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YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — The U.S. Navy must better prepare as other nations rush to claim the Arctic Ocean’s resources in the wake of climate change, according to a recently released National Academy of Sciences report.
Current trends indicate that much of the Arctic’s ice will melt by 2030, clearing the way for cross-Arctic transit.
The Navy should prepare for conflict in the wake of the many competing claims to the Arctic, according to the study that was released March 10.
“Although the likelihood of conflict in the Arctic is low, it cannot be ruled out, and competition in the region is a given,” the study said. “According to information presented to the committee, the U.S. military as a whole has lost most of its competence in cold-weather operations for high-Arctic warfare.”
The Navy should begin Arctic training and the Marine Corps should also re-establish a cold-weather training program immediately, the study recommended.
U.S. surface ship access to the region is currently poor and none of the Navy’s surface combatants are hardened for ice operations.
In the meantime, China, Russia, Japan, South Korea and several European nations are already exploring for reportedly vast oil and natural gas resources with icebreaker ships, according to the report.
In comparison, the U.S. owns only three obsolete icebreakers, and their budget is controlled by the National Science Foundation, not the military.
The United States could also lose out if it does not ratify the 1982 United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea, the report states. The convention provides a framework for resolving territorial and economic zone disputes, as well as free transit.
“By remaining outside the Convention, the United States makes it more difficult for U.S. naval forces to have maximum operating flexibility in the Arctic and complicates negotiations with maritime partners for coordinated search-and-rescue operations in the region,” according to the report.
Navy leadership supports ratification, but the U.N. law has never received the required two-thirds vote in the Senate out of fears of lost U.S. sovereignty.
Beyond the Arctic, the study also said that the expected rise in extreme weather events due to climate change will create more humanitarian assistance missions.
The increase “will have the potential to strain military resources and existing national security missions,” the report stated.
Although the military is already studying the effect that rising sea levels may have on coastal lying bases, the study also recommended that the military examine the effect that storm surge and other factors related to increased extreme weather would have on its facilities.
Last year, the Navy’s Task Force Climate Change released a four-year plan calling for risks and safety issues raised by climate change to be considered in fleet training and planning by 2012.