Securing the Northwest Passage

Written by  //  September 10, 2009  //  Arctic and Antarctic, Canada, Geopolitics, Public Policy, U.S.  //  No comments

 Arctic passage close to reality
The retreat of Arctic Ocean ice is allowing two German ships to complete a dream of sailors for centuries: an Arctic shortcut facilitating direct trade between Asia and the West. Thousands of miles shorter than other routes, the Arctic channel — if it is realized as a reliable shipping route — could compete with the Suez Canal. The New York Times (9/10)
6 November 2008
Securing the Northwest Passage Essential

by Jeff Davis
(Embassy Magazine) The polar ice that once made the Northwest Passage a nearly impassable and extremely dangerous sea route is quickly melting, and with increased shipping traffic looming on the horizon, experts agree Canada must beef up its presence in the Arctic or risking losing its claim to these contested waters.
The increased shipping traffic is expected to come from companies looking at the Northwest Passage as a sea shortcut around North America, connecting China to Europe, that will save days from the usual route through the Panama Canal.
But when the passage becomes an increasingly high-traffic zone, now infrequent challenges such as oil and chemical spills, smuggling and ships in distress will become more frequent.
For these reasons, a June 2008 report by the Senate Committee on Fisheries and Oceans recommended Canada get serious about managing the expected increase in shipping traffic, or risk challenges to its already somewhat tenuous claims to the North.
Liberal Senator William Rompkey, who chairs the Senate Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, says other countries such as the United States are concerned that Canadian authorities are not doing enough to manage northern waters.
“The main concern is that there will be absolute anarchy and it will be uncontrolled,” Mr. Rompkey said. “What happens when it’s uncontrolled is a free-for-all and chaos.

The [Canadian] Government’s Arctic Policy
Announced Before and During the Election

• Assert Canada’s rights over our Arctic waters, including the Northwest Passage, and work actively to complete the submission, by 2013, of scientific data on the extent of Canada’s continental shelf under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

• Build a world-class High Arctic Research Station that will be on the cutting edge of Arctic issues, including environmental science and resource development.

• Extend the regulatory zone defined as “arctic waters” under the Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act from its current limit of 100 nautical miles to 200 nautical miles. This will extend the range at which Canada can enforce the anti-pollution provisions in the act.

• Extend to 200 nautical miles the NORDREG reporting zone, which mandates that ships weighing 300 tons or more must provide 24-hours notice before moving into the zone.

• Move from “encouraged” reporting provisions under the current NORDREG system to a mandatory reporting system for all incoming shipping traffic.

• Invest $100 million over five years to map the energy and mineral resources in the Arctic. This is an extension of the $34- million geo-mapping program announced earlier in the year.

• $36 million to expand broadband services to 56 communities in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut.

• Expand the Junior Canadian Rangers Program to include 17 new groups and increase participation by 500 youth, from 3,400. Total investment will be $3.6 million.

Announced in February’s Budget

• Extend the Mineral Exploration Tax Credit for an additional year.

• Increase the daily tax deduction for residents of the North to $16.50, to help attract skilled labour to northern and isolated communities.

• Provide $8 million over two years for a commercial harbour in Pangnirtung, Nunavut.

• Set aside $720 million for a new icebreaker to replace the CCGS Louis S. St-Laurent upon its decommission in 2017. The new icebreaker will be named the CCGS John G. Diefenbaker.

Previously Announced

• Purchase new Arctic offshore patrol ships and build a deep-water Arctic docking and refuelling facility at Nanisivik, Nunavut, for $7.4 billion.

• Spend $62 million over five years advancing the health of the ocean, support greater water pollution prevention and improve surveillance and enforcement along Canada’s coasts, including the Arctic.

• $15 million over three years to create and expand protected areas in the Northwest Territories.

• Establish a $300-million Northern Housing Trust and increase Territorial Formula Financing payments by $195 million between 2006-07 and 2008-09.

“Basically the theme is ‘use it or lose it,’ and at the moment we’re not using it,” the senator continued. “We’re not using it in the sense of responding to the needs of the Inuit, we’re not using it in terms of getting adequate icebreaking capability up there, we’re not using it in terms of adequate search and rescue capability.”
As such, the Senate committee report recommends increased funding for the Coast Guard so it can provide year-round search and rescue capability, provide rapid intervention in response to major environmental accidents and generally “exercise effective control over the Northwest Passage and develop it into a safe and efficient shipping route.”

If Canada can achieve that, Mr. Rompkey said, it has a good chance it can maintain control of the North.

“The Americans want someone to control it,” he said. “They really don’t care who does it, as long as it is patrolled adequately.

“If we get up there and patrol it adequately, they’ll keep quiet on our sovereignty,” he added. “I think that’s the deal. The unspoken agreement.”

