Thursday, July 17, 2008

The right approach to Arctic "sovereignty"

It's mainly a civilian issue with the Canadian Coast Guard having a major role; the military role is distinctly subsidiary:
Nobody disputes Canada's control over land [emphasis added] in the Arctic, where Inuit have lived for countless generations, or over our 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone. As for the seabed beyond the EEZ, claims go through an international process.

Under the Law of the Sea, if a nation's continental shelf reaches out beyond 200 miles, it can take control of seabed resources in that area. But first it requires scientific evidence. Canada, Russia, Denmark, and other Arctic nations are now carrying out seismic studies and sea-bottom charting to delineate their continental shelves.

...The key question is control of shipping in the Northwest Passage.

As oil and mineral development increases and climate change reduces ice, more vessels will use the passage. That brings the potential for environmental damage and security risks.

Canada considers the Northwest Passage to be internal waters, under our control as the land is. The United States and European Union [emphasis added--it's not just those nasty Yanks, it's also those cuddly Euros] consider it an international strait.

If Canada believes the passage to be ours, how do we demonstrate our control? The obvious answers would seem to be regulation and enforcement. And Canada does have rules in place, but only to a degree.

The Marine Transportation Security Regulations oblige vessels over 100 gross tons to get clearance from Canada 96 hours before entering our territorial sea (a strip reaching out 12 miles from land).

On the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, the Canadian Coast Guard also operates mandatory reporting and monitoring systems. The Atlantic system, known as ECAREG, obliges incoming vessels over 500 gross tons to provide detailed safety and security information and to report in at certain checkpoints.

But a similar system in the Arctic, NORDREG, is only voluntary, not mandatory. Most larger vessels do report through NORDREG. But some don't.

They are still supposed to follow safety rules set under the Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act. But enforcement or search and rescue becomes difficult if tracking is poor. And smaller vessels? Remember that the marine transportation regulations requiring clearance to enter our waters only apply to vessels over 100 tons.

In other words, larger vessels can enter the Northwest Passage with no obligation to report to NORDREG, and smaller vessels from abroad can come there with no requirement to report to anybody. There have been cases where foreign vessel operators tried to make their presence known and could find no one to report to.

This is far from being a clear demonstration of sovereignty.

Donat Pharand, emeritus professor of international law at the University of Ottawa, a renowned expert on such questions, told the Senate committee that Canada at present had a good claim to the Northwest Passage as internal waters. But he cautioned that increased use by foreign vessels could nudge the passage into the legal category of international strait.

Canada needs to exercise its control, he said, starting by making NORDREG compulsory.

Some may fear that doing so would strain relations with the United States. But in the past, the two countries have taken different views in the Arctic without serious friction.

Knowledgeable witnesses told the Senate committee that the U.S. may be less worried about Canada taking too much control in the Northwest Passage than taking too little: claiming jurisdiction without backing it up with proper regulation and enforcement...

The Senate committee, in an interim report on the Canadian Coast Guard in the Arctic, has now recommended that Canada make NORDREG compulsory. It also says that Coast Guard capability for shipping safety, pollution prevention, search and rescue, and other duties in the north needs a major build-up [the Conservative government at least plans one new large icebreaker].


Senator Bill Rompkey [a Liberal] is chair of the Standing Senate Committee on Fisheries and Oceans.
Here's a key recommendation of the Senate committee's report (p.46):
8. The Committee recommends the deployment of multi-mission polar icebreakers operated by the Coast Guard as a cost-effective solution to Canada’s surveillance and sovereignty patrol needs in the Arctic. Such vessels could serve as platforms in support of all at-sea Government of Canada programs and missions in the Arctic (e.g., security and enforcement, search and rescue, environmental, icebreaking, re-supply), including platform support for the RCMP and Canadian Forces.


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