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  February 2nd, 2017 | Written by

DoD Releases Arctic Strategy

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  • The Arctic remains an area of cooperation, but friction points exist.
  • Canada and Russia claim northern shipping routes as sovereign.
  • Retreating Arctic ice invites more shipping activity in that region.

The Unites States Department of Defense yesterday released an unclassified version of its report to Congress on strategy to protect US national security interests in the Arctic.

The report, completed in December while former President Obama was still in office, was on hold until approved by the Trump administration. The report’s release likely means that Defense Seretary James Mattis, or one of his deputies, signed off on the strategy. Global Trade Daily summarizes the trade and transportation implications of the report.

The jumping off point for the report is the 2013 National Strategy for the Arctic Region (NSAR), according to which “security encompasses a broad spectrum of activities, ranging from economic activities, like resource extraction, fishing, and trade, to scientific research and national defense…U.S. military objectives in the Arctic therefore support the broader national security interests articulated in the NSAR.”

The Arctic remains an area of cooperation, the report noted, in areas like scientific, environmental, and economic collaboration as well as military and coast guard cooperation to improve search and rescue capabilities.

“Friction points, however, do exist,” the report noted

Chief among these are disagreements the US has with Canada and Russia over the regulation of navigation in Arctic waters. Canada claims all waters within the Canadian Arctic islands as territorial, requiring Canada’s permission to transit, including the waters of the Northwest Passage.

Russia makes a similar claim about three straits along the Northern Sea Route. Both countries require permits for ships to transit the claimed northern routes.

The US disagrees with Canada and Russia on these claims, regarding the straits in question as international waters.

This issue will likely heat up in coming years as retreating Arctic ice invites more shipping activity in that region.

The Arctic is also thought to cover large oil and gas reserves, another potential source of international tension. “As ice recedes and resource extraction technology improves,” the report noted, “competition for economic advantage and a desire to exert influence over an area of increasing geostrategic importance could lead to increased tension. These economic and security concerns may increase the risk of disputes between Arctic and non-Arctic nations over access to Arctic shipping lanes and natural resources.”

Russian strategy documents have emphasize the importance of the Arctic region to Russia and

its national economy. One of four main national interests in the Arctic identified by Moscow is the development of the Northern Shipping Route for transportation.

Russia delivered a revised extended continental shelf (ECS) submission to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) in 2015. “In making its formal submission to the CLCS,” the report noted, “Russia followed the appropriate procedure under the Law of the Sea Convention (LOSC) to determine the outer limits of its extended continental shelf.” CLCS is currently reviewing Russia’s application and will eventually make recommendations on the outer limits of the Russian continental shelf in the Arctic.

“It is important to note,” the report added, “that Russia’s submission does not include any areas where the United States may in the future establish its extended continental shelf.”