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Murkowski Remarks to Conference on U.S. Strategic Interests in the Arctic

WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, today delivered remarks to a conference on the U.S. Strategic Interests in the High North hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and the Norwegian Institute for Defense Studies. Sen. Murkowski was the keynote speaker at the conference and offered a congressional perspective on the challenges and opportunities in the Arctic.

Following are Murkowski's remarks to the group, as prepared for delivery:

Remarks of U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska
'A Congressional Perspective on the Challenges and Opportunities in the Arctic"
CSIS and Norwegian Institute for Defense Studies Conference
Wednesday, April 28, 2010

*** As Prepared for Delivery ***

"Thank you and good morning.  I first want to thank CSIS and the Norwegian Institute for Defense Studies for sponsoring this conference.  As usual, you have attracted some of the top experts on the Arctic as speakers and panelists and I am sorry that I will not be able to attend the conference myself.

"It is a pleasure to be back at CSIS to talk about one of my favorite subjects, the Arctic.  There is a growing public interest in the region. It is primarily due to the impacts of climate change, the loss of sea ice and the increased access to natural resources.  And of course, attention on the polar bear has also attracted interest in the high north.  The significance of the region, from both Arctic and non-Arctic states, is gaining appreciation.

"Until recently, the resources of the Arctic were deemed to be too difficult and expensive to develop. But with increasing access and high energy and mineral prices, the Arctic's wealth, which is estimated to contain approximately 22 percent of the world's remaining oil and gas reserves, is now being actively explored and developed.

"I believe we are at a critical time in the Arctic.  It has been identified that there are two paths that we can go down in regards to international relations- one is a path of competition and conflict, and the other is one of cooperation and diplomacy.  I believe the decision on which path we ultimately take will require dynamic leadership.

"One of the first areas that we need leadership is in the United States and the Senate ratification of the Convention for the Law of the Sea Treaty. I believe it is crucial for the United States to be a party to this Treaty and be a player in the process, rather than an outsider hoping our interests are not damaged. Accession to the Convention would give current and future administrations both enhanced credibility and leverage in calling upon other nations to meet Convention responsibilities. Given the support for the Treaty by Arctic nations and the drive to develop natural resources, the Treaty will also provide the environmental framework to develop these resources while minimizing environmental impacts.

"The United States is the only Arctic State that is not a party to the Law of the Sea convention, having first submitted the treaty to the U.S. Senate for approval in 1994 but not yet acceded to it.  Canada and Denmark joined the treaty in 2003 and 2004 respectively.  Until the U.S. accedes to the treaty it cannot submit its data regarding the extent of its extended continental shelf to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, established under the Treaty.  Without a Commission recommendation regarding such data, the legal foundation for ECS limits is much less certain than if the U.S. were a party to the Treaty.

"The United States must ratify the treaty but we remain at a stalemate: the White House looks to the Senate to lead and the Senate waits for stronger support from the Administration.  In part, the Senate calendar is to blame.  It is anticipated that should the majority leader move the Treaty to the Senate floor, it would consume at least a week of floor time.  And considering that there are less than 45 legislative days before the August recess, it is highly uncertain that such time will be carved out unless it becomes a priority for this Administration.  Given the President's focus on advancing the START Treaty, I see even less of an opportunity to schedule the Law of the Sea Treaty this year.  Unfortunately, failure to ratify continues to keep the United States at a disadvantage internationally and outside the process, without a seat at the table.

"I spoke of the two possible paths forward and I want to expound on that for a minute.  While some have described a scenario where the Arctic is undergoing an "arms race" or a "race for resources", I am not convinced that this is the case.  I do believe that there is some posturing going on, especially between Canada and Russia, but much of that is not translating into action.

"The Canadian government has taken a number of steps and statements to assert their sovereignty in the region including the release of a "Northern Strategy"; planning of a military base in the Canadian Arctic archipelago; plans to build a fleet of ice-strengthened patrol boats and renaming the NW passage the "Canadian NW Passage.

"Russia, meanwhile, has also shown some increasingly assertive behavior in regards to military and economic expansion in the Arctic.  The Russian Security Council released details of how it will conduct its Arctic policy in a document entitled, "The fundamentals of Russian state policy in the Arctic up to 2020 and beyond."

"The Russian document touches upon sustainable development and environmental conservation, and even emphasizes the need to preserve the Arctic as a "zone of peace and cooperation".  While the new strategy does reaffirm the determination of the country to establish a new military unit designed to protect the country's Arctic territory, onshore and offshore, the policy is clearly much broader than that.

"The United States issued a new updated policy for the Arctic in the January 2009 National Security Presidential Directive on Arctic policy.  I am pleased to see progress is being made again after a lengthy transition with the new administration.  The State Department is leading the effort to implement the policy and various agencies are moving forward on implementation.

"The United States Navy has a new roadmap for the Arctic and I have asked them to study the feasibility of a deepwater port in the far north.  This study will determine whether it is in the strategic interest of the United States, as I believe it is, to build a port and where it might be located.  A deep water port would not only serve our military and Coast Guard needs, but as we develop our offshore oil and gas reserves and see more shipping, tourism and vessel traffic in the Arctic, a deep water port could provide valuable support for these activities as well.   The study is anticipated to be completed by 2011.

"The U.S. Coast Guard has embarked on their own high latitude study to determine what assets and infrastructure they need to be prepared for an ice diminished Arctic Ocean.  This Arctic assessment should be done by 2011.  With increased maritime activity in the Arctic and such a shortage of infrastructure, it is vital we determine what the needs are and actively work to provide resources to protect the Arctic residents and environment.

"Other nations, without coastlines in the Arctic, are also showing an increasingly strong interest in the region.  The Chinese have one icebreaker, plan to build more, and have a very active polar research program.  South Korean shipyards are now leading the world in the construction of ice breakers, mostly of Finnish design, and ice strengthened tankers and freighters.  Both countries, along with Italy and the European Union, have applied for observer status at the Arctic Council.  The EU, through the European Commission and the European Parliament, is gradually developed an Arctic policy to address EU interests in the region as well.

"As we all are keenly aware, while the Arctic is becoming more and more ice free in the summer months, Arctic ice is not going to completely disappear.  One of the major challenges we face is our aging ice breaker fleet.  As you know, the U.S. has one operating heavy ice breaker, the Polar Sea and one light icebreaker/research vessel, the Healy.   I was able to get an appropriation to refurbish the other heavy ice breaker, the Polar Star last year, and fund the United States Coast Guard to do a study to determine whether we need to rebuild or replace our polar class vessels, but no matter the result of the study, we must have the commitment of the Administration and Congress that ice breakers are a national priority.  And I will do all I can to advocate that position.

"As you may have also observed, in the last few years the governance of the Arctic has become even more complex.  In 2008, the five coastal states bordering the Arctic Ocean - Canada, Denmark, Norway, the Russian Federation and the United States of America, perceiving growing interest in the region and perhaps somewhat preemptively, issued a declaration that reaffirmed their role as the primary stakeholders of the high north, reinforced the Law of the Sea as the law of the land and mechanism for resolving potential overlapping Arctic Ocean claims.  Because they did not include the other permanent participants of the Arctic Council, there were a number of concerns raised.

"This issue came up again recently in Chelsea, Quebec on March 29 of this year.  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who I must say has been a champion for the Arctic in this administration, attended a one day Arctic summit.  Only the Arctic coastal states were invited and participated and Secretary Clinton criticizing Canada for not inviting all those with legitimate interests in the polar region.  Both the indigenous community and Arctic nations Sweden, Finland and Iceland voiced their concerns that they were left out.

"While conflict in the region may not be imminent, certainly there are many competing interests and views of the region.  And this really leads us some fundamental questions- who are the major stakeholders on issues of Arctic governance, what are their interests, and what are their roles?

"The Arctic offers a great opportunity to work collaboratively and cooperatively.  The Arctic is one area in which the Obama Administration can highlight international cooperation in the implementation of U.S. foreign policy. 

"This follows the Administration's intent to "reset" relations with Russia and the Arctic is the perfect place to start that process.

"There are many examples of this cooperation, such as the Canada-US Arctic Cooperation Agreement on the NW Passage. This 1988 bilateral agreement allows for practical cooperation regarding matters relating to the Northwest Passage while affirming that the two countries agree to disagree about the status of the passage under applicable international law. It demonstrates a capacity to collaborate in functional terms without resolving legal differences.

"I have already mentioned the Arctic Council, but there are other effective forums for international dialogue on the Arctic including the Standing Committee of Arctic Parliamentarians, of which I am a member; the Nordic Council of Ministers; the Barents Euro-Arctic Council and the Northern Forum.  We must also recognize the valuable contribution that organizations like the Inuit Circumpolar Council have played in representing the indigenous people's interests in the far north.

"There are also many agreements between Arctic states.  In regards to fisheries alone, we have agreements between Norway, Iceland and the Russian Federation in the Barents Sea; the United States and Russia on Pollock stocks in the Bering Sea, and the EU and Norway in Svalbard. My former colleague Ted Stevens and I introduced a Senate Resolution that became law in 2008.

" It calls on the U.S. to enter into international discussions and take necessary steps with other Arctic nations to agree on management of migratory, transboundary, and straddling fish stocks in the Arctic Ocean.  I am pleased that the Administration has been doing so at every opportunity, including when Secretary Clinton met with the Foreign Ministers of other Arctic coastal nations in Canada last month.  Last October, Anchorage played host to the International Arctic Fisheries Symposium, which brought together scientists, fisheries managers and policy makers from around the Arctic Region to consider next steps.  I understand that Norway is offering to host a follow-up meeting in the near future.  We need to promote cooperative scientific research into the changing Arctic ecosystem as a first step toward managing new fisheries that may occur there.

"An area of perceived competition is in extended continental shelf claims of the Arctic states.  While there has been a dramatic increase in mapping activity in the Arctic, it is actually an area of much agreement. Canada and Greenland have agreed on delimitation of the continental shelf between them, as Norway has with Iceland and Greenland on Jan Meyen Island. 

The United States and Canada have been working the last two summers on extended continental shelf data collection in the Arctic and are scheduled to work again in the summer of 2010.  The US Icebreaker Healy completed the second summer of joint mapping with the Canadian icebreaker Louis St. Laurent.  Though each ship has their own equipment in order to accomplish the mission, combining their efforts provides better data and they can cover more area together.   Norway and Russia are also working together to jointly survey the Barents Sea area.

"And in the latest development of international cooperation, just yesterday, Russia and Norway announced that they have reached agreement on the resolution of their maritime boundary in the Arctic and on the management of fisheries and potential mineral development in the region. The next step is to develop a treaty between the two nations and regulations governing joint development of the resources.

"This agreement is a significant step forward in eliminating the most significant  boundary dispute among the Arctic states.

"The Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment recommended the development of a comprehensive multinational Arctic Search and Rescue instrument among the eight Arctic nations.  I am very pleased to report that the U.S. State Department and Russian Federation are leading the negotiations with a goal of having an agreement ready to be signed by Arctic ministers when the Arctic Council convenes in April 2011.

"On three occasions over the past 125 years scientists from around the world banded together to organize concentrated scientific and exploration programs in the polar regions.  The latest effort, the International Polar Year, which lasted from 2007 until March 2009, was one of the largest collaborative scientific endeavors in history, with over 200 projects involving 50,000 people from over 60 nations.  This effort will dramatically increase our knowledge of the Arctic and hopefully will establish a lasting legacy of Arctic research.  It was certainly one of the most collaborative multi-national efforts we have ever seen.

"So, what does the future hold for the Arctic?  I believe that the pace of change in the Arctic demands that greater attention be focused on the region. The implications of the dynamic changing Arctic for the residents and important U.S. security, economic, environmental, and political interests, depend on it.  Is it going to be an area of multilateral cooperation or is it going to be an area of conflict? 

"I am hopeful that is will be one of cooperation.  But it will take robust diplomacy and very likely, recognition, as Secretary Clinton reminded us, that interest in the Arctic is not just limited to the five Arctic coastal states, or even the eight countries who are permanent members of the Arctic Council.  It will take a level of cooperation and collaboration to include the non-Arctic states as well.  I am pleased that ever so slowly, the United States seems to be waking up to the fact that we are, indeed, an Arctic nation. 

"I am confident that with the leadership of members of Congress, the Administration and from the Arctic community at large, we can continue to highlight the strategic importance of the Arctic for the United States. Thank you."

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