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ASP’s Holland Testifies about the Arctic before House Foreign Affairs Committee

ASP’s Holland Testifies about the Arctic before House Foreign Affairs Committee

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On Wednesday, December 10, 2014, Andrew Holland, ASP’s Senior Fellow for Energy and Climate, testified before the House Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging Threats. The hearing, “The United States as an Arctic Nation: Opportunities in the High North” took place in 2200 Rayburn House Office Building Washington.

In his opening statement, Holland said:

Today, melting ice is opening the Arctic. The administration has made climate change in the Arctic a focus of the US Arctic Council Chairmanship – and that is appropriate. But we must do more. The unraveling of the Arctic will have huge costs to all of us. I am concerned that U.S. policies must go much further in planning for an opening Arctic.

The oral statement he gave is below, and the written statement is available on the committee’s website. These remarks are built off a paper he wrote for the Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, entitled “National Security in a Rapidly Changing Arctic – How a Lack of Attention to the Arctic is Harming America’s Interests.” 

He concludes his statement by offering five concrete examples for how Congress can more effectively address an opening Arctic:

1. Ratify the UN Law of the Sea Convention, so that the United States can fully participate in negotiations to determine borders in the Arctic;

2. Increase funding for U.S. military presence by either the U.S. Navy or the U.S. Coast Guard in order to secure our sea lanes and provide for disaster response;

3. Make a final decision on whether to approve and regulate offshore oil drilling,

4. Elevate Admiral Papp’s role to a permanent Ambassador-level position and

5. Raise the Arctic’s profile by regularly participating in Arctic-focused events.

The full hearing is embedded below, the hearing started about an hour late. Holland’s section begins about 2:30:

 

 

ORAL STATEMENT:

National Security in a Rapidly Changing Arctic

How a Lack of Attention to the Arctic Is Harming America’s Interests

Thank you Chairman Rohrabacher, Ranking Member Keating and members of the Committee for inviting me to testify at today’s hearing on “The United States as an Arctic Nation: Opportunities in the High North.”

I should begin by noting that I cannot claim to be an expert on Arctic affairs, I have written and spoken extensively about it – but I have not yet been above the Arctic Circle.

My research at the American Security Project focuses on energy, environment, and how they affect America’s national security. This means that I care more about geopolitics than I do about Polar Bear habitats.

ASP is a non-partisan national security think tank that focuses on issues of America’s long term national security, ranging from non-proliferation to counter-terrorism, American competitiveness to energy security. Our board of directors includes former Governor Christine Todd Whitman, former Senator Gary Hart, and retired senior flag officers from all four military services.

I think my role in today’s hearing will be to offer a perspective as an outsider – someone who understands international relations and America’s national security needs more than the intricacies of how the Arctic Council works.

For most of human history, the annual melt and re-freezing of the Arctic Ocean was a consistent trend that kept it closed to all but the most intrepid explorers.

It was only in 1909 that Admiral Robert Peary’s expedition became the first to reach the North Pole. In a telegram to then-President Howard Taft, he said “I have the honor to place the North Pole at your disposal.” Taft replied: “Thanks for your interesting and generous offer, I do not know exactly what to do with it.”

As I will explain, I believe that American policy to the Arctic has not changed that much since Taft: we still do not know exactly what to do with it.

Today, melting ice is opening the Arctic. The administration has made climate change in the Arctic a focus of the US Arctic Council Chairmanship – and that is appropriate. But we must do more. The unraveling of the Arctic will have huge costs to all of us. I am concerned that U.S. policies must go much further in planning for an opening Arctic.

During the question and answer time, I am happy to discuss commercial Arctic shipping, Arctic cruises, and drilling for energy resources. My written statement includes extensive analysis of these. I will concentrate my oral statement on the geopolitical and military imbalances I see in the Arctic.

At first glance, there is a clear story line here: a gold rush that leads to a twenty-first century “Scramble for the Arctic” with contested territorial claims, leading to conflict.

But that does not fit.

The institutions governing the Arctic are simply too strong: the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and the Arctic Council have legitimacy among Arctic nations and cooperation has reigned for decades.

That does not mean, however, that there is no threat of conflict over the Arctic. I contend that the danger, in fact, comes from an imbalance of attention and of power.

Put simply, the United States is weak where others are gaining in strength. We are way behind our competitors in our planning for an open Arctic.

This imbalance is most apparent in the military power available in the Arctic.

As the region warms and the ice melts, Arctic nations are constructing new military bases and building new ships that can operate in the harsh environment. At the same time, countries far from the Arctic, including the two most populous nations in the world, China and India, are scrambling to find new geopolitical advantages in the melting ice.

While countries like Russia see Arctic power as central to their national affairs, the United States pays little more than lip-service to our status as an Arctic power.

In nowhere else in the world is the U.S. Navy so clearly outclassed in its ability to perform surface operations as in the Arctic.

Russia’s Northern Fleet is its largest and most powerful. It has conducted extensive exercises in Arctic waters. Russia has re-opened Cold War-era bases all along their Arctic coast, and just two months ago, they opened new radar bases on Wrangel Island only 300 miles from the Alaska coast – which means that the Russian military would be much closer to any drilling operations in American waters than any US military or Coast Guard installation.

Today, neither the Navy nor the Coast Guard have the infrastructure, the ships, nor the political ambition to be able to sustain surface operations in the Arctic in a similar manner. Reading the Department of Defense’s 2013 Arctic Strategy, you come away with the impression that it is a worthy document – but there is no budget to back it up.

Regardless of ‘why’ the U.S. has failed to act in the Arctic, the result is a missed opportunity. The U.S. government, under the leadership of both Republican and Democratic administrations, has all but ignored the Arctic.

We must do more. The extreme conditions in the Arctic mean that planning and investment are necessary. In the harsh environment of the Arctic, a laissez-faire approach will not work: governments must put in place the policies, appropriate the funds, and give political legitimacy to Arctic development in order to exploit these opportunities. The United States has notably combined only tentative policies with very little funding and no high-level political visibility.

There are a few concrete steps that Congress could quickly take in order to exert power in the Arctic:

  1. Ratify the UN Law of the Sea Convention, so that the United States can fully participate in negotiations to determine borders in the Arctic;
  2. Increase funding for S. military presence by either the U.S. Navy or the U.S. Coast Guard in order to secure our sea lanes and provide for disaster response;
  3. Make a final decision on whether to approve and regulate offshore oil drilling,
  4. Elevate Admiral Papp’s role to a permanent Ambassador-level position (Sensenbrunner’s HR 4538 and Begich’s S.270) and
  5. Raise the Arctic’s profile by regularly participating in Arctic-focused events. Members of Congress other than our Alaska Members should.

In the absence of clear statements of policy, backed by high-level attention and resources from the United States, there is a danger over the long run that other countries will misread U.S. intentions about what we perceive as core interests in the Arctic.

The United States is an Arctic nation: we should start acting like one.

 

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