The NSR in the Context of Arctic Military and Ecological (Environmental) Security

(By Alexei Yu. Roginko ; INSROP Working Paper No. 13 – 1995, IV.2.1)


Many policy makers and scholars across the world have recently come to believe that the traditional concept of international security should be expanded to encompass not only military, but economic, environmental and cultural security as well, suggesting that various elements of security are so intimately interconnected that it is essential to make progress on several of these fronts at the same time. International environmental security (IES) can be defined as a state of international relations which provides for the preservation, rational use, renewal, and improvement of the environment, when interaction of all the members of the international community, and development of each of them are not accompanied by an irreversible loss of natural resources and/or other changes in the biosphere harmful to various forms of life.

IES can be achieved through a patchwork of global and regional environmental management regimes, based initially upon the introduction of implementation strategies at the level of so-called international ecogeographical regions. Of especially high priority is the formation of IES regimes in those regions where environmental dynamics are either unique, and/or have global consequences. These conditions do appear to coincide in the Arctic.

The notion of IES holds particular relevance in the Arctic for several reasons. The first involves the fragility of northern ecosystems and their extreme vulnerability to any human disturbance. Second, the significance of the area must be recognized in terms of its profound influence upon the global (or at least hemispheric) environmental processes (atmospheric and oceanic circulation, global warming, ozone layer depletion, etc.). Finally, a close relationship exists between environmental factors and strategic military objectives in the Arctic.

With regard to environmental risks posed by the continuing presence of military and naval forces in the Arctic, three major issues should be outlined. Firstly, the issue of environmental effects of "usual", "normal" military presence and military preparations in the area. Secondly, high probability of the occurence of the most dangerous category of military accidents - collisions, groundings, etc., involving nuclear-powered and/or nuclear-armed vessels. The third issue is radioactive contamination from atmospheric nuclear testings conducted in the Arctic in the 1950s - early 1960s, as well as from prolonged dumping of radioactive wastes in the northern seas by the Soviet/Russian military.

But the greatest threat to IES in the Arctic arises from natural resource extraction and harvesting activities. Hard evidence suggests that for both the USA and the Soviet Union/Russia, environmental protection efforts in the region have not been adequate to address the special requirements of the severe environment. Although commercial shipping in the Arctic today represents a relatively minor environmental threat compared e.g. to fossil fuel extraction, the volume of clandestine, illegal oil discharges remains unknown and is probably not decreasing. Furthermore, even if the operational pollution has diminished, this decrease in the nearest future can be offset by a predicted growth of shipping along the NSR. The situation is aggravated by an almost total lack of waste oil reception facilities in place at Russian arctic ports; nor have adequate oil spill contingency plans been established in the event of an accidental release.

The current level of the Arctic rim nations' cooperation aimed at combating common environmental threats is still inadequate to the degree of progressive degradation of the Arctic environment. However, a regional IES strategy is already beginning to evolve, based on the Rovaniemi process, which produced in June 1991 the Declaration on the Protection of the Arctic Environment and the Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy.

A plausible form for the Rovaniemi process to proceed would be the elaboration of the intergovernmental framework agreement supplemented by additional protocols defining concrete obligations of the states-parties. An integral part of the emerging Arctic IES mechanism might be a regional protocol on the safety of navigation and the protection of the Arctic marine environment, establishing, inter alia, uniform requirements for design, equipment, cargo limits and crewing standards for vessels navigating the ice-covered waters within 200-mile economic zones, with due regard to the interests of non-littoral countries. This would become necessary when ships traversing the NSR would be subject to multiple pollution prevention jurisdictions, notably those of Norway, Sweden, Russia, and perhaps Canada and the US. Implementation of this protocol would be assisted by the establishment of a multilateral body with both advisory and regulatory authority (e.g. issuing "Arctic safety and pollution prevention certificates"), composed of personnel from the relevant government agencies.

Coordinated measures should also be envisaged to prevent pollution of northern seas as a result of exploration and exploitation of mineral resources of the continental shelf, to cooperate in the establishment of reserves and protected areas, in the protection of rare and endangered species, etc. Effective protection of the northern environment would also require controlling development activities in the Arctic (including e.g. efforts to establish cooperative environmental impact assessment procedures), and it may be questioned whether all regional states would be willing to accept curtailments on their development efforts in the Arctic. Indeed, taking these further steps may prove to be considerably more difficult than signing non-binding political declarations.


    Alexei Yu. Roginko, 1995, The NSR in the Context of Arctic Military and Ecological (Environmental) Security, INSROP.©