While most discussions of climate change and security have examined the role of general environmental stress and resource scarcity on vulnerable populations and the risk of conflict, climate change also has the potential to disrupt international relations and raise security challenges through impacts on specific assets and resources. Such effects may arise as climate change increases or decreases the strategic value of resources of international significance, disrupting the basis for existing arrangements of ownership, control, or benefit sharing, or changing perceptions of national interests and threats to those interests. Perhaps the most obvious example is the loss of Arctic sea ice and the resultant increased value of Arctic navigation routes and offshore Arctic resources. Both the Northwest and Northeast passages will shorten major navigation routes during summer—for example, the Northwest passage through the Canadian Arctic archipelago would shorten the voyage from Rotterdam to Yokahama by 40
percent—and new orders will double the global fleet of ice-capable ships able to take advantage of these routes during other seasons (Borgerson, 2008). Other implications of an ice-free Arctic include increased tourism, expanded operating demands on the U.S. Coast Guard, and changes in the operating environment for surface and subsurface naval vessels. The legal status of the Northwest Passage in particular has long been contested, but the prospect of its becoming more widely usable raises the stakes substantially (NRC, 2010e).
Similarly, the prospect of substantial mineral reserves under the Arctic Ocean has prompted new offshore claims in the region by Canada, Denmark, Norway, and Russia. The U.S. Senate has not ratified the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, so the United States cannot formally assert rights associated with the roughly 1,000 miles of Arctic coastline in U.S. territory. Climate change will also affect shorelines and in some cases "exclusive economic zones" and baselines used for projecting national boundaries seaward (Paskal, 2007). This may create or revive conflicts over resources in the offshore exclusive economic zone. Areas that may be affected include boundaries in the South China Sea and the boundary between the United States and Cuba. Changes in precipitation may also affect flow regimes in international river systems, risking new or intensified conflict in cases where claims over flows are already disputed or are subject to agreements not sufficiently robust to accommodate the flow changes that will occur. These and other challenges associated with climate change have been hypothesized but have not yet received thorough analysis (e.g., Liverman, 2009; Salehyan, 2008).
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