Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Arctic Future War and Other Choices

There are so many potential conflicts for the Earth's energy supplies that the medias inattention to them borders on criminal. A recent example is the multi-national conference in Greenland to try to divy up the Arctic's resources. It is interesting to see that the American rep was John Negroponte, an American diplomatic hit man if ever there was.
Canada hopes to assert sovereignity through the "Law of the Sea" which has varying interpretations:

"CBC" interpretation:
"Canada is committed to defending and protecting its sovereignty in the waters of the High Arctic as it begins the process of mapping the northern territory with other nations, says the federal minister of natural resources.

Gary Lunn is travelling to Ilulissat, Greenland, on Tuesday to discuss Canada's claim to the northern seabed with officials from Denmark, Norway, the United States and Russia, who are also looking to secure their piece of the Arctic pie.

"There's a lot of co-operation between countries that is happening, but it's important that we have strong presence on the world stage," said Lunn.

The three-day conference is expected to discuss rules, dictated by the UN Law of the Sea Convention, on dividing jurisdiction over the High Arctic waters, one of the most rapidly changing parts of the world due to climate change.

As the ice continues to melt, countries with continental shelves on the Arctic Ocean are increasingly concerned over who controls the territory and its resources.

"It's critically important that it's under our sovereign control so that we set the parameters for the environment and that we make the decisions whether or not even to allow exploration," Lunn said Monday.

Under the UN law, signed by Canada in 2003, the five northern countries may be able to extend their sovereignty beyond the usual 200-nautical-mile limit recognized in international law if the seabed is an extension of the continental shelf.

Canada's claim includes a swath of ocean floor stretching to the North Pole that would be the equivalent in size to the three Prairie provinces combined. Canada has until 2013 to submit its claim on the area, which stretches from the Yukon to the eastern Arctic.

The area in question wouldn't be subject to any sort of overlapping claim with other countries, Lunn said. Canada's territorial disputes in the Arctic, such as the location of the boundary between the Yukon and Alaska and the control of the Northwest Passage, aren't expected to be major topics at the conference.
Firms already after oil, gas reserves

The High Arctic seabed is coveted for its potential oil and gas reserves, not just along the coast of Beaufort Sea but at the North Pole. Estimates put about 25 per cent of the world's remaining oil and gas reserves beneath the Arctic's ocean floor.

Energy firms have already begun exploring the waters off Greenland, while large deposits of gas are known to exist off the islands of the Canadian archipelago, as well as the coasts of the Northwest Territories and Alaska.

Inhospitable conditions, including extreme cold and six months of darkness every year, make the Far North a difficult place for exploration.

"There's an interest in those resources, but more immediate in the area is the fact that there will be more international shipping over the top of the world as the ice starts to melt," the CBC's Margo McDiarmid reported Tuesday from Ottawa.

The nautical journey from China to New York, for example, is 7,000 kilometres shorter if travelled across the Arctic waters over the top of the world rather than through the Panama Canal.

As new passages are established by melting ice, Canada will be increasingly open to international traffic across and around its borders.

"The fear is that there will be more international shipping, more cruise ships, and there needs to be some kind of control, especially for Canada for those ships travelling through its waters," McDiarmid said.

Lunn emphasized that boundaries in the High Arctic must be defined by science, but would not speculate on the possible outcomes of the conference, saying only "we want to reaffirm our commitment on the world stage."

The conference is also expected to address co-operation between the five countries on maritime safety, environmental protection and search and rescue."


"Conference could mark start of Arctic power struggle
Randy Boswell , Canwest News Service
Published: 5 hours ago

ILULISSAT, Greenland - An Arctic Ocean summit aimed at easing territorial tensions among the five nations bordering the northern sea - including Canada - appeared to evolve Wednesday into something more substantial: a kind of Arctic G-5 with ambitious plans for overseeing polar oil and mineral exploration, maritime security, transportation and environmental regulation.

"The Arctic Ocean stands at the threshold of significant changes," the countries' Ilulissat Declaration stated. "Climate change and the melting of ice have a potential impact on vulnerable ecosystems, the livelihoods of local inhabitants and indigenous communities, and the potential exploitation of natural resources.

"By virtue of their sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction in large areas of the Arctic Ocean, the five coastal states are in a unique position to address these possibilities and challenges."
Norwegian foreign minister Jonas Gahr Stoere, Greenland's Aleqa Hammond, Canada's Minister of Natural Resources Gary Lunn, and American John Negroponte admire the view from their boat Wednesday near Ilulissat in Greenland, ahead of an Arctic Ocean conference.
Norwegian foreign minister Jonas Gahr Stoere, Greenland's Aleqa Hammond, Canada's Minister of Natural Resources Gary Lunn, and American John Negroponte admire the view from their boat Wednesday near Ilulissat in Greenland, ahead of an Arctic Ocean conference.
Jan-Morten Bjoernbakk/AFP/Getty Images
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But the conference, which was organized by Denmark's Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller and also included the U.S., Russia and Norway, could well mark the beginning of an international power struggle over the future governance of the rapidly warming and increasingly accessible polar region.

