NATO may have to play bigger role in Arctic: official

January 30th, 2009 - 12:55 pm ICT by IANS  

Brussels, Jan 30 (Xinhua) NATO may have to play a bigger role in the Arctic as the melting of the ice cap would create security and environment challenges, a top official said.NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer told a seminar in Reykjavik, Iceland that the increased shipping activity in the Arctic as a result of the melting of the ice cap may lead to more accidents requiring search and rescue missions.

At the same time, with potentially more energy supplies being shipped through the ocean, there could be an increased risk of ecological disasters requiring relief operations.

“In both of these cases, I believe NATO has a clear role to play,” he told the seminar.

His speech was made available on NATO’s official website.

De Hoop Scheffer noted that sea routes through the Arctic will be significantly shorter than many of those that currently require passage through the Suez or Panama canals.

He said the melting of the Arctic will open up opportunities for the extraction of the mineral wealth and energy deposits in this area. In this context, NATO will have a role to play as the alliance’s heads of state and government have identified energy security as a new task for NATO.

He stated that NATO can also play a role in the territorial disputes in the region as four of the five Arctic coastal states except Russia - Canada, Denmark, Norway and the US - are NATO members.

The five countries have differences of opinion over the delineation of the 200-nautical-mile limits of the Exclusive Economic Zones, as well as over the extension of the continental shelves.

De Hoop Scheffer said NATO provides a forum for the four Arctic coastal member states to inform, discuss, and share their concerns. He said NATO may also engage Russia in cooperation as the suspended NATO-Russia Council may soon be resumed.

“I see merit in using that particular forum for including Russia in wider cooperation, and also as vital element in building mutual confidence,” he said. NATO and Russia have acquired shared experiences in search and rescue, as well as in disaster management, he noted.

De Hoop Scheffer pointed out that military activity has been steadily increasing in the Arctic region. “It is understandable, and fully legitimate, for allied nations to ask how we should approach, as an alliance, but also as an international community, the military aspects of the High North,” he said.

He asked for transparency, trust and cooperation to address the looming challenges in the Arctic region. He emphasized the necessity to engage Russia and other stakeholders in the region and beyond.

There is a solid foundation of cooperation until now between the Arctic countries, which should continue, he said.

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