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Melting Arctic ice will present new challenges

By C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (Oct. 25, 2012) -- With ice melting in the Arctic Ocean, which is bordered by countries including Canada, Russia and the United States, more sea-faring traffic will appear there and more nations with economic interest in the region will arrive to exploit the resources there, said a panel of security experts during a forum, Oct. 24.

"[Our] area of responsibility is evolving and changing," said Maj. Gen. Francis G. Mahon, J5, U.S. Northern Command. "The Arctic is receding ... the northern coast is about to become a real coast; maybe not today, maybe not this year, but in a short time. We need to start thinking about that."

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Mahon was featured during a panel discussion regarding North American security, during the 2012 Association of the United States Army Annual Meeting and Exposition in Washington, D.C., Oct. 24.

Mahon said development in the Arctic "is going to happen."

Shell Oil, for instance, has been there conducting test drilling operations, and Conoco, he said, will be there next summer.

Increased economic interest in the region, which is bordered by Alaska, means more security concerns, potential conflict over rights to resources there, such as fishing and mineral rights, and more opportunity for the kinds of disasters that the United States might be called on to assist with.

John Stanton, director, Joint Operations Directorate, Customs and Border Protection, also sat on the panel. He said that the northern ice cap has been receding more on the Russian side than on the Canadian side.

Increased opportunity in the Arctic will mean "different sovereign nations' territorial water come into play," Stanton said. Right now, concern in the area is largely limited to nations that have coastlines on the Arctic, and that includes the eight countries that make up the Arctic Council: Canada, Denmark/Greenland/Faroe Islands, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States.

But more nations will eventually show interest, Mahon said.

"There are many, many others who have economic interests who would like to harvest the goods and sell them on the economic market," Mahon said.

Mahon said, as an example, that for Chinese exports to Europe, it is 40 percent shorter to move goods through the Bering Strait than to move those goods through Panama or around the southern tip of South America.

"From an economic standpoint, you know that will be exploited as quickly as possible," Mahon said. "Ultimately, we will be operating up there more."


Illicit movement of goods between Mexico and the United States involves more than just drugs coming north from Central America, said Stanton. Illicit traffic across the 1,900-mile border goes both ways, and includes not just drugs, but money, human trafficking and weapons.

In the 1990s, Stanton said, a lot of that illicit activity came through California. Now, he said, much of that has shifted eastward to Arizona.

Maj. Gen. Davis S. Baldwin, the adjacent general for the state of California, said drug problems persist in California, however, as a result of transnational criminal organizations, or TCOs, operating in the state.

"Our problem set really goes throughout the northern part of the state, where TCOs are operating quite actively in our forest and public lands by growing marijuana," he said. "The threat there can many times be greater than what we see on the border. When we deploy Soldiers and Airmen down on the border, we generally arm them with side arms. When we send them up into the forest, in the northern part of California, they take long rifles and carbines -- because the threat is that great."

Baldwin said that smugglers, while now crossing the border less into California, are trying new tactics to get into the state.

"We're seeing now smugglers are turning to sea routes of entry and the littorals, and we've had to shift our efforts to more coast-watching," he said. "[It's] an agile threat."

Transnational criminal organizations, he said, are going out to sea and coming to shore "much farther north," and that threat requires work with local and federal agencies, along with a requirement to increase aerial surveillance. Included in that, he said, are the California Air National Guard C-130J aircraft and the rescue-equipped MC-130. Army and Air National Guard unmanned aerial systems are also helping, he said, by keeping "an unblinking eye over the coast to start picking up these boats."

Baldwin also said the California National Guard is developing expanded capabilities to include development of a program with the U.S. Navy Special Operations Command, called the Global Information Network Architecture, or GINA, which is a database of target sets, such as TCOs, that is presented as "a 3D picture in time and space," and which allows them to do predictive analysis.

With the GINA, he said, it is possible to see, for instance, who a TCO has been communicating with and how, "on both sides of the border -- and it can enable law enforcement on both sides of the border to use that information to start taking out these very complex criminal networks and organizations."

While relations with Canadian law enforcement have always been good, relations with Mexican law enforcement is getting better.

Mahon said that military-to-military relations with Mexico have "taken off." That includes combined exercises between the two nations as well as subject-matter expert and senior-leader exchanges.

"Professional exchanges have soared," Mahon said. "It's a good dialogue and a good exchange, it is truly professional, they are giving as much as we are giving."

Stanton said that tactical exchanges with the Mexicans at border crossings are also "quite mature."

Right now, Stanton said, that relationship includes a protocol to pass first responders back and forth in the event of disaster. Were there to be a disaster in San Diego, for instance, Mexican firefighters could come across to provide assistance.

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