Remarks to Arctic Research Consortium of the United States (ARCUS) on the State of the Arctic
*** As Prepared for Delievry ***
Good afternoon. It is a pleasure to be here in Miami for the State of the Arctic conference. When people have asked me why the State of the Arctic Conference is in Miami, I have answered, "have you been to Fairbanks in February lately?" Actually, I know how much more convenient Miami is for travel and flights, and I really appreciate all the participation by the international community in this event. I think this is a fine place to talk about the state of Arctic research, science, and policy.
As you have undoubtedly been discussing, environmental changes in the Arctic are occurring at a dramatic rate. The Arctic is warming faster than any other area on the planet and some sea ice models now project the Arctic Ocean could be seasonally ice free within a decade or two.
I am sure that you have spent the week examining the latest research and listening to your speakers. I must say that the list of Arctic experts here is quite impressive. I wish that I had been able to attend the conference, but my duties have kept me in the Nation's Capital for most of the week.
On three occasions over the past 125 years scientists from around the world banded together to organize concentrated scientific and exploration programs in the Polar Regions. The latest effort, the International Polar Year, which lasted from 2007 until March 2009, was one of the largest collaborative scientific endeavors in history, with over 200 projects involving 50,000 people from over 60 nations. This effort will dramatically increase our knowledge of the Arctic and hopefully will establish a lasting legacy of Arctic research. It was certainly one of the most comprehensive multi-national efforts we have ever seen. I know that you have been talking about IPY and how to sustain the momentum of this incredible effort. When we kicked off IPY in the United States Congress, I was one of the co-hosts and was so pleased to be a part of it. I have watched the work and read the results of the projects and have really been encouraged by the prioritization of science in the Arctic region.
I know that this week you have been talking about the cooperative research that is taking place in the region. I won't try and compete with that. Instead, I'd like to touch on the policy of the Arctic, the governance side from my perspective in the United States Senate.
Now while science in the Arctic seems to be an area of high priority, I can't say the same for Arctic policy; at least not yet in the United States.
I have been working on Arctic issues since I entered the United States Senate 8 years ago. I am constantly reminding other policy makers that the U.S. is an Arctic nation and as such we have certain responsibilities and obligations. I am the United States representative to the Conference of Parliamentarians of the Arctic Region. And just yesterday, I hosted the Standing Committee in Washington D.C. to meet and discuss pertinent issues and prepare for the next Conference which is hosted by the European Parliament in Brussels, this fall. My fellow Parliamentarians are somewhat bemused by the perceived lack of focus and priority that the U.S. places on the Arctic and Arctic policy. I'm hopeful that we are beginning to see positive change in this area.
The Arctic is truly the last frontier. One of the few places on earth where all the borders aren't drawn on the map yet and some of those that are, are disputed. It is changing rapidly and the impacts of this rapid warming in the Arctic are being felt dramatically by the residents who are legitimately concerned about the effects that an ice diminished Arctic will have on their way of life. Many of the indigenous people of the region still live a subsistence lifestyle. They are dependent on the sea and ice and fear not only the loss of summer sea ice and the effects on marine mammals, but that increased maritime activity relating to the transportation of goods, oil and gas, mineral extraction, tourism and research could have a negative impact on their lives as well. And they must be at the table engaged in the debates about governance and policy in the region in which they live.
I believe we are at a critical time in the Arctic right now. There seem to be two paths that we can go down in regards to international relations- one is a path of competition and conflict, and the other is one of cooperation and diplomacy. I believe the decision on which path we ultimately take will require dynamic leadership.
One of the first areas that we need leadership is in the United States and the Senate ratification of the Convention for the Law of the Sea Treaty. I believe it is crucial for the United States to be a party to this Treaty and be a player in the process, 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 environmental framework to develop these resources while minimizing environmental impacts.
The United States in the only Arctic State 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.
At the invitation of the Danish Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Premier of Greenland, representatives of the five coastal States bordering on the Arctic Ocean - Canada, Denmark, Norway, the Russian Federation and the United States of America - met at the political level on 28 May 2008 in Ilulissat, Greenland, to hold discussions. They confirmed that the Law of the Sea Treaty provides the governance regime to manage the Arctic and saw no need to develop a new comprehensive international legal regime for the Arctic. They also acknowledged their current cooperation with regards to protection of the marine environment, collection of scientific data on the continental shelf, monitoring and research and committed to working to strengthen this cooperation to include maritime navigation and ship pollution, search and rescue, through a greater sharing of information.
I am pleased to see that the five Arctic coastal states will meet again in Canada at the end of this month. Continued dialogue is vital and talking about how to balance economic development and protection of the environment is, in my mind, one of the greatest challenge we face in the region.
I spoke of the two possible paths forward and I want to expound on that for a minute. While some have described a scenario where the Arctic is undergoing an "arms race" or a "race for resources", I am not convinced that this has to be the case. I do believe that there is some serious military posturing going on, especially between Canada and Russia, but much of that is not translating into action.
