Photo: USCG.The head of the U.S. Coast Guard met today with his counterparts from seven other northern nations to create the Arctic Coast Guard Forum, at a signing ceremony in New London, Conn. The forum is intended to help pool resources when life, limb or the Arctic environment are in danger. But perhaps the most significant feature of today’s event was Russia’s presence.Download AudioThe new Coast Guard alliance has the same membership roster as the Arctic Council: Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the U.S. Through the council, the countries agreed years ago to help each other with search and rescue and oil spill response. But how is this collaboration supposed to happen, besides starting anew with every emergency?“These binding agreements had no mechanism to implement operations, which really falls on the shoulders of the coast guards,” said Admiral Paul Zukunft, the U.S. Coast Guard commandant.That’s the gap the Arctic Coast Guard Forum aims to fill, with regular meetings, dialog and joint exercises.American resources clearly aren’t keeping with the expected increase in ship traffic. Case in point: a 1,000-passenger cruise ship is expected to sail the Northwest Passage next summer. Zukunft says if there’s an accident the U.S. Coast Guard can’t stage a major rescue on its own.“In the summer months, we have two H-60 helicopters, pre-positioned up in the Arctic,” he said. “Between those two helicopters we can probably recover maybe 15 people.”The new forum isn’t the first line of defense for the cruise. Zukunft says the American and Canadian coast guards will be talking to the cruise line about what assets it intends to have on standby. But Russia, with dozens of ice breakers, is obviously the Big Daddy of Arctic response.Still, the formal creation of the Arctic Coast Guard Forum stalled last year, because Canada objected to Russia’s participation, in response to Moscow’s move on Ukraine. Zukunft says all eight Arctic nations had to be part of the forum.“Russia has the preponderance of the resources when it comes to the Arctic domain,” he said. “So it’s critical to have them at the table, if we’re going to have a joint statement that really has some meaning.”Heather Conley, a senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, agrees it was right to include Russia, although she says it’s a challenging proposition when you look at Russia’s actions in the Arctic.“Russia has performed snap military exercises, at full combat readiness, without notifying other Arctic states,” she said. “We know they are changing their security position, their military. They’re reopening military bases. They’re doing some things that go beyond what I’d say are acceptable for simple search and rescue and maritime cooperation.”But, Conley says, talk is good, and Zukunft says sharing information is what the Coast Guard forum is all about.“So hopefully it turns into a good venue for additional dialog that will help reduce tensions in the Arctic,” Conley said.