May 11, 2013

As Arctic thaws, competition heats up

While new shipping lanes will be welcome, the real prize is the vast, untapped supply of oil and gas.

By LARA JAKES The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

Scientists Jens Ehn and Christie Wood
click image to enlarge

Scientists conduct research in the Chukchi Sea in the Arctic Ocean. President Obama has announced a new U.S. strategy for the Arctic, and the eight-nation Arctic Council meets next week in Kiruna, Sweden, where Secretary of State John Kerry will represent the U.S.


Next year, the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard will draw up plans to have an enduring presence in the Arctic and be able to run search and rescue operations there, Navy chief Adm. Jonathan Greenert said in congressional testimony last month.

The military ramp-up is a piece of what experts say is an inevitable political competition that will grow in the Arctic as it opens. The region -- and the economic and military forces flocking to it -- is potentially the latest front to pit the U.S. and other Western powers against uneasy allies like China and Russia.

"This is going to now become a part of the bigger issue: What are the overall political and policy perspectives with respect to China or Russia or the EU?" said Bob Corell, who advises the U.S. and foreign governments about Arctic issues and is a principal at the Global Environment and Technology foundation in suburban Washington.

"It's about how does the decision-making in the Arctic fit into larger relationship with, say, China, and that's a new ballgame," Corell said. "And it's one that's really come onto the front just in the last few years, largely because the melting is occurring much faster than we ever expected."

Russia is readying a request to the United Nations for claim territory rights to a sprawling underwater ridge that extends to Canada. Experts say that has unnerved officials in Washington and Ottawa. If accepted, it would give Russia claim to almost half of the Arctic area. The U.S. is not a signatory to the U.N. treaty that charters such decisions, and would therefore not have a vote in the matter.

Fourteen governments -- including China, India, Singapore and the European Union -- now are seeking rights to attend meetings of the eight-nation Arctic Council as observers. Eight nations - Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the U.S. - are members of the council. Additionally, six European nations are considered permanent observers and are allowed to attend the meetings. The council meets next week in Kiruna, Sweden, where Kerry will represent the U.S.


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