POLI 369B(3): International Politics of the Arctic (Fall 2016)
For decades, the Arctic was on the front-lines of the Cold War. Today, the region is changing at an unprecedented rate due to climate change, the extraction of natural resources, and the efforts of coastal states to secure offshore jurisdictional claims. This upper-year undergraduate course canvasses a range of political and legal issues, from the disputes over Hans Island and the boundary in the Beaufort Sea, to shipping in the Northwest Passage and the Northern Sea Route, to the assertion of sovereign rights over areas of seabed more than 200 nautical miles from shore, to the protection of high seas fisheries in the Central Arctic Ocean. The environmental, security and geopolitical dimensions of a rapidly opening Arctic will also be considered, along with the role of indigenous peoples and the Arctic Council.
Visit of giant cruise ship will bring money and tourists to the Northwest Passage, but fears grow for the area’s people and its ecosystem
Robin McKie, Observer science editor, 21 August 2016
In a few days, one of the world’s largest cruise ships, the Crystal Serenity, will visit the tiny Inuit village of Ulukhaktok in northern Canada. Hundreds of passengers will be ferried to the little community, more than doubling its population of around 400. The Serenity will then raise anchor and head through the Northwest Passage to visit several more Inuit settlements before sailing to Greenland and finally New York.
It will be a massive undertaking, representing an almost tenfold increase in passenger numbers taken through the Arctic on a single vessel – and it has triggered considerable controversy among Arctic experts. Inuit leaders fear that visits by giant cruise ships could overwhelm fragile communities, while others warn that the Arctic ecosystem, already suffering the effects of global warming, could be seriously damaged.
“This is extinction tourism,” said international law expert Professor Michael Byers, of the University of British Columbia. “Making this trip has only become possible because carbon emissions have so warmed the atmosphere that Arctic sea ice in summer is disappearing. The terrible irony is that this ship – which even has a helicopter for sightseeing and a huge staff-to-passenger ratio – has an enormous carbon footprint that is only going to make things even worse in the Arctic.”
In 1969, the SS Manhattan sailed through the Northwest Passage to test whether oil could be shipped from the north coast of Alaska to Texas. The voyage of the U.S.-owned supertanker tested then-prime minister Pierre Trudeau because it raised the spectre of many more such voyages and, at some point, a major oil spill.
On Aug. 16, the Crystal Serenity begins a month-long voyage through the passage. The Chinese-owned cruise ship is the first large passenger vessel to take advantage of melting sea ice in Canada’s Arctic. Its voyage will test Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, because it raises the spectre of many more such voyages and, with them, serious safety, environmental and security concerns.
Environment Minister Catherine McKenna needs to engage personally
This illustration, from the website of the Canadian Space Agency, shows the kind of weather forecasting that the Polar Communication and Weather mission project could have provided through two new satellites that would orbit the earth around the circumpolar north. But now that Environment Canada has withdrawn from the project, it seems likely that the new satellites will be used for military purposes only, and with no guaranteed bandwidth for northern telecommunication customers. (CANADIAN SPACE AGENCY IMAGE)
Michael Byers, Special to Nunatsiaq News, 18 July 2016
On Oct. 6, 2011, the Arctic was cut off from the rest of Canada for 16 hours.
A software glitch on a satellite caused 56 communities to lose internet and long-distance telephone service. Businesses and government offices shut down; dozens of flights were cancelled.
The outage was not a surprise. Arctic communications are currently provided from satellites in geostationary orbit, directly above the equator — at the limits, and sometimes beyond, the required direct line of sight. Connectivity is slow, expensive and unreliable.
The Harper government responded to the outage by supporting a bold and visionary plan that the Canadian Space Agency, Environment Canada and Department of National Defence had jointly developed.
Scientists object as research ship helps £15,500-a-head tourists see the melting ice caps, writes Tom Whipple
The winter job of the RRS Ernest Shackleton is to support British research in the Antarctic, much of it into the effects of climate change. During the summer her role is less austere but, it has been suggested, morally questionable.
This summer the ship, named after the British explorer who was prepared to eat his huskies, will be supporting a cruise liner whose passengers will have a choice of eight restaurants, afternoon tea, golf tuition and an itinerary possible only because of the climate change the Shackleton is supposed to fight.
A Soviet-era SS-19 intercontinental ballistic missile is set to crash in Canada’s Arctic, with some highly toxic fuel on board.
