America Wakes Up to the Arctic’s Potential

In Norway, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said “the Arctic has an increasing geopolitical importance.” Indeed, it does.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during a visit to Norway, June 2 (Utenriksdepartementet/Andrea Gjestvang)
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during a visit to Norway, June 2 (Utenriksdepartementet/Andrea Gjestvang)

In the clearest sign yet that the United States are taking seriously the enormous economic potential and future geopolitical challenges of the Arctic region, Secretary of State Hillary clinton visited the city of Tromsø on Saturday in the north of Norway.

“From a strategic standpoint, the Arctic has an increasing geopolitical importance as countries vie to protect their rights and extend their influence,” Clinton told reporters in the capital of Oslo before heading for Tromsø where she was accompanied by Norway’s foreign minister, Jonas Gahr Støre.

The visit comes just two months after Norway and Cold War rival Russia agreed to improve military relations and expand cooperation in their Arctic lands. Russia has the largest Arctic territory by far, second to Canada. The United States, courtesy of Alaska, are considered an Arctic state as well but have done little to advance their interests there so far.

Norway aims to convert one of its High North battalions into a dedicated Arctic brigade comprising naval and special forces units. Russia last year announced plans to create an armored Arctic brigade of its own on the Kola Peninsula. The Canadians have similar plans for military deployment above the Arctic Circle but the United States Coast Guard fields just three icebreakers, two of which are antiquated and slated to be retired.

American soldiers have participated regularly in Norway’s Cold Response exercise which draws participation from many NATO member states.

This saber rattling has caused consternation in Moscow, Wikistrat’s Graham O’Brien told the Atlantic Sentinel last month. “Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov has said in several interviews that he believes NATO has no place in the Arctic, whether it be for political or security reasons.”

In good Cold War fashion, Russia has resumed patrolling the Arctic region with bomber planes and warships while the Kremlin invested more than a billion dollars in the expansion of the northern port of Murmansk which is supposed to double its capacity by 2015.

Even as tension is mounting, American supermajor ExxonMobil is working with Russia’s state-owned oil and gas company Rosneft to develop blocks in the Kara Sea, off Siberia, where sea is present up to three hundred days per year.

Russia’s Gazprom is also working with Total of France and Norway’s Statoil in the Shtokman gasfield, east of Novaya Zemlya.

Climate change is expected to improve access for oil and gas drilling. The Arctic could contain some 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil and so much as 30 percent of the world’s undiscovered natural gas. Combined, these figures amount to 22 percent of the planet’s untapped but technically recoverable hydrocarbons.