GlobalSecurity.com brings us a Russian view of the possibility of war in the Arctic (including a mention of the USCG).
“The US also seeks to increase its activity in the Arctic. One of the strategies used by the Americans is deploying a significant number of US Coast Guard units in the region.”
(Maybe if one is a significant number?)
Fortunately, even this author, Mikhail Khodarenok, “military commentator for RT.com, a retired colonel, …who served at the main operational directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces,” sees little likelihood of a major conflict.
Unfortunately he does see similarities to the situations we have in the Persian Gulf and the South China Sea where there have been, and we expect to continue to have, high levels of tension over the long term. This would be a change from the generally peaceful relations the Arctic nations have enjoyed for almost three decades.
There are a couple of points in his discussion that merit some comment.
“Western experts claim that Russia’s position on the NEP (North East Passage–Chuck)/Northern Sea Route is not always convincing, as allegedly it violates international maritime law to some degree and goes against the principle of the peaceful use of the seas and oceans. Moscow argues that Russia has authority over the NEP which passes through its exclusive economic zone (emphasis applied–Chuck) and any vessels willing to use this route have to ask for its permission.”
The Exclusive Economic Zone is purely about Economic exploitation, hence the name, and conveys no right to restrict passage in any form. If the Russians start interpreting the meaning differently, as the Chinese seem to be trying to do, there may be trouble.
“…if the ice continues to melt at current rates. The Northwest Passage may become completely free of ice in the next 40-50 years. This route goes across the Arctic Ocean along the Northern shores of North America and the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. It will be the shortest way from Shanghai to New York. If that happens, it will give rise to the same kind of problems that exist today around the NEP. The US is most likely to claim authority over the route, (emphasis applied–Chuck) while China is sure to say that such claims violate maritime law and go against the freedom of navigation principle.”
Canada is likely to continue to claim that the Northwest Passage is internal waters and demand notification and permission for passage, but the US has been very consistent in considering it an international waterway where anyone, including the Chinese, can transit without prior permission, based on the same argument used to claim that the Northern Sea Route is an international waterway.
There is a good possibility that once our icebreaker fleet is a little larger, we can expect the Coast Guard will be asked to exercise Freedom of Navigation on both the Northwest Passage and the Northern Sea Route. Apparently we have already been asked regarding the Northern Sea Route.
Ironically this is one area where we may find agreement with the Chinese regarding Freedom of the Seas, at least in the Arctic. It is a question of how closely the Chinese will try to work with the Russians. This could become a source of tension between the two.