Monday, August 10, 2015

The New York Times' Fuzzy Logic

An editorial in today's New York Times illustrates how besotted American thinking remains on international affairs. Time to unpack the Times' fuzzy logic.

The editorial concerns international rivalry over Arctic resources, especially Russia's somewhat aggressive posturing and the prospect it could trigger a new arms race, this one in the far north.

"It is not surprising that a country with the longest Arctic coastline should want to strengthen its northern defenses as the region opens up to shipping and economic exploitation. And it would be understandable for the United States and Canada to want to do the same. But an arms race is not the answer to the Arctic’s future.

"Just as President Obama argued in his American University speech for the primacy of institutions and diplomacy in seeking peace for the Middle East, so should the United States and its allies seek to limit Russian influence in the Arctic through cooperation on the eight-nation Arctic Council and at the United Nations. That is another compelling reason why the United States should join the 162 countries that have ratified the Law of the Sea, an action blocked by a clutch of bullheaded right-wing senators."

Yes, an arm race should be avoided. However do we have to entrust that effort to America and "her allies"? Is America supposed to be the lead partner as overseer of the future of the Arctic?  Why, because of Alaska?  

The NYT editors write, "It is not surprising that a country with the longest Arctic coastline should want to strengthen its northern defenses as the region opens up to shipping and economic exploitation."  The country with "the longest Arctic coastline" in their view is plainly Russia which has about 40,000 kms. of Arctic coastline.  Pretty impressive but what about Greenland? It has 44,000 kms. of Arctic coastline.  And then there's us, Canada, and we have 162,000 kms. of Arctic coastline and that's more than Greenland, Russia, the US and all the others put together.

Now, let's look at the Times' suggestions about how to deal with Russia. They propose that the US "and it's minions allies" limit Russian influence in the
Arctic through an anti-Russian alliance cooperation on the eight-nation Arctic Council and at the United Nations.

Russia is a sovereign nation and should be as entitled as any other to influence its legitimate territory as it sees fit - the old Treaty of Westphalia business, you know. Yet the paths to limit Russian influence are narrow and few. The Times seems to think a policy of containment is just dandy.  We could march right up to Russia's borders - again - just as we have in eastern Europe. That's been a brilliant idea, especially when it comes to avoiding an arms race.  And, of course, once Moscow sees itself yet again facing an American-led gang purpose built to limit its influence over territory it may arguably claim as its own, it'll back right down, no? 

Let's face it. The only conceivable justification for an American-led Arctic coalition is because the hillbillies have all the guns and, as the legendary Ignatieff has put it, a "muscular foreign policy."

America deserves a place at the Arctic table, sure enough, but it should not be allowed to turn the Arctic Council into another posse, or coalition of the reluctantly complacent.  We've seen how well America's recent adventures in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Ukraine, just about everywhere have worked out. This time we've got skin in the game, a lot more than the Americans.  Let's give them their chips and welcome them to the table but they can't be the dealer.


rumleyfips said...

The artic ice map you ran a couple of days ago shows the silliness of Canada's coastline argument and the poor chance the us has for arctic dominance. Past established areas of influence , territoriality will be determined by the continuity of underwater geography. Neither Canada, the US nor Denmark has shown much initiative in underwater mapping in the arctic. Russia has probably been doing the work with no fanfare.

A quick glance at your map shows that in all probability the underwater shelves will fall Russian, Canadian, Greenland and American in that order. There could be surprises but bluster and threats will not change the geography and unwillingness by North Americans to do the necessary work only benefits Russia.

No matter. If there are huge oil deposits ( so far estimated only ) they will be developed first by Russia : just look at the melting . Canada's archipelago will de dangerous waters for decades after Russia's north shore has thawed. If oil is produced in Canadian waters , will there be an alternative to using Russian ships, ports and pipelines to sell product to China.

If Canada is to have a productive arctic, the political class will have to learn how to innovate, invest in infrastructure and cooperate with Eurasia. Eyeballing our present governmental mess, huge attitudinal changes would be needed.

The Mound of Sound said...

Yes, Rumley, all true enough. However Canada might consider simply conquering Greenland and adding that to our pile. Then we'd be talking.

I know it's not feasible but the best approach to Arctic seabed fossil fuels is to leave them undisturbed. If we add that to our existing carbon loading we're doubly screwed.

Pamela Mac Neil said...

We need to find our intelligent, diplomatic, negotiating voice, then sit at the table. Heck we should build the table and invite those who are resistent to sit. What a challenge. Having Russia and the US at the table, while Canada advocates how to arrive at a peaceful, fair, shared solution for all. Just like we use to do,

The Mound of Sound said...

Unfortunately, Pamela, we have squandered our credibility and goodwill. If there is to be some sort of confidence-building rapprochement between Russia and the other Arctic players, there'll be no "honest broker" role for Canada to play. However don't blame that entirely on Harper. The others are scarcely different.

Pamela Mac Neil said...

I agree Mound. Wishful thinking on my part.