The Canadian government has taken a number of steps and statements to assert their sovereignty in the region including the release of the, "Northern Strategy"; planning of a military base in the Canadian Arctic archipelago; plans to build a fleet of ice-strengthened patrol boats and renaming the NW passage the "Canadian North West Passage".
Russia, meanwhile, has also shown some increasingly assertive behavior in regards to military and economic expansion in the Arctic. The Russian Security Council released details of how it will conduct its Arctic policy in a document entitled, "The fundamentals of Russian state policy in the Arctic up to 2020 and beyond." The document emphasizes the need to preserve the Arctic as a "zone of peace and cooperation," bringing to mind the state of affairs in Antarctica, where the Antarctic Treaty System has guaranteed the continent's non-militarization and dedication to science and research. The Russian document also touches upon sustainable development and environmental conservation. While the new strategy does reaffirmed the determination of the country to establish a new military unit designed to protect the country's Arctic territory- onshore and offshore, the policy is clearly much broader than that.
We know that there are national security and sovereignty interests for all the Arctic coastal states in the region and most are putting forth plans to increase their presence. Even the United States, in the Arctic Region Policy that was released on January 9, 2009 has stated that national security is the highest priority of the country in the region. The United States Navy has a new roadmap for the Arctic and I have asked them to study the feasibility of a deepwater port in the far north. Now the Coast Guard has embarked on a high latitude study to determine what assets and infrastructure they need to be prepared for a new ice diminished Arctic ocean.
Other nations, without coastlines in the Arctic are also showing a strong interest in the region. The Chinese already have one icebreaker and plan to build more and as you know, have a very active polar research program. South Korean shipyards are now leading the world in the construction of ice breakers, mostly of Finnish design, and ice strengthened tankers and freighters. Both countries, along with Italy and the European Union, have applied for observer status at the Arctic Council. The EU, through the European Commission and the European Parliament, are gradually developed an Arctic policy to address EU interests in the region. NATO has also recognized that an ice diminished Arctic has implications for accessibility and creates new security concerns and challenges. Let me stop for a moment to talk about icebreakers. As we all are keenly aware, while the Arctic is becoming more and more ice free in the summer months, Arctic ice is not going to completely disappear. I am thrilled that after years of work, the Alaska Region Research Vessel, the Sikuliaq will give the scientific community another platform for performing science in ice covered waters. . I was able to get an appropriation to refurbish the Polar Star last year, and fund the United States Coast Guard to do a study to determine whether we need to rebuild or replace our aging polar class vessels, but no matter the result of the study, we must have the commitment of the Administration and Congress that ice breakers are a national priority. And I will do all I can to advocate that position.
In the last few years, the governance of the Arctic has become even more complicated. While the Illulisat Declaration reaffirmed the role of the five Arctic states as the primary guardians of the high north, they did not include the other permanent participants of the Arctic Council or the other non-Arctic states, and there were a number of concerns raised about their exclusion.
While conflict in the region may not be imminent, certainly there are many competing interests and views of the region. And this really leads us to a fundamental question- who are the major stakeholders in addressing issues of Arctic governance and what are their interests?
The Arctic clearly offers a great opportunity to work collaboratively and cooperatively. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has confirmed that the Arctic is one area in which the Obama Administration will 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 start that process.
One area that has been identified as an area of competition is in extended continental shelf claims of the Arctic states. While there has been a dramatic increase in mapping activity in the Arctic, it is actually an area of much agreement. Canada and Greenland have agreed on delimitation of the continental shelf between them, as Norway has with Iceland and Greenland on Jan Meyen Island.
The United States and Canada have been working together the last two summers on extended continental shelf data collection in the Arctic and are scheduled to work again in the summer of 2010. The US Icebreaker Healy completed the second summer of joint mapping with the Canadian icebreaker Louis St. Laurent. Though each ship has their own equipment in order to accomplish the mission, combining their efforts provides much better data and they can cover more area together. Norway and Russia are also working together to jointly survey the Barents Sea area.
The Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment recommended the development of a comprehensive multinational Arctic Search and Rescue instrument among the eight Arctic nations. I am happy to report that there are discussions underway and a real desire for this to be one of the first efforts to implement the report's recommendations.
So, what does the future hold for the Arctic? The pace of change in the Arctic DEMANDS that greater attention be focused on the region. The implications of the dynamic changing Arctic for the residents and important U.S. security, economic, environmental, and political interests, depend on it.
But is it going to be an area of multilateral cooperation, like the scientific community, or is it going to fulfill the potential of being an area of conflict? Clearly the Arctic region presents daunting challenges, but unique opportunities relating to climate change, resource development and geopolitical transformation. I am hopeful that is will be one of cooperation. But it will take robust diplomacy and very likely, a recognition 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 cooperation and collaboration to involve all the interested parties, but I believe that is the road we must take.
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