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May 24, 2013
Administration issues Arctic strategy

The White House has issued a National Strategy for the Arctic Region, a set of priorities intended to promote orderly and environmentally protective use of the Arctic during a period of melting ice that the strategy calls “dramatic, abrupt, and unrelenting.” 

One part of the strategy calls for increased international cooperation with the seven other Arctic nations under the United Nation’s Law of the Sea Convention.  The United States is the only Arctic state that is not party to the convention; the strategy notes that only by joining the convention can the U.S. maximize legal certainty and be in the best position to secure international recognition of our sovereign rights with respect to the U.S. extended continental shelf in the Arctic.

New environment

The ice melt has resulted in a “new Arctic environment,” according to the strategy, allowing for year-round navigation and providing unprecedented access to natural resources.  The U.S. Geologic Survey estimates that the Arctic contains 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil and 30 percent of the world’s undiscovered gas deposits, all believed to be technically recoverable.  In addition, there are “vast quantities” of mineral resources, including rare earth elements, iron ore, and nickel.  But development of these resources must be undertaken with special attention to the Arctic’s fragile environment as well as the cultures of native Arctic populations.

“An undisciplined approach to exploring new opportunities in this frontier could result in significant harm to the region, to our national security interests, and to the global good,” states the strategy.

Avenues of action

The strategy is built on three lines of effort.

  1. Advance United States security interests.  Enable U.S. vessels and aircraft to operate, consistent with international law, through, under, and over the airspace and waters of the Arctic; support lawful commerce; achieve a greater awareness of activity in the region; and intelligently evolve U.S. Arctic infrastructure and capabilities, including ice-capable platforms as needed.  U.S. security in the Arctic encompasses a broad spectrum of activities, ranging from those supporting safe commercial and scientific operations to national defense.
  2. Pursue responsible Arctic stewardship.  Continue to protect the Arctic environment and conserve its resources; establish and institutionalize an integrated Arctic management framework; chart the Arctic region; and employ scientific research and traditional knowledge to increase understanding of the Arctic.
  3. Strengthen international cooperation.  Work through bilateral relationships and multilateral bodies, including the Arctic Council, to pursue arrangements that advance collective interests, promote shared Arctic/state prosperity, protect the Arctic environment, and enhance regional security.  Also, work toward U.S. accession to the Law of the Sea Convention.

The strategy notes that the Arctic is free of conflict, a condition that can be maintained by supporting and preserving international legal principles of freedom of navigation and overflight and other uses of the sea and airspace related to these freedoms, unimpeded lawful commerce, and the peaceful resolution of disputes for all nations.

Click here for the strategy.

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