Russia’s Arctic Posture: Defensive or Offensive?

Russian Arctic tanker
A United States Coast Guard icebreaker escorts a Russian tanker through the Bering Strait, January 6, 2012 (Coast Guard)

Westerners tend to interpret Russia’s behavior in the Arctic as offensive, going back to 2007, when the country resumed air and naval patrols in the area and planted its flag under the North Pole.

Alexander Sergunin, a professor of international relations at Saint Petersburg State University, argues in The Wilson Quarterly that the reality is more nuanced. On balance, he writes, Moscow’s policy is pragmatic. Read more “Russia’s Arctic Posture: Defensive or Offensive?”

How Climate Change Will Be the Biggest Geopolitical Crisis of the Century

Russian Arctic tanker
