Thursday, February 15, 2007

U.S. challenges Canada's claim to Arctic

U.S. adviser challenges Canada's claim to Arctic
The Ottawa Citizen 2007.02.15 (Canada MediaNet)

Calling Canada's claim of sovereignty over the Northwest Passage "excessive" and "tenuous," a top Pentagon adviser says Canada should work through the United Nations to protect its security and environmental concerns in the Arctic.

"The Law of the Sea does not support some of these excessive claims to the passage," says James Kraska, the oceans policy adviser to the United States joint chiefs of staff, in an article that has the full backing of the Bush administration and was to be released today in Ottawa.

"Canada could achieve all its most important policy goals for the passage, and particularly widespread acceptance of and compliance of Canadian regulations for enhanced safety, security and environmental protection of the passage, by crafting those regulations through the International Maritime Organization."

The IMO is the UN agency charged with preventing pollution and ensuring the safety of the world's waterways.

Mr. Kraska's 22-page article, an advance copy of which was obtained by the Citizen, appears in a compendium of essays to be released today by the Conference of Defence Associations Institute, titled Defence Requirements for Canada's Arctic.

For decades, the U.S. has not recognized Canada's claim to the Northwest Passage, a difference that flared again a year ago when Prime Minister Stephen Harper publicly upbraided U.S. Ambassador David Wilkins after he restated his government's position in a speech.

Arctic sovereignty was a key plank in the Conservative election platform, though the Tories' promised purchase of icebreakers and the establishment of a deepwater port in Canada's Far North have yet to be fulfilled.

The issue of who controls the Northwest Passage is taking on growing significance because global warming is melting Arctic ice, which could open the northern sea route to full-time ship traffic as soon as the next decade.

The passage would develop into a key trade route linking Europe and the Atlantic Ocean with Asia and the Pacific Ocean, a route 9,000 kilometres shorter than the Panama Canal, Mr. Kraska writes.

The European Union, he points out, also shares the U.S. view that Canada does not have sovereignty over the Northwest Passage. He predicts, however, that the question "is unlikely to cause significant friction" between the federal government and Washington because both countries share a mutual respect for the rule of law and are NATO allies.

Mr. Kraska's paper presents the way a now-resolved dispute between Malaysia and Indonesia could serve as a model for how Canada can work with other countries, including the U.S., to manage the passage and protect its interests.

In the early 1980s, Mr. Kraska writes, Malaysia and Indonesia argued over who controlled the Strait of Malacca, a key sea lane that separates the two South Asian countries.

Since then, the dispute has been settled and both countries, along with Singapore, have agreed to work through the IMO to protect their interests, which include maritime safety and security as well as environmental protection.

In 2005, those three states, along with 31 other countries that use that waterway, agreed to the "Jakarta Initiative," which Mr. Kraska says was a groundbreaking framework to manage the Strait of Malacca.

"The multilateral approach, which is successfully being applied in one of the busiest international straits on the planet, is an ideal model for the Northwest Passage, the world's longest and perhaps most environmentally sensitive international strait," Mr. Kraska says.

Conference of Defence Associations Institute president Paul Manson, a retired general and former Canadian chief of defence staff, said Mr. Kraska's paper has the full backing of the Bush administration.

Because the paper was prepared for Canada's top annual military symposium of experts across the country, Mr. Manson said it could be intended as a pointed reminder that Washington does not accept Canada's claim to the passage.

"It's not as cut and dried as Canada has thought in the past. Canada's legal position is claimed by some to be particularly weak.

"It's a very complex issue," said Mr. Manson, who led the Canadian Forces during the twilight of the Cold War between 1986 and 1989.

****see: Military experts urge Ottawa to protect Arctic