Arctic News Roundup
August 28, 2013
Canadian Icebreaker Returns to Service
The Canadian Coast Guard research icebreaker Amundsen, new star of the fifty-dollar bill, has been put back into service after undergoing emergency maintenance in 2011. The ship set sail for the Beaufort Sea on July 26 and is set to continue the research collaboration between the Canadian Coast Guard and ArcticNet, a consortium of Canadian universities and research institutes. The Amundsen was on a joint mission with the US Coast Guard to map the Arctic continental shelf when it encountered technical difficulties in 2011. Its current research agenda includes various issues such as phytoplankton and climate change.
Canada-US “Spill Drill” in Bering Strait
The Canadian and US coast guards held a joint exercise in the Bering Strait on July 17 and 18 to improve their bilateral response to a potential oil spill in this increasingly important international waterway. Melting Arctic ice levels have increased the appeal of routes north of Russia for energy transport from Europe to Asia. This poses a twofold challenge to US authorities: the waters in the Bering Strait are often treacherous, increasing the likelihood of an environmental disaster, and US resources are already stretched thin in the Arctic region, with no signs of relief emanating from a cash-strapped Congress in Washington.
Thus, US-Canadian cooperation in the Arctic can be seen as an attempt to mitigate the two sides’ respective deficiencies in ice breakers and patrol vehicles. The Bering Strait could be considered a nascent attempt at cooperation, one that could grow into a more comprehensive strategy that encompasses the wider Arctic region.
Royal Canadian Navy Gears up for Operation NANOOK
The Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) has dispatched the HMCS Summerside to the Canadian Arctic on a 39-day mission. The deployment will include operations such as NANOOK and QIMMIQ, as well as the conducting of joint training scenarios and surveillance activities.
These deployments serve two purposes for the Canadian government. For one, they increase the operational capabilities of the RCN in a theater that’s unlike anywhere else in the harsh environmental challenges it poses. Secondly, the Canadian government is very interested in any visible display of its own authority in the far north. A Canadian presence, whether military, political, or scientific, in the Arctic helps reinforce the argument of Canadian sovereignty over the area, and most importantly, over the Northwest Passage.
Melting Arctic as an Economic Disaster
A jointly-published article in Nature magazine by Gail Whiteman and Chris Hope among others has argued that melting Arctic ice will bring more economic blight than boom. They argue that the methane gas being released into the atmosphere by melting Arctic ice is far more economically damaging than the revenues to be made from harvesting the region’s mineral and energy wealth. The final economic cost of methane exhaust is estimated at a staggering $70 trillion – the value of the global economy in 2012. Perhaps unsurprisingly given the dire numbers presented by the article, other scientists in the community have been quick to poke holes in their data.
Canadian Arctic Patrol Ships a “Titanic Blunder”?
An April report by the Rideau Institute and the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives has argued that the Canadian Arctic/Offshore Patrol Ships (AOPS) program is too expensive and ultimately unsuited for the dual role of policing open waters and navigating passages with light amounts of ice. According to the report’s authors, Canada’s allies are purchasing ships for as little as a tenth of the cost of the $7.5 billion allocated to the program, and this is largely due to the Canadian government’s decision to go with a new design rather than altering a pre-existing platform.
New Members on the Arctic Council
The Arctic Council granted Singapore permanent observer status in May, a session that also saw China, India, Japan, South Korea, and Italy all admitted as observers. Singapore was viewed as a good choice for permanent observer status because of its status as a low-lying island and crucial international seaport. It is also a relatively benign choice in terms of global geopolitics.
Zachary Fillingham is a contributor to the Geopoliticalmonitor.com