviation side, Coast Guard C-130 aircraft stationed in Kodiak, AK, are the only aircraft in their inventory that are capable to make direct flights to the Arctic.  And Kodiak to Barrow is the same distance as Miami is to Washington DC.  Given the often harsh weather conditions in the Arctic, combined with a lack of infrastructure to provide forward deployed basing of helicopters, the Coast Guard’s

C-130’s can possibly provide the ‘search’ but are incapable of providing the ‘rescue’.  This lack of maritime resources and shore based infrastructure to protect aviation resources, places the Coast Guard and the United States in a difficult situation in the Arctic.  Without concerted efforts and a focused policy for the Arctic, the United States and the Coast Guard are going to continue to be ill-equipped to conduct the search and rescue operations that are going to become increasingly necessary as the amounts of Arctic sea-ice continue to diminish and the levels of Arctic maritime vessel traffic increase.

It has been projected that a seasonal ice free Arctic Ocean was decade’s away and maritime shipping through the Northwest Passage, Northern Sea Route above Russia and direct transits across the Arctic Ocean were going to be few and far between.  But last year Russia sent a large, ice-breaking bulk tanker through the Northern Sea Route and across the Arctic carrying hydrocarbons bound for Asia.
The Russian Federation has received 15 ice breaker escort requests to provide navigational support through the Northern Sea Route for this year.  Last year, they only had three requests.  Transit through the Northern Sea Route, or Northeast Passage as it is also called, cuts 5000 miles and 8 days from the Suez route between Europe and Asia.

Interest in the Arctic, by both the general public, the media and Arctic and non-Arctic nations, continues to grow, for many reasons.

The Arctic is a vast area, covering over one-sixth of the Earth’s land mass, with a population of some four million people, including over 30 different indigenous peoples and dozens of languages.  While it is massive in size with barren land, it is not like Antarctica, with no indigenous people and no governance. 

The eight Arctic nations are sovereign governments, with laws governing the land and people. 

The Arctic holds vast amounts of energy, but until recently, the resources of the Arctic were deemed to be too difficult to access and expensive to develop. But with increasing access and high energy and mineral prices, the Arctic’s wealth, which is estimated to contain approximately 22 percent of the world’s remaining oil and gas reserves, is now being actively explored and developed.  Six of the eight member nations of the Arctic Council are exploring or developing energy resources in their waters.

This makes energy exploration among the most important and perhaps the most serious issues for Arctic policy moving forward. This includes conventional oil and natural gas but also methane hydrates and other less conventional forms.  Offshore Alaska we are estimating 15 billion barrels of oil in a concentrated area of the Chukchi Sea and 8 billion barrels in the Beaufort Sea, and while we have had serious delays in exploration, I am hopeful that exploratory wells will prove up next summer.  While the United States Geological Survey tells us that the region has the world’s largest undiscovered oil and gas deposits, we also think it holds huge amounts of other minerals – like coal, nickel, copper, tungsten, lead, zinc, gold, silver, diamonds, manganese, chromium and titanium. 

But there’s a natural, sometimes reflexive tendency to question how in the world it can ever be safe or even economical to drill and produce in such harsh, misunderstood, and distant environments.  But it’s happening, and the technology and engineering behind some of the existing and proposed activities is advancing rapidly. While we struggle moving ahead with off-shore development in Alaskan

waters, our neighbors are rapidly moving forward on Arctic energy development.  Russia, which is only  53 miles from Alaska’s shoreline, is turning its eye to the Arctic’s vast energy reserves as they are building the first offshore oil rig that can withstand temperatures as low as minus 50 degrees Celsius and heavy pack ice.  As their oil production is in decline, they are also reducing taxes and bureaucratic hurdles in order to encourage new oil development in the Arctic.

Norway has been exploring and producing energy in the Arctic the longest and has found the way for energy development and other activities, like fisheries, to co-exist.  They also lead the world in developing technology to clean up oil in Arctic waters.

Energy development and protection of the Arctic environment must go hand in hand, and I was pleased that the Arctic Council announced the formation of a new task force that will negotiate measures for oil spill preparedness and response throughout the region. The decision to launch these negotiations is evidence of the strong commitment to proactively address emerging issues in the region and to create international protocols to prevent and clean up offshore oil spills in areas of the region that are becoming increasingly accessible to exploration because of a changing climate.

One question I was presented in seemingly every conversation in Greenland was the United States position on the Law of the Sea Treaty.  The U.S. delegation reiterated their support for is ratification of the Convention for the Law of the Sea.  I believe it is crucial for the United States to be a party to this treaty, rather than an outsider hoping our interests are not damaged.

Accession to the Convention would give current and future administrations both enhanced credibility and leverage in calling upon other nations to meet Convention responsibilities. Given the support for the Treaty by Arctic nations and the drive to develop natural resources, the Treaty will also provide the stability and certainty that is vital for investment in maritime commerce.

The United States is the only Arctic nation that is not a party to the Law of the Sea convention, having first submitted the treaty to the U.S. Senate for approval in 1994 but not yet acceded to it. 

Canada and Denmark joined the treaty in 2003 and 2004 respectively.  Until the U.S. accedes to the treaty it cannot submit its data regarding the extent of its extended continental shelf to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, established under the Treaty.  Without a Commission recommendation regarding such data, the legal foundation for ECS limits is much less certain than if the U.S. were a party to the Treaty.

Russia submitted an extended continental shelf claim in 2002 that would grant them 460,000 square miles of the Arctic Ocean’s bottom resources. That is an area the size of Texas, California and Indiana combined.  Denmark and Canada are anxious to establish their own claims in the Arctic and Norway’s claim is currently under review by the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf.

According to the U.S. Arctic Research Commission, if the United States were to become a party to the Treaty, we could lay claim to an area in the Arctic of about 450,000 square kilometers-or approximately the size of California.


But if we do not become a party to the Treaty, our opportunity to make this claim, and have the international community respect it, diminishes considerably, as does our ability to challenge other claims.

While some have described a scenario where the Arctic is undergoing an “arms race” or a “race for resources”, after seeing the international cooperation at the Arctic Council, I believe what we have is a race for cooperation and sustainable management.   The Arctic offers a great opportunity to work collaboratively and is one area in which the Obama Administration can highlight international cooperation in the implementation of U.S. foreign policy.   This follows the Administration’s intent to “reset” relations with Russia and the Arctic is the perfect place to do so.

So, what does the future hold for the Arctic?  I believe that the pace of change in the Arctic DEMANDS that greater attention be focused on the region. The implications of the dynamic changing Arctic for U.S. security, economic, environmental, and political interests depend on it. 

It will, however, take robust diplomacy and very likely, recognition, as Secretary Clinton reminded us, that interest in the Arctic is not just limited to the five Arctic coastal states, or even the eight countries who are permanent members of the Arctic Council.  It will take a level of collaboration and cooperation to include the non-Arctic states as well. 

I am pleased that ever so slowly, the United States seems to be waking up to the fact that we are, indeed, an Arctic nation and willing to take up the responsibilities as such.

I am confident that with the leadership of members of Congress, the Administration and from the Arctic community at large, we can continue to highlight the strategic importance of the Arctic for the United States.  I believe the Arctic Council meeting may just be the turning point for American leadership in the Arctic.