November 18, 2009
The dwindling Arctic ice cap has launched an international race for control of northern waters: Russia, Canada, Denmark, and even China are hustling to expand their military presence, plant flags and eye those 90 billion barrels of natural gas under the cap. Now the U.S. Navy’s getting ready for the thaw, with a strategic plan to maximize the U.S. stake up north.
The Navy’s Arctic Roadmap (.pdf), written by the recently launched Navy Task Force Climate Change (TFCC), opens with an acknowledgment that worldwide temperatures are on the rise — especially up north. “The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the globe. While significant uncertainty exists in projections for Arctic ice extent, the current scientific consensus indicates the Arctic may experience nearly ice-free summers sometime in the 2030s,” the document notes.
Then the Arctic Roadmap sets out a three-phase plan to secure U.S. interests in the Arctic. Because there’s a lot at stake under that melting cap: energy reserves, transport lanes and potential territory disputes.
It’s the latest in a series of efforts by the sea service to cope with climate change. Just last month, the Navy announced its intention to deploy “an energy-efficient ‘Great Green Fleet’ carrier strike group consisting of ships powered either by nuclear energy or biofuels with an attached air wing of fighter jets fueled entirely by biofuels,” Military.com’s Greg Grant reported.
One of the Navy’s main goals in the warmed-up Arctic is international diplomacy and “cooperative partnerships.” But amid rising military competition, the document also reflects preparation for potential discord. The plan includes an assessment of Arctic stakeholders and their motivations, to “determine the most dangerous and the most likely threats” and “provide opportunities for cooperative solutions.” That data will be used in strategic analysis, by applying game theory “to consider the interdependencies between actors and actions.” Then the Navy wants to strengthen key international military and business partnerships, to improve “operations, training and common investments.”
The TFCC also hopes to catch up with countries that already have a heavy Arctic presence, and get more U.S. personnel up north. That starts with a fleet readiness assessment, to “identify current capabilities and limitations” and create a list of research and tech projects that will improve everything from underwater warfare to oil spill cleanup. Then there’s expanding the Navy’s participation in Arctic training, and their observation of foreign programs like Canada’s Nanook, a disaster-prep program that the Navy sat in on last August.
Finally, the Navy’s got to put out the right spin to civilian media outlets, so that Americans and the international community “believe the Navy is contributing to a safe, secure and stable Arctic region.” Included in the PR targets: major U.S. newspapers, the Weather Network — and Facebook.
Of course, we may not see many tangible results of the Arctic Roadmap until the cap melts. Which is why the plan includes a thorough environmental monitoring section, so that the Navy can accurately predict “specifically when, and to what extent ice caps will recede, allowing for increased maritime access to the Arctic.”
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