The Conservative government and Prime Minister Stephen Harper have striven in recent years to build a reputation as staunch protectors of Canada’s arctic sovereignty.
During this year’s election campaign, protecting arctic sovereignty was identified as a major priority, and Mr. Harper’s “use it or lose it” maxim became a familiar refrain. Nevertheless, the government is still years away from achieving a more robust presence in the Arctic.
Two of the major promises made by the government consist of building 13 new ships capable of patrolling the Arctic. These were 12 arctic patrol ships and one polar-class icebreaker.
These major shipbuilding initiatives, however, are still years away from completion. The new icebreaker, named for former prime minister John Diefenbaker, will not be completed until 2017.
Also, the procurement process for the 12 Coast Guard patrol vessels, identified in the 2006 budget, ran aground last year. Public Works Minister Christian Paradis said at the same time the bidding process was halted because none of the bidders could build the ships for the $750-million set aside for the program.
“These vessels are a key priority of the Government of Canada,” Mr. Paradis said. “However, the government must ensure that Canadian taxpayers receive the best value for their money.”
Another promise made by the government in the last campaign was to “require mandatory notification of any foreign vessels entering Canadian territorial waters.”
Experts consulted by Embassy agreed that such a move would simultaneously increase security, deter pollution and increase perceived Canadian sovereignty in the North.
Currently, ships passing entering Canadian waters in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans are required to register in advance with NORDREG, Canada’s maritime registration system.
As it stands, however, ships passing through Canada’s northern waters are not required to register.
Weeks after the election, the government has not yet taken action to make NORDREG obligatory in Arctic waters.

U.S. Withholding Recognition
As it stands, the United States and many other countries do not recognize Canada’s ownership over the waters of the Northwest Passage.
According to the Senate committee report, Canada’s ownership of its Arctic land property is largely uncontested, with the exception of tiny Hans Island, which is also claimed by Denmark.
Who owns the oceans, however, is more controversial.
While Canada claims the waters between the islands, other countries consider them to be international straits open to unrestricted navigation.
One such country is the United States.
“The U.S. and most other maritime nations disagree with Canada’s position on the Northwest Passage. We, and most others, believe it is a strait used for international navigation,” said a U.S. State Department spokesman last week.
Christopher Joyner, an internationally renowned expert on polar law at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., said one of the primary reasons the U.S. does not recognize Canada’s sovereignty over the Northwest Passage are linked to the U.S. Navy.
“I think [the U.S. decision not to recognize Canadian ownership of arctic waters] is largely on the basis of maintaining high seas freedoms for navigation,” he said. “They don’t want their navies impeded from going from the Atlantic to the Pacific and vice versa.”
A number of experts also said the recognition of Canadian ownership could potentially set a legal precedent that would compromise the U.S. Navy’s rights of navigation through other strategically vital waterways, such as the Dardanelles, the Strait of Hormuz or the Strait of Malacca.
However, some influential Americans see the possibility that America’s position on the ownership of the Northwest Passage could change. Among them is former American ambassador to Canada Paul Cellucci, who addressed the issue at the annual conference of the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute, held in Ottawa last week.
Mr. Cellucci said he thinks the United States should recognize Canada’s ownership of arctic waters so Canada can effectively interdict ships in the Northwest Passage, something it could not easily do in an international strait.
“I’ve concluded it’s in the security interest of the United States of America to recognize the Canadians’ claims to these waters,” he said. “If in fact this becomes a major shipping lane, and if in fact some terrorist organizations wants to get a weapon of mass destruction into North America, they could well try to do it by ship.
“I personally want the Canadians to be able to stop those ships in Canadian waters to make sure they can protect the security of the people of Canada and the U.S.,” Mr. Cellucci continued.
This opinion was echoed in the Senate report: “If the Passage were considered an international strait (as the United States claims it to be)…the Passage could potentially be used for illegal activities, such as drug smuggling, illegal immigration, trafficking or even imports of weapons of mass destruction.
“Put simply, U.S. security interests would be better protected if the United States recognized Canada’s sovereignty and control.”
A more likely outcome, it seems, is some sort of joint U.S.-Canada management of Arctic waters.
In February 2008, a group of 13 leading experts on the North from Canada and the U.S. met to hold a “Model Negotiation on Northern Waters.”
The group of academics, former military officers and diplomats concluded after two days of negotiations that the best way to manage the north would be to create a bi-national management body.
The proposed U.S.-Canada Arctic Navigation Commission, they agreed, should be established to “address their common interests in navigation, environmental protection, security, safety and sustainable economic development.”
The new commission, the experts recommended, should follow the model of successful bilateral International Joint Commission and operate within the already legislated framework of already legislated bi-national research body, the Arctic Institute of North America.
While the Senate report endorsed this as a way to jointly manage the North without resolving the troublesome underlying legal dispute, neither the U.S. or Canadian government has yet endorsed the proposal.

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