Today’s edition of the New York Times features an editorial co-authored by Scott Borgerson and Caitlyn Antrim. Borgerson is a visiting fellow on ocean governance at the Council of Foreign Relations, while Antrim is the executive director of the Rule of Law Committee for the Oceans. The crux of their argument is this:
Before the land grab goes too far, the nations most involved should turn the northernmost part of the Arctic into a great park — a marine preserve that protects the polar environment and serves as a center for peaceful, international scientific research.
The two authors reference the Antarctic Treaty System as a precedent for a creating an Arctic park. However, using the ATS as a precedent somewhat overlooks the geopolitical differences between the two regions. While the oil at the North Pole may indeed be a “red herring,” as the authors suggest, governments and private enterprises are still eager to develop the resource. Furthermore, the ATS has worked for so long because Antarctica lacks the Arctic’s natural resources and transit lanes, along with its strategic political and military opportunities.
As a result, it is hard to imagine that even a small region of the Arctic could become a non-militarized zone purely dedicated to science and research. True, the proposed park would not conflict with any of the shipping lanes that are to open up in the coming decades. Yet the park would still likely come up against strong opposition from countries like Russia, which seem bent on claiming the North Pole if even for simple matters of national prestige.
Borgerson and Antrim also remark that U.S. support of such a park would demonstrate to the world that the country is serious about tackling climate change. The U.S. doesn’t really have so much to lose if it were to support it, as the authors observe, because it has no territorial claims to the area. American promotion of a park might even fit in quite well with President George W. Bush’s eleventh-hour Arctic Region Policy directive, which lists that its second-highest policy objective is to “protect the Arctic environment and conserve its biological resources.”
In any case, Borgerson and Antrim’s hopeful vision of a protected North Pole space provides a welcome respite from headlines of scrambled jets and feuding foreign ministers.