Chief among the goals laid out in the declaration was to block any "new comprehensive international legal regime to govern the Arctic Ocean" - a clear shot across the bow of some European politicians and other Arctic observers who see the region as a largely unspoiled seascape best governed, like Antarctica, as an international trust.

They have pushed for the adoption of a broader legal framework - perhaps even an "Arctic Treaty" under the auspices of the United Nations - to regulate commercial activity, environmental threats and scientific research in the extreme north.

The summit was initially billed as an attempt to cool the rhetoric between the five polar neighbours following Russia's controversial dive to the North Pole seabed last year, an ongoing Danish-Canadian feud over tiny Hans Island and several other jurisdictional disputes.

And the final declaration did promise "the orderly settlement of any possible overlapping claims."

But in his opening remarks at the conference, Moeller made clear the chief purpose of the gathering by targeting "the assumption by some that there is a need for a new legal regime for the Arctic Ocean. I do not see such a need, as we have international law, we have the Law of the Sea, which already provide us with a comprehensive legal regime."

A proposal is before the European Parliament to adopt an Arctic policy to assert greater influence over environmental protection and other spheres of activity in the polar region.

The Arctic Council - an eight-country coalition of northern nations which includes the five coastal states plus Sweden, Finland, Iceland and various Arctic indigenous peoples - has also been working to develop rules for managing Arctic resources and environmental threats.

While the delegation leaders - including Canada's Minister of Natural Resources, Gary Lunn - expressed a desire to continue working through the Arctic Council and other international bodies on polar issues, they said the new coastal coalition is merited because those nations have unique opportunities and responsibilities.

"We are states that border the Arctic Ocean, and we have a responsibility to ensure that we put in the safeguards to ensure transportation and environmental protection, search and rescue, and so on - that we co-operate," said Lunn, whose ministry is overseeing Arctic seabed research aimed at securing vast extensions to Canada's continental shelf in the polar north.

The five-nation pact also envisions greater co-operation among the coastal nations in search-and-rescue operations, environmental crisis management and the regulation of oil tankers that could soon be routinely cruising through an ice-free Northwest Passage.

"Everybody, of course, wants to avoid a Titanic or an Exxon Valdez in the Arctic Ocean," Moeller said. "New possibilities of transport in and through the region increase the risk of accidents. More cruises than ever before reach even up to Thule (in far northern Greenland). As responsible coastal states we must strive to minimize this risk."

There is one notable hitch in the five-state strategy to rely on the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, a treaty designed largely to resolve jurisdictional disputes in coastal regions and govern ocean shipping, as the chief guide to governing Arctic waters.

The most powerful of the five nations at the summit - the United States - hasn't ratified the accord.

John Negroponte, the U.S. deputy secretary of state and head of the American delegation, took pains to express the Bush administration's strong support for signing UNCLOS and predicted U.S. ratification soon.

Adoption of the convention has been blocked by Congress in recent years, largely by conservative legislators concerned about surrendering U.S. power to international legal frameworks.

"We certainly believe it's in the interests of the United States to ratify the Law of the Sea treaty, not the least of which would be for the impact it would have on our Arctic policy, where it's very important," Negroponte told reporters.

Two opposition MPs from northern Canada who attended the conference as observers - the NDP's Western Arctic MP Dennis Bevington and Yukon Liberal MP Larry Bagnell - applauded the agreement reached between the five countries.

Two Canadian experts on polar issues offered contrasting opinions on the outcome of the summit.

University of Calgary political scientist Rob Huebert said the five-country plan to manage the ocean's affairs means "Arctic issues will be dealt with on an ad hoc, piecemeal, bilateral basis. The Arctic is much too complicated to deal with in this manner today."

He said the coming problems require "an Arctic Council with teeth, or each issue will deteriorate on its own."

But University of British Columbia political scientist Michael Byers praised the direction of the grouping he dubbed "the Arctic Ocean 5."

The five-nation summit was "a perfectly appropriate venue to discuss Law of the Sea issues as they relate to the Arctic Ocean seabed. Countries that do not border on the Arctic Ocean simply don't have the same interests or potential disputes with respect to those areas and potential resources."

© Canwest News Service 2008

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