Borah Symposium: Climate and Conflict

by Annabelle Day

Idaho Public Radio

The Borah Symposium held a talk on the “Considerations on the U.S. Navy and Climate in the Arctic” on Tuesday, October 8, at the University of Idaho in Moscow.

CAPT Shaun C. McAndrew, commanding officer of the UI-WSU Naval ROTC Battalion and a professor of Naval Science, discussed the conditions of conflict that are emerging in the Arctic as the ice melts and polar navigation for ships that are not ice breakers is becoming a reality.

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(Photo by Annabelle Day)

McAndrew explained that the thinning of the Arctic ice has made it easier for marine travel through this area, leading to an increase in traffic. In 2008, 120 vessels traveled through the Arctic. As of 2016, that number more than doubled to 290 boats. The routes required to access the Arctic are narrow and shallow, so as the numbers grow, the risk of grounding or collision increases.

“The increased shipping increases the potential demand for search and rescue efforts, creating a strain on existing maritime assets,” said McAndrew.

McAndrew said that an issue arose when Russia claimed certain sections of the ocean as its own, while the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea would say that it is “high seas,” or belonging to no one.

There is a concern of these straits becoming strategic during times of conflict, McAndrew said. Also, in this day and age, security in these trade routes is vital to the global economy. 90% of global commerce is via the ocean, and undersea communication cables transmit more than 95% of international phone and internet traffic. Full access to the high seas is vital for maintaining these assets.

“This context is essential to understanding why not only the U.S. Navy but the U.S. Coast Guard, actually the whole of the U.S. government, is looking at the Arctic in a very different way,” said McAndrew.

According to McAndrew, the U.S. Navy, Coast Guard, and Department of Defense, have come together to build Arctic awareness, work with allies to maintain stability in the Arctic, and to operate in the Arctic more, serving as a deterrence to “other entities taking advantage of the situation when no one is there.” The end goal of the U.S. is to maintain the existing stability and prosperity that Arctic nations hold.

“The U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard are forefront in their thought process and planning to address the uncertainty in order to maintain the peace and be ready to defend our homeland,” said McAndrew.

CAPT McAndrew reported to the University of Idaho NROTC Unit as Commanding Officer in July 2017. Her personal awards include the Bronze Star Medal, Meritorious Service Medal, Air Strike/Flight Medal (first award), Navy Commendation Medal (4 awards), and the Air Force Achievement Medal.

Posted October 22, 2019

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