Rabkin Comments in Washington Post on Arctic Policy Directive

A new policy directive on the Arctic issued by the White House does not actually constitute policy, says Professor Jeremy Rabkin, pointing out that while the directive covers key areas, such as national security, energy exploration, and the environment, it does not specify whether any area should take precedence over another.

"It's really a list of all the things we're concerned about; that's not policy," said Rabkin. "I don't see anything here that helps you decide what gets priority."

An underlying premise in the directive is that temperature changes in the Arctic region will spark interest in military and economic activity, resulting in environmental issues for the area and necessitating a realignment of policy to deal with issues arising from change.

A byproduct of the new directive may be additional impetus for Senate ratification of the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, a controversial global treaty opposed by some conservatives that could govern some of the claims arising in the Arctic.

White House Directive Guides Policy on Arctic, The Washington Post, January 19, 2009. By Juliet Eilperin and Spencer S. Hsu.

"The 10-page directive signed by President Bush, which took two years to write and is meant to guide 10 Cabinet departments along with the Environmental Protection Agency, updates a policy first established 14 years ago. While fairly general, the document highlights the need for the United States to assert its interests in a region that has become increasingly desirable to countries that hope to exploit its natural resources and strategic possibilities.

"'The United States has broad and fundamental national security interests in the Arctic region and is prepared to operate either independently or in conjunction with other states to safeguard these interests,' the directive says.

"White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said the administration wanted to update the Arctic policy in order to reflect the creation of new federal agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security and because the changing climate in northern latitudes has spurred new military and commercial activity there.

"'The overarching purpose of doing the directive is because of the significant changes that have taken place in the Arctic . . . and realigning policy to deal with it,' he said.

"On Friday, the U.S. Climate Change Science Program issued a report, led by the U.S. Geological Survey, concluding that the extent of Arctic summer sea ice loss over the past few decades is highly unusual compared with what has occurred over the past several thousand years. Temperature change in the Arctic has outpaced that of other regions in the Northern Hemisphere, the study said, and the trend is expected to continue."

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