Michael Byers, National Post, 19 May 2016
The missile, modified to boost a satellite into orbit, will be launched from Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia in early June. Minutes later, the first stage of the missile will plummet into the Barents Sea north of Norway. Shortly thereafter, the second stage of the missile will fall into Baffin Bay, just east of Canada’s Ellesmere Island.
That second stage could have hundreds of litres of leftover fuel on board. Rockets used for satellite launches rarely consume all their fuel because they are shut down by onboard computers once the desired speed and altitude are achieved.
The fuel used to power SS-19s is unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine (hydrazine). A stable compound used to fuel missiles and power the thrusters used for manoeuvring satellites in space, hydrazine is so toxic that technicians wear pressurized hazmat suits when working with it. On contact with air, hydrazine degrades into another, even more toxic compound: nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA).
Arctic cruises are the latest thing in high-end tourism. Icebergs, polar bears, beluga whales, awe-inspiring vistas and isolated Inuit communities – what’s not to like for the jaded traveller?
Michael Byers, Globe and Mail, 18 April 2016
This summer, thousands of people will sail the Arctic’s increasingly ice-free waters. At the very top end, the world’s most luxurious cruise ship, the Crystal Serenity, will traverse the Northwest Passage from Anchorage to New York City. The 1,070 passengers will pay up to $120,000 (U.S.) for the privilege.
But here’s the thing: Arctic cruises involve greater hazards and environmental impact than just about any other kind of tourism.
Given Putin’s threat, the Obama-Trudeau talks need to address the U.S.-Canada Northwest Passage dispute.
By Scott Borgerson & Michael Byers
Wall Street Journal, March 8, 2016
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives in Washington Wednesday for a state visit with President Obama. Much has been made of Mr. Trudeau’s “movie star” good looks and liberal credentials. But top on the two men’s list of priorities should be a far less attractive subject: Russian President Vladimir Putin and his pivot toward the Arctic.
In addition to Mr. Putin’s military intervention in Syria’s civil war and his 2014 “annexation” of Ukraine’s Crimea region, he sees global warming as a benefit along Russia’s northern frontier and is realigning his country’s strategic priorities toward the Arctic.
Tensions with Russia provide a new reason for the U.S. to resolve the Northwest Passage dispute with Canada. Canada claims the channels between its Arctic islands that connect the Atlantic Ocean to the Beaufort Sea north of Alaska are the country’s “internal waters.” The U.S. maintains that the waterway is an “international strait” through which ships and aircraft from all countries have a right of uninterrupted “transit passage.”
With the U.S. becoming more engaged on Arctic issues as a result of its chairmanship of the eight-nation Arctic Council, and the Obama administration’s focus on climate change, this is an opportune time to address what has become a shared vulnerability to naval vessels from Russia and other unfriendly nations passing through the Northwest Passage, or terrorists and smugglers seeking to enter North America from there.
Inuit worry about waning sea ice and rising ship traffic in the Northwest Passage
By Leyland Cecco in Iqaluit, Canada, for Al Jazeera America
December 6, 2015
Flowing deeply between ice and rock, the waters of the high Canadian Arctic have been unforgiving for centuries to those who dreamed of a quicker trade route between Asia and Europe.
Expeditions to find the fabled Northwest Passage usually ended in failure, if not death. Perhaps the most infamous was British explorer John Franklin's fourth attempt, launched in 1845, whose crew was stranded for years and, it’s rumored, succumbed to cannibalism.
“The South has always been fascinated with the North and had a great imagination about it,” says Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory, an Inuk poet of Greenlandic and Canadian heritage.
This imagination somehow failed to account for the people who actually lived on the land, ice and water that separated the two continents.
“The middle part was seen as this inconvenient emptiness,” says Williamson Bathory.
While the thick sea ice blanketing the region for much of the year frustrated traders, it long served as a bridge for the Inuit, connecting them to neighboring communities and hunting locations inaccessible during warmer months.
Reducing emissions of short-lived climate pollutants, such as methane and black carbon, alongside carbon dioxide could help reduce the warming of the Arctic by up to 0.25 degrees by 2050, says a new report by the Arctic Council.
Cristine Russell, Scientific American (guest blog), 5 November 2015
Call it a contradiction of glacial proportions—an Arctic paradox.
The world pushes for stronger protective measures to curb climate change scientists say is accelerating the destruction of the Arctic—melting ice sheets, thawing frozen soil and threatening the iconic polar bear. Call it plan A.
There is a contingency plan, however, that takes advantage of new Arctic opportunities—in shipping, mining, drilling and national security—if the big melt continues apace. Call it plan B.