Pentagon releases its version of 'Arctic Strategy'
Posted in the Minneapolis Forum
#1 Nov 27, 2013
In the face of the reduction of Arctic ice that allowed 500 ships to sail the Northern Sea Route between Alaska and Russia in 2012—a 50 percent increase over the past decade that is expected to increase 10 times—the Pentagon has issued a 14-page white paper, Arctic Strategy. It's the Defense Department's approach to implementing the National Strategy for the Arctic Region released by the White House in May. But it's not nearly so focused on fossil-fuel extraction as that document's much-criticized emphasis. Carey Biron of Interpress News Service writes:
“This new strategy is hugely important in that it recognises the growing influence of the Arctic both to the United States and as an area of potential military operations,” Seth Myers, a research associate with the Arctic Institute, a Washington think tank, told IPS.“But the biggest question it raises is how any new capability will be paid for” in an era of intense budget-cutting in Washington.
The strategy depicts the Arctic as at an “inflection point,” both in terms of the reduction in ice cover and increase in human activity.[...]
“With Arctic sea routes starting to see more activities like tourism and commercial shipping, the risk of accidents increases. Migrating fish stocks will draw fishermen to new areas, challenging existing management plans,”[Defense Secretary Chuck] Hagel told a security conference in Canada on Friday, where he announced the new strategy.
“And while there will be more potential for tapping what may be as much as a quarter of the planet’s undiscovered oil and gas, a flood of interest in energy exploration has the potential to heighten tensions over other issues.”
In fact, the biggest question the white paper raises is just how cooperative vs. how much business-as-usual U.S. Arctic strategy will actually be.
Less than a decade ago, global warming deniers were still getting uncritical mainstream media coverage for their claims that Arctic ice was not melting at an historically unprecedented rate. Now scientists think it won't be very long before there will be a month or more in the summer when the Arctic is almost entirely ice free, with all that such a circumstance entails. The negative impacts on the Arctic are already being felt, not least by the communities of circumpolar Inuit peoples.
A warmer Arctic doesn't only mean less ice, it also means that the permafrost in the region is losing its permanence and releasing prodigious amounts of methane, as noted most recently in a study published Sunday in Nature Geoscience and, as reported in June by FishOutofWater, in NASA's study via the Carbon in Arctic Reservoirs Vulnerability Experiment. While methane doesn't last as long in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, it has 21 times the near-term heat-trapping capacity of carbon dioxide.
The grim prospects of melting permafrost have not stopped the exploiters from revving up proposals for getting at the resources of the Arctic being made relatively more accessible by global warming. The most avid rubbing of palms comes, ironically, from the presence of fossil fuel resources whose extraction and burning elsewhere on the planet are a key cause of warming. Some 15 percent of remaining oil reserves and 30 percent of natural gas is estimated to be beneath the Arctic seabed. Gazprom, the state-backed Russian oil company has already started drilling and Shell has made some unsuccessful attempts
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