Pentagon authorizes Northern Command to secure U.S. rights in resource-rich Arctic, April 13, 2011

The U.S. Northern Command has been given responsibility for protecting U.S. and allied territorial rights to the resource-rich Arctic from infringement by states like China.

The Pentagon’s new Unified Command Plan was announced April 8 and gives the Colorado-based command overall authority for "responsibility to advocate for Arctic capabilities."

Frontier inspection soldiers wave to the main Chinese Arctic research vessel "Xue Long" (Snow Dragon), at Wusong checkpoint in Shanghai, on Sept 19, 2010. Xinhua

The boundaries for responsibility in the Arctic region were shifted "to leverage long-standing relationships and improve unity of effort."

"As a result of this realignment, responsibility for the Arctic region is now shared between USEUCOM and USNORTHCOM rather than USEUCOM, USNORTHCOM and USPACOM as directed in previous UCPs."

The Arctic is estimated to have between 90 billion and 100 billion tons of oil and has been eyed by China’s military, which is increasingly being structured to be used by Beijing’s communist rulers to obtain energy resources and protect supply routes as part of China’s modernization program.

U.S. officials were alarmed by statements made by a Chinese admiral last year stating that the Arctic is unclaimed international territory.

Adm. James Winnefeld, commander of the Northern Command, told a Senate hearing last week that "the geopolitical importance of the Arctic has never been greater," noting that up to 25 percent of the world’s remaining undiscovered oil and natural gas deposits could be under the Arctic ice cap.

"While most experts believe it will be some time before commercial Arctic shipping routes through the Northwest Passage and the Northern Sea Route see a significant increase in volume, some countries and commercial interests are actively testing the waters and making plans to increase their activity," Winnefeld said.

Winnefeld said he has made the Arctic a key focus area and said the command is working on a military estimate of the Arctic. Non-military involvement could include search and rescue, humanitarian assistance, disaster response and support to law enforcement.

The command is working with Canadian military forces on a concept of operations in the region, while looking a ways to close gaps in military capabilities, including shortcomings in all-domain awareness, and communications. For infrastructure, plans include a deepwater port and increased mobility will require a national icebreaking capability.

Arctic Ocean charting also is needed, he said.

Winnefeld called for Senate ratification of the Law of the Sea Treaty that he said would "protect and advance U.S. interests in the Arctic by bolstering our national security, securing U.S. rights over extensive marine areas, and giving the United States a seat at the table when our vital interests are at stake without abdicating any sovereignty."

China’s claim to the Arctic resources was outlined in a bold statement by Chinese Gen. Yin Zhuo who stated in 2010 that "the North Pole and areas nearby do not belong to any country, but are the common property of all the people in the world."

"China has a population of 1 billion and several hundred million people, or one-fifth of the world’s population, so it cannot be left out of developing the North Pole," he said.

Yin claimed some countries are claiming sovereignty over the North Pole, and suggested a possible future "war for control of the North Pole."

In October 2010, Russian Navy commander-in-chief Adm. Vladimir Vysotskiy told state-run news media that "there are a lot of people who wish to get into the Arctic and Antarctic from an economic point of view."

"In particular, China has already signed agreements with Norway to explore the Arctic zone," he said.

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