Sunday, August 19, 2007

Trial Balloon on the High Seas

The United States' historical position on the exent of the high seas has created a dilemma for itself in its war on terror and increasingly greater emphasis on security over all other values. Former US Ambassador to Canada Paul Cellucci has floated a trial balloon which suggests that parties within the United States admininstration may be seriously debating backing off one of that country's long held international legal positions which placed the Northwest Passage outside of Canada in international waters.

In the pre-9/11 days the United States' principal interest was to ensure that was as much in the way of high seas as possible and as little territorial waters as could be managed. This served the United States' interests in two ways: first by allowing for freer navigation of commercial vessels and second by allowing maximum mobility for its naval fleets. This was critically important in certain areas in the South Pacific and possibly the Indian Ocean where there are many important channels which potentially lie within the territorial waters of nations such as Indonesia.

Today though there is a new imperative, namely the control of territory and the maintenance of security, even if it carries with it a significant economic cost. The United States' successive decisions around border control, be it the control of traffic across the Canada-US border or the limiting of foreign students, indicate that economic interests are increasingly being required to give way to security imperatives. The traditional US position on the high seas conflicts with these modern concerns as the high seas (particularly given the US refusal to sign the Convention on the Law of the Seas) are effectively a law free zone when it comes to policing. The right of free transit for America equally means the right of free transit for boats flying the flag of Panama, Greece or Pakistan -- even if owned and operated by a suspected terrorist group. Thus from a security perspective the United States would like to see more territorial seas controlled by friendly nations such as Canada, Indonesia (sort of) or the Phillippines.

This comes home for Canada in Northwest Passage. Canada has always claimed the Northwest Passage as territorial waters based on the "Archipelago Principle", that is, Canada's territory should not be defined by lines drawn around each arctic island but instead by a single line drawn around the whole arctic archipelago. The United States has historically preferred the island by island approach which then leaves most of the Northwest Passage in international waters -- and free for US ships. Paul Cellucci's trial balloon suggests that there are people within the US administration who are thinking that it may be better if the Northwest Passage and other 'international' waterways were in the territorial control of nations who can then take repsonsibility for policing and controlling events in those waterways.

This may be a happy development for Stephen Harper (and for Canada really) as Mr. Harper embarks on his Arctic Sovereignty Campaign 2007-2017. In the past this would have brought him into conflict with an implacable enemy in Washington. Today if Paul Cellucci's thoughts carry today he may be able to pull of a major international law triumph which would do much to reinforce Canada's sovereignty in the north.

To see the core American position it is neatly summarized in an internal United States memorandum written at about the time of the Manhattan incident, where a US tanker indicated its intention to pass through the Northwest Passage. This memorandum has been released into the public domain. It is a nice piece of history about how Canada and the United States have been at odds on this issue for decades.

The text of the article is reproduced here:

Cellucci: Canada should control Northwest Passage
19/08/2007 2:19:41 PM


The former U.S. ambassador to Canada says that before leaving his position in 2005, he told his officials in the State Department that Washington should re-examine its territorial claims to the main Arctic waterway.

Paul Cellucci appears on CTV's Question Period.

Canada claims the Northwest Passage, but the United States says the waters are international.

Paul Cellucci, in an interview with CTV's Question Period, said he raised the issue with the State Department and mentioned it to his successor in Ottawa, current ambassador David Wilkins.

"I think in the age of terror, it's in our security interest for the Northwest Passage to be part of Canada," Cellucci told co-host Jane Taber.

"That would enable the Canadian Navy to intercept vessels in the Northwest Passage, and make sure they're not trying to bring weapons of mass destruction into North America."

Cellucci's comments come after Prime Minister Stephen Harper's recent trip to the North, where he made a number of announcements aimed at strengthening Canada's territorial claims in the Arctic.

And it also comes a day before Harper and U.S. President George W. Bush are due to meet in Montebello, Que., for a security-related summit.

"It's in our interest to work together on security," Cellucci said. "My hope is that the United States will take a second look at our longstanding position, because I think it's in our security interests that this be considered a part of Canada."

"If the global warming continues, this will get a lot more attention," he added.

Last week in Resolute, Harper announced the 4,100-strong Canadian Rangers force will get a boost of 900 more members, and a deep-water military port will be constructed in Nanisivik.

Harper's trip came after a recent Russian submarine expedition that planted a Russian flag on the seabed at the North Pole.

Denmark is also mapping the Arctic ridge as the polar race heats up, trying to prove the 2,000-kilometre underwater mountain range is attached to the Danish territory of Greenland.

Canada, the United States, Russia and Norway have competing claims in the Arctic region, where a recent U.S. study suggests as much 25 per cent of the world's undiscovered oil and gas could be hidden.

The race for sovereignty has heated up partly because global warming is shrinking the polar ice, which could someday open up resource development and new shipping lanes.

Add to Technorati Favorites

Add to Technorati Favorites

No comments: