“We are indeed at a cooperation versus conflict nexus,” said Rob Huebert, associate director of the University of Calgary’s Centre for Military and Strategic Studies, at a December 11 meeting
sponsored by the Wilson Center’s Canada Institute
. Huebert was joined by fellow Arctic expert Michael Byers, the academic director of the University of British Columbia’s Liu Institute for Global Issues, in a discussion of the potential security threats
introduced by a rapidly melting Arctic.
According to Byers, approximately 1.2 million square kilometers of sea ice—an area far larger than the state of California—melted between September 2006 and September 2007. If this trend continues, the Arctic could experience seasonal ice-free periods in 10 or 15 years. The melting ice is opening up previously inaccessible shipping routes, and Byers argued, “It’s not a question of if, but when, the ships come.” Increased shipping activity could attract people trying to smuggle nuclear weapons or materials, illegal drugs, terrorists, or illegal immigrants into North America.
The melting ice is not only opening up shipping routes, but is also uncovering vast oil and gas reserves. The Arctic marine ecosystem is extremely fragile, and an oil spill like the Exxon-Valdez would have “catastrophic environmental consequences,” said Byers.