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Well, not only the United States Navy, but the world’s military leaders believe climate change is real, particularly with regard to the Arctic. In fact, the military chiefs of the eight main Arctic powers — Canada, the U.S., Russia, Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland — gathered at a Canadian military base last week to specifically discuss regional security issues.
The concern is not so much territorial disputes (we carved up the Arctic a long time ago), but border enforcement and disaster preparedness. Mankind has a deplorable record of creating disasters before the mechanisms are in place to deal with them, just as it has a deplorable record of trying to make an illegal buck by trespassing on other countries’ borders (look at a map and see if you can guess where, along the Canadian coastline, a small smuggler’s vessel could come ashore… now figure out how to stop it).
The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil and 30 percent of its untapped natural gas is in the Arctic. Shipping lanes could be regularly open across the Arctic by 2030 as rising temperatures continue to melt the sea ice, according to a National Research Council analysis commissioned by the U.S. Navy last year.
The United States is actually the least able of the Arctic powers to respond to anything on the surface. We may have the best Arctic submarine fleet, bar none, but we have no Navy icebreakers or any of the land-based support facilities to patrol our part of the ocean. Actually, we do have one icebreaker – it belongs to the Coast Guard.
Noting that the Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the globe, in 2009 the U.S. Navy announced a beefed-up Arctic Roadmap by its own task force on climate change that called for a three-stage strategy to increase readiness, build cooperative relations with Arctic nations and identify areas of potential conflict.
A summary of a simulation conducted by the Naval War College released last month found the Navy is “inadequately prepared to conduct sustained maritime operations in the Arctic” because it lacks ships able to operate in or near Arctic ice, support facilities and adequate communications.
“The findings indicate the Navy is entering a new realm in the Arctic,” said Walter Berbrick, a War College professor who participated in the simulation. “Instead of other nations relying on the U.S. Navy for capabilities and resources, sustained operations in the Arctic region will require the Navy to rely on other nations for capabilities and resources.”
“The Navy seems to be very on board regarding the reality of climate change and the especially large changes we are seeing in the Arctic,” said Mark C. Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences University of Colorado. “There is already considerable collaboration between the Navy and civilian scientists and I see this collaboration growing in the future.”
Great. Fantastic. Congress will jump on increasing oil and gas exploration. BUT, will they fund what our military needs to be in place for the first oil spill or drilling platform explosion?
Probably not. That would require them to accept climate change and accept responsibility for the activities of their donors in that fragile, changing environment.