Wednesday, May 15, 2013

New National Strategy for the Arctic Region has Implications for Navy

New National Strategy for the Arctic Region has Implications for Navy

By Bob Freeman, Office of the Oceanographer of the Navy
WASHINGTON (NNS) -- The White House released a new National Strategy for the Arctic Region Friday, May 10, reflecting a growing recognition that the Arctic is opening up for human enterprise and will increasingly become a strategic priority for the United States.

As a maritime domain, the Arctic is also a key area of interest for the U.S. Navy. In 2009 the Navy signaled a renewed interest in the region with the release of an Arctic Roadmap to guide Navy policy, actions, and future investments related to the region.

"In the past the Arctic Ocean was largely inaccessible due to sea ice," said Rear Adm. Jon White, the Navy's senior oceanographer and director of Task Force Climate Change. "But diminishing sea ice is opening the region for greater economic development and human activity."

In a posting on the White House blog site, Patricia Cogswell of the National Security Staff stated that the new strategy "sets the U.S. Government's strategic priorities for the Arctic region." She described the end goal as "an Arctic region that is stable and free of conflict, where nations act responsibly in a spirit of trust and cooperation, and where economic opportunities are pursued in a sustainable and responsible manner."

The strategy identifies three primary lines of effort for the federal government, each of which impacts the sea services. The first line of effort is "advancing U.S. security interests," a primary mission area of the Navy.

"The U.S. Navy is currently engaged in strategic planning to increase operational capabilities and infrastructure in the Arctic in future years," White said. "Within the next decade, I believe we'll be operating routinely in the Arctic with an appropriate presence that includes more than just submarines. We need to start preparing for that now," he added.

While he sees no imminent threat of conflict in the Arctic, White believes the presence of well-meaning naval forces acts as a stabilizing influence toward mutual prosperity and safe maritime activity.

A second line of effort is "pursuing responsible stewardship."

The strategy points out that the U.S. territorial waters in the Arctic are potentially rich in oil, natural gas, and mineral resources, and also offer commercial fishing and shipping opportunities. It emphasizes the management and development of resources in a sustainable manner that respects the fragile environment and the interests of indigenous peoples.

This line of effort includes an emphasis on research to better understand the changing climate and improve Arctic weather forecast capabilities, and on high resolution surveying of the seabed.

According to White, the Navy is already investing in significant Arctic research. "It is important that we improve our understanding of the environment for safety of operations," White noted, "because the Arctic will remain a harsh and challenging environment even as it becomes more accessible and active."

White pointed out that the Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command, headquartered at the Stennis Space Center, Miss., has assets that can assist in this national effort. The command manages a fleet of six world-class ocean survey vessels and operates some of the world's finest oceanographic analysis and prediction computer models.

The Navy also partners with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Coast Guard to monitor polar ice movement at the National Naval Ice Center in Suitland, Md. This is in line with the National Arctic Strategy's third line of effort - building and maintaining cooperative relations with other federal agencies, as well as with Arctic nations and allies.

In an article posted by the American Forces Press Service on Friday, Dr. Daniel Y. Chiu, deputy assistant secretary of defense for strategy, said "DoD sees the opening of the Arctic waters in the decades ahead as a prime opportunity to work cooperatively in multilateral forums over time to promote a balanced approach to improving human and environmental security in the region."

"The Navy's global area of responsibility is growing as we add new coastline and a new ocean," White said. "With the fiscal challenges confronting us, we must use cooperative multilateral partnerships to successfully build an Arctic-capable force for the future."

White noted that the remoteness of the region, the vast area, the harsh environment, and the lack of supporting infrastructure combine to make the Arctic a more challenging environment than other oceans.

"The Navy will work closely with the U.S. Coast Guard and other Arctic nation sea services to ensure we can meet the same mission requirements in the Arctic as we do in, on, and above every other ocean in the world," White said.

The new Arctic strategy also emphasizes the importance of U.S. accession to the U. N. Convention on the Law of the Sea. According to White, the Convention preserves the rights, freedoms, and use of the sea while addressing resource development and national sovereignty claims. "The Navy has long supported ratification of the convention," White said. "Our allies and partners need the U.S. to acceed to the convention so that we may help influence the resolution of complex issues in every ocean."

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