Protecting the Arctic
Written evidence submitted by the Arctic Advisory Group
· In geopolitical terms the emergence of economic natural resources, potential international trade routes opening across the Arctic, and the resultant linkage of Eastern and Western markets, alters the strategic and geopolitical value of the Circumpolar North in the 21st Century.
· Britain is well-placed to maintain its position in the Arctic through its contribution to science, its environmental record, and (in due course) exploitation of UK commercial institutions’ expertise (Lloyds, IMO, OSPAR, and the City and industry).
· Strategically, this paper argues, through inter-state burden sharing (which since 2011 is increasingly de rigueur for all parties involved in the Circumpolar North), the UK may be able to reinforce its position in the Arctic, by teaming up for instance, with Arctic Council (AC) nations/business to design and build infrastructure in the Circumpolar North, upon which environmental protection (EP) and sustainable development (SD) measures can be actually implemented.
· There is increasing realisation by all parties (governments, NGOs, militaries, business and indigenous peoples) that without such infrastructure in place, SD and EP implementation is simply not possible in the Arctic. This is a profoundly important conclusion that requires deep deliberation and analysis, as it has implications for the future shape of the Arctic in the 21st Century.
· Since 2011 it is increasingly clear that the bar to entry has been raised in the Arctic by the AC states. Strategic burden sharing, a common political vision, and economic commitment are the minimum requirements for new entrants, AC states - and existing AC Observer status countries. This partly reflects this necessary and emerging strategic commitment outlined above.
1. THE REQUIREMENT
Consequently the UK’s Arctic policy may need to be reviewed in terms of its diplomatic and strategic objectives in order to reflect this emerging geopolitical reality and its specific impact on UK energy security of supply, fisheries policy, and the structure and governance of a strategic global trade route(s) emerging across the Arctic. Stated UK (and AC) guiding principles of SD and EP of the Arctic are both critical to the governance and management of any incipient globalization of the Circumpolar North, but they now need to be converted from statements of intent to implementation. Commerce and various UK institutions’ capabilities should also be incorporated into any new/revised UK Arctic policy to exploit the commercial opportunities appearing. This includes the building of Arctic infrastructure to support SD and EP measures for which industry will ultimately be responsible.
Tim Reilly is also a researcher at the Scott Polar Research Institute (SPRI), University of Cambridge. The views expressed here are only those of the Arctic Advisory Group, and not SPRI.
Four areas of interest may be considered for immediate consideration:
· Review of UK Arctic Policy - in line with all AC states.
· Appointment of an ambassadorial figure to represent specific UK Arctic interests in AC countries. (precedent set in early 2000s by appointment of businessman to Caspian region)
· Review SDSR implications of Britain’s diminished ability to offer a Burden sharing capability in the Arctic (military assistance with Search & Rescue capability, airborne and under-sea surveillance, oil-spill clean-up, and fisheries enforcement, for example)
· Consider the lack of infrastructure build-out implications on ability to implement EP & SD policy
2. RELEVANCE AND JUSTIFICATION
The cacophony of sound from British academia, commerce, think tanks - and encouragingly from certain Arctic states (especially Canada and Norway) - and Brussels as well, for the UK to maintain its commitment and capability in the Arctic is now reaching the public ear, and must therefore be addressed by government. It is not a surprise that the recent TV series, "Frozen Planet" caused so many column inches in the broadsheets or that The Times’ atlas debacle over the degree of ice melt in Greenland, was given so much media time (including on the BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme). With the Scott Centenary being celebrated this year as well, the public interest in the Arctic is destined to intensify and continue.
3. AN EMERGING ARCTIC
Significant events in the Arctic during the course of 2011 have elevated the importance of the Circumpolar North in many Arctic Council members’ and governments’ policies. In isolation the Russian-Norway boundary settlement, the BP/Exxon-Rosneft oil deal, increasing Asian presence in the Arctic, some progress in sustainable development measures, (the introduction of the Polar Code; the agreement between Arctic countries to coordinate and equip Search and Rescue activities), and Chinese acquisition of territory in Iceland are important but tactical measures.
Collectively however they represent a political and strategic turning point in how the Arctic is viewed and valued. This reassessment has been reflected in the number and frequency of visits by Heads of State (including most significantly the President of the USA) to the region in the latter part of 2011, and the numerous announcements of revised Arctic policies and white papers by governments, both within and without the Circumpolar North. No such policy review has taken place in the UK.
4. TRENDS AND THREATS
As a result of these recent events in 2011, some crucial trends are emerging, even at this early stage:
The scale of challenges to develop the region is beyond the means (and choice) of any one Arctic nation; this means that the entry ticket for players into the region is one of demonstrable burden-sharing - and de facto political and economic commitment. It also suggests that commerce must be part of any UK policy, as it will pay for, construct and kick-start the steady globalization of the Arctic and crucially, be operationally and legally responsible for EP and SD in the Circumpolar North.
The position adopted by the AC membership to maintain and control Arctic governance on the basis of state sovereignty and UNCLOS, (with which the UK fully agrees), will come under international pressure as the Arctic’s climate effects increasingly impact external states and their own domestic interests. The UK could play an important role in working with the EU in shaping an EU Arctic position (this has been mooted by the author and was very well received in Brussels by key DGs in the Commission), as well as discussing options with Asian states who seek Observer status in the AC.
It is increasingly obvious that without strategic infrastructure in place there can be no realistic SD in the Arctic, and thus EP measures - the partner of SD - are meaningless too. These three trends are of profound significance in terms of the UK’s stated Arctic Principles, and the broader internationally supported requirement for a safe, stable, and enduring development of the Circumpolar North.
Paradoxically the only sector (in collaboration with states) that is capable of investing in large scale Arctic infrastructure development is the energy industry. Whilst there are justifiable reasons to question hydrocarbon exploitation in the Arctic on the grounds of SD and EP, it should be understood that the geopolitical value of the energy sector is that it is the necessary precursor and agent of Arctic globalization, via its ability to develop and invest in regional infrastructure build-out.
The Northern Sea Route (NSR) for instance, is the logical route for hydrocarbon evacuation to Asia/China (Exxon-Rosneft’s target market is China). Once structurally and economically operational for use by the international energy industry, the NSR will in turn facilitate the wider (non-energy) globalization of the region (shipping, communications, technology applications, logistics, tourism, etc.) as a global trade route, and profoundly alter the geopolitics and economics of the Arctic in the C21.
6. STRATEGIC SIGNIFICANCE
Thus it is no surprise that two of the most recent significant developments in Arctic SD and EP measures are a Polar Code (the biggest ship owners in the world are oil companies) and a Search and Rescue (SAR) development plan; both are intimately concerned with Arctic oil operations but they are also essential building blocks for the operational commissioning of a global, trans Arctic shipping route – the NSR, in due course, which will link Eastern and Western markets/centres of production.
The infrastructure created in the Arctic can then provide the platform for substantial SD and EP implementation – required for the wider globalization of the Circumpolar North. The recent SDSR cuts to military capability in the Arctic has made Britain’s burden sharing contribution to the implementation of the Polar Code and SAR - with regard to the Arctic oil industry (including our own) and its concomitant effect on SD and EP – somewhat depleted. This has been noted with surprise by at least one Arctic state (Norway).
7. "WATCHING BRIEF" OPTION
The combination of a C2O UK Arctic policy, a lack of a UK voice and leadership actually in the region, a slowness to coordinate with UK institutions/agencies that could directly contribute to all UK Arctic objectives (BAS, SPRI, IMO, Lloyds, the City, and the Oil industry/NGOs), and the detrimental effect of the UK’s Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), on burden sharing Arctic operations, are all limiting the UK’s capacity to continue to support an Arctic presence. As a consequence the requirement to demonstrably contribute to burden sharing in the Arctic, (in order to be a part of the shaping of the region) and enforce our principal objectives of SD and EP will become difficult to implement. At that stage the Arctic Council may consider British views on, and input into policy and economic matters, increasingly irrelevant.
8. THE RECOMMENDATION
It is therefore logical and politically sensible for the UK at the very least to review its position in order to identify any policy gaps caused by recent developments in the Arctic, analyse the implications of such policy gaps, via expert advice, and thus quantify in political and economic terms the benefits and challenges of any increased engagement (or not) in the Circumpolar North in the C21. What would be foolhardy to do is to assume that the present "watching brief" will continue to protect, promote, and expand UK interests in the Arctic in the C21.
Standing still is a questionable policy, but when other countries are actively reviewing their Arctic policies and moving forward, the UK’s position in the first XI of non-Arctic Observer countries engaged in the Circumpolar North is in effect going backwards. Furthermore its interests may become side-lined and its policy input into Arctic globalization (principally via the AC) increasingly ignored. This will all be compounded when (not if), countries such as China, Japan, S. Korea (and the EU) eventually gain Observer Membership status of the AC; the UK’s influence in the AC will inevitably be diluted by such a development.
AIM: TO REVIEW AND ENHANCE PRESENT UK ARCTIC POLICY
9. Internal Actions Required
A. RAISING AWARENESS
· Commission study on state of Arctic play from Polar experts: with input from academia, business, NGOs and government.
· Structurally incorporate (invite) external expertise onto HMG Polar committees, advisory boards and policy brain-storming sessions in order to inform (but not create) UK policy formulation.
· Offer structured briefings to key departments (MoD, DECC, FCO, DEFRA, DFID, BIS, UKTI etc.) in order to raise awareness and garner support for review of UK Arctic policy
· Raise issue in Cabinet, looking for Ministerial "sponsorship" - following departmental briefings and feedback
· Conduct series of one-to-one briefings with key PPSs in targeted ministries/departments.
B. DISCUSSION WITH OFFICIALS – SDSR AND EFFECTS ON ARCTIC POLICY AND UK ROLE
C. DISCUSSION WITH COMMERCIAL ORGANIZATIONS/INSTITUTIONS ON ARCTIC POLICY
D. CONSIDER CREATING A GEOPOLITICAL/STRATEGIC ORIENTED POLAR CENTRE OF EXPERTISE IN UK. (NON- EXIST ANT AT PRESENT)
E. CULMINATION: DEBATE IN HOUSE OF COMMONS ON ARCTIC POLICY FOR C21.
10. External Actions Required
A. APPOINT ARCTIC AMBASSADORIAL FIGURE/COORDINATOR FOR ARCTIC/POLES
· To coordinate Arctic efforts in UK between departments and government offices
· Represent UK Arctic interests abroad and explain revised UK Arctic policy to AC
· Maintain/increase physical presence in region, (conferences, workshops, speeches, publications/interviews, bi-lateral talks)
· Interface with British/Arctic industry (e.g. oil/infrastructure/shipping) in situ, to understand commercial issues and political needs.
· Interface at home with academia, Think Tanks, commercial institutions (IMO/Lloyds, OSPAR) and academia
· To be tasked by HMG when/where appropriate
· Make regular and detailed strategic and tactical recommendations to HMG
· Individual would be expected to spend at least 50-75% of his/her time abroad
B. DISCUSS ARCTIC STRATEGY/ CONCEPT WITH NORWAY.
C. OPEN DIALOGUE WITH NON-ARCTIC STATES THAT HAVE GENUINE ARCTIC INTERESTS
D. ENGAGE BI-LATERALLY WITH RUSSIA (ENERGY / INFRASTRUCTURE/ SHIPPING AND SECURITY). EMPHASIS ON BURDEN SHARING (SAR/Surveillance/IT/Finance/Lloyds, The City etc)
E. ESTABLISH WORKING ARCTIC GROUP WITH EU (INCLUDE NORWAY) IN ORDER TO "SHAPE" EU ARCTIC POLICY IN C21.
22 February 2012