Expert: Arctic needs vision, leadership and infrastructure
“The Arctic Ocean is being transformed into a global trade route”
OTTAWA — A provocative report by a leading British expert on polar issues says Canada and the other nations with Arctic Ocean coastlines have shown a lack of “global statesmanship” in managing the profound changes now occurring in the North.
University of Cambridge professor Paul Berkman, head of the Arctic Ocean Geopolitics Program at the Scott Polar Research Institute, concludes in his 132-page report on the security challenges facing the region that high-level, peace-oriented diplomatic vision is the “missing ingredient” needed to ensure the safe and orderly development of an increasingly accessible Arctic.
“The missing ingredient is statesmanship by the leaders of nations who are the only individuals that can establish the political will to both promote co-operation and prevent conflict in the Arctic Ocean for the lasting benefit of all,” Berkman states in the paper, commissioned by the British defence and security think-tank RUSI, the Royal United Services Institute.
“Such statesmanship, the ability to extinguish the brush fires of the moment and the vision to offer hope for future generations appears rarely,” he notes. “However, peace and stability in the Arctic region have yet to be identified explicitly as national security objectives of all Arctic states.”
Berkman suggests the world has barely begun to grasp the scope of the transformation under way in the Arctic, where climate change is opening long-sought shipping routes and major economic opportunities principally oil exploration, but also fishing, tourism and mining are emerging faster than many experts had anticipated.
And the changes, argues Berkman, needn¹t result in a non-militarized Arctic which some observers are seeking because of concerns over potential resource conflicts in the region but a peaceful northern frontier in which collaborative defence operations among several nations could ensure the maintenance of environmental integrity and international security.
“Peaceful use of the Arctic Ocean does not have to equate with demilitarization or restrictions on military operations that are otherwisE permitted under international law,” Berkman asserts. “The raison d’être for military presence is ostensibly the maintenance of peace and security in the first place.”
The Canadian government, like other Arctic coastal states, has made several major promises in recent years to bolster the country¹s military presence in the North. Although questions linger regarding timelines and precise spending targets, the Conservative government has announced plans for a new, large-scale icebreaker named for former Tory prime minister John Diefenbaker, a fleet of ice-reinforced patrol vessels, a northern military training centre and several other significant investments aimed at asserting Canada¹s Arctic sovereignty.
Last week, Postmedia News reported that the government has opened door to arming coast guard icebreakers used in the Arctic, as recommended recently by a Senate fisheries committee and a House of Commons defence committee.
In his report, Berkman says the opening of Arctic sea routes will require the kind of infrastructure investments and organizational commitments that characterized Roman empire-building more than 2,000 years ago.
“The Arctic Ocean is being transformed into a global trade route that will involve sea lanes, ports, and administration facilities along with communication, tariff, monitoring and forecasting systems,” he writes.”There will be assets that can be deployed quickly for diverse vessel emergencies. There will be new networks to transport resources and commerce southward across continents.”
But the “complication in the Arctic Ocean,” Berkman notes, “is that such infrastructure will be a shared enterprise of all the Arctic coastal states, together with involvement from many other states and investment from additional stakeholders. The challenge will be to manage escalating competition and demand for resources.”
Noting the Arctic’s “vast potential for energy extraction and living resources, a burgeoning trade route that will impact the global balance oF power, intensifying interests from non-Arctic states especially the European Union and China,” Berkman concludes that the region¹s blending of “sovereign jurisdictions” and “international spaces” makes the Arctic Ocean “a unique marine region that will establish global precedents for future generations.”