Newport Manual on Arctic Security

  • Published

Newport Manual on Arctic Security by Walter Berbrick, Gaëlle Rivard Piché, and Michael Zimmerman. Naval Institute Press, 2022, 256 pp.

The Newport Manual on Arctic Security prescribes recommendations for Arctic policies to reduce the risk of conflict from ongoing physical changes in the region. As climate change melts the previously unnavigable waters above the Arctic Circle, new security and stability issues arise. Sea routes are becoming more viable commercial route options connecting Russia and the Nordic countries to the United States and Canada; energy and marine resources previously covered with ice are now exploitable; technological advancement is reducing barriers to exploitation, navigation, and communication; and thawing permafrost and warming waters are altering both flora and fauna in the region, ultimately adjusting ecosystems. As the region physically changes, there is growing interest in social and economic development, but the Arctic’s anarchic status leaves interpretation of acceptable and safe behavior undefined and unchecked, which increases the risk of escalation and conflict. This book makes 30 recommendations on how to handle these changes.

A group formed through the Newport Arctic Scholars Initiative developed the prescriptions. The 18-month initiative began in April 2018 and is a US Naval War College start-up charged with evaluating climate change’s effect on security and stability in the northernmost four percent of the earth’s surface. The group included subject matter experts from the Navy and Coast Guard and from the legal, academic, and scientific communities as well as international experts from the United States, Russia, Iceland, Canada, Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Denmark/Greenland. While this initiative was led by members of the United States defense community, the overall theme of the recommendations is to ensure security is preserved through maritime power regardless of operator, without undermining trust and triggering conflict across both regional and nonregional states with Arctic interest. The recommendations are timely, because the consequences of physical transformation, namely the receding sea ice, geopolitical transformation, and new access to resources, introduce security and stability risk in a region marked by “Arctic exceptionalism,” previously unreachable and immune to such geopolitical issues.

The 30 recommendations aim to mitigate the risk from both the physical and geopolitical transformation. Increased maritime travel and activities due to more navigable water puts physical risk in the confined spaces of the Arctic. Navigation is already difficult due to poor communications, disputed air and land exclusive use zones, and the lack of proficient or consistent emergency response. Geopolitical risk from the promise of newly exploitable natural resources is summoning interest from actors both within the Arctic Circle and from afar, namely China. Economic potential over disputed resources is driving behavior that is threatening border protection, law enforcement, search and rescue, and fisheries.

The book is well organized and breaks recommendations, or what the authors call principles, into three parts. Recommendations in part I, “Awareness,” aim at increasing awareness for all regional actors to understand the physical and strategic changes in the region and their effects on security and stability. Part II, “Confidence-Building Measures,” provides recommendations focusing on developing a framework for rules and norms and discussing how establishing hierarchy will build confidence and cohesion in the region. Part III, “Capabilities,” develops recommendations for how to close capability gaps and reduce potential miscalculations and conflict in the region.

There are eight recommendations provided in the Awareness section aimed at increasing the commonalities and differences between states on regional issues. The first and most important is defining security, which varies widely based on priorities and national interests. Furthermore, the security definition is ever-changing, because the landscape modification drives increased military and maritime activity, which can lead to a perceived projection of power and greater risk of shipwrecks, collisions, pollution, oil spills, and depleted fish stocks. The existing governance structure, the Arctic Council, does not include security and defense matters in the charter, which drives matters to be resolved through ad hoc bilateral and multilateral agreements rather than whole-of-region solutions. Developing a dispute resolution governing body for issues such as national land and maritime border claims, Freedom of the Seas navigation concerns, illegal activity monitoring issues, and nonstate actor gray-zone activities is a necessity as the strategic importance of the Arctic continues to rise.  

The Confidence-Building Measures section focuses on reducing the risk of accidental conflict by increasing communication, increasing transparency, setting constrained limits of activity, and verifying compliance. It is broken down into 12 recommendations. To increase communication across the region, the initiative recommends information-sharing of planned aircraft and maritime maneuvers to reduce the appearance of being provocative; an increase in military student and instructor exchange programs to strengthen Arctic knowledge and planning efforts; and the engagement of the indigenous community in discussion and decisions related to Arctic policy, investment, and activity.

To increase transparency, recommendations include joint scientific research efforts; joint military exercises and exercise observation opportunities; and information collection, analyzing, and sharing when ships and commercial fishing vessels violate safety standards of the International Maritime Organization’s Polar Code or violate the 2018 Agreement to Prevent Unregulated High Seas Fisheries in the Central Arctic Ocean.

Finally, the initiative recommends setting limits to define acceptable and unacceptable activities followed by the ability to verify these limits are not being exceeded. They recommend constraining activity in areas that would be more provocative, such as sensitive environmental areas, areas that could affect indigenous populations, and areas in and around borders and state boundaries. Creating a regional multinational governance for monitoring and conducting annual facility visits would help with confidence-building.        

There are 10 recommendations in the Capabilities section focused on maritime strengths—people and platforms of civilian, military, and commercial flavor—and how to harness the collective skills, abilities, and expertise to successfully navigate the changing waters. The initiative recommends regional cooperation on developing new security capabilities, evolving the communications systems, creating scientific discovery teams, identifying icebreaking needs and skills, and developing and employing existing capabilities together to close gaps. They additionally recommend sharing information on dual-use facilities as well as other facilities, navigation safety, weather, and environmental conditions. And finally, they recommend developing sustainable guidelines and best practices for protecting human life and the environment. Each of these recommendations is aimed at increasing transparency and working together as a region rather than as individual nations to harness the collective power and limited resources.         

The overall recommendation is to form an inclusive governance structure. There is currently no shortage of agreements, councils, forums, conferences, conventions, commissions, and other forms of governance, but no single policy document or organizational framework captures it all. The most formal and inclusive is the Arctic Council, which focuses on topics of soft security such as human, environmental, food, health, and energy security, but specifically excludes security and defense matters. Additionally, with the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, a blatant disregard for established norms that undermines the international system, the Arctic Council postponed all efforts to ensure Russia could not use its chairmanship as a platform to show the West is still willing to cooperate with it.

While the book is rather repetitive, it is a must-read for anyone with an interest in the Arctic. The recommendations are enlightening, albeit overlapping, and truly show how the Arctic region is ripe for hierarchy. But without hierarchy, the security and defense of the region could become a great power competition over scarce resources.

The book aims to be a how-to guide to prevent unintended conflict and to foster cooperation, peace, and stability in the region. The recommendations are sensible, relatively benign, and seeped in common sense. Nevertheless, because Russia is part of the Arctic Eight and China claims vital interests in the region, the recommendations are utopian and unreachable in most instances. Despite the authors’ ambitious recommendations, cooperation, transparency, and verification are lofty goals that will likely never be reached.

Lieutenant Colonel Erica E. Tortella, USAF

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."