Friday, January 30, 2009

"The Battle for the Arctic" on CBC

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) last night broadcast a new documentary called "The Battle for the Arctic." Unfortunately, it is only available to watch in Canada. However, you can watch a trailer here. The New York Times has a good 5 minute video synopsis as well.

There are two things that are driving the rush to exploit the Arctic. The obvious one is the acceleration of summertime melting. This means that areas previously covered by ice year round are now able to be exploited for material gain. The second driver of exploitation in the Arctic is the UN's Law of the Sea treaty, which could extend the sovereign reach of a nation out beyond the current 200 mile exclusive economic zone, if that country can prove scientifically that their continental shelf extends further. However, they've only got 10 years to prove that. Russia's ten years expires at the end of this year. Canada has until 2013. The United States has not ratified the treaty, so they're left out for now.

The gist of the CBC documentary seems to be that the Canadians are far behind the Russians and the Americans in the far north. Although I can't speak for the Russians, the United States has not yet made the investments necessary for a true arctic naval presence. Although USNavy submarines have had a 50-year presence under the arctic, we don't have the icebreakers needed for a surface presence.

The Russians, however, seem to be the most active in the arctic. The flag planting was the most visible, but they appear to be trying to figure out how to use their existing naval resources in the arctic. This announcement from the Russian Navy says that they may be looking at their nuclear submarine fleet as undersea oil drilling rigs.

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