Freedom of Navigation in the Arctic: Options for Deterring Russia's Excessive Maritime Claims
Sims, Michael "Mac"
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As climate change opens up new lanes of international commerce from melting sea ice in the Arctic, the region has growing importance to American strategy. The newly viable Northern Sea Route (NSR) through the Arctic Ocean around Russia will prove to be one of the 21st century’s most important commercial routes as the fastest way to move goods between the North Atlantic and the North Pacific. However, the Russian Federation has made excessive maritime claims, claiming that most of the NSR is an internal waterway, and enforcing a stringent regulatory regime on any vessel wishing to make the transit. This paper presents the option of conducting Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOP) in the Arctic to deter excessive Russian claims and to reassure the United States’ allies of a commitment to preserving a rules-based order in the Arctic. This study analyzes the history of Russian maritime claims and the efficacy of the larger FONOP program, using FONOPs in the South China Sea as a case study to generate a pro and con policy analysis framework. Based on these factors, this paper concludes that the US should begin FONOPs through the Arctic within the next five years, accomplishing the stated policy goal with the most limited military escalation possible. Furthermore, since the commercial activity in the Arctic will only increase over time, this study finds that waiting to tackle this problem only increases the costs associated with finding a solution in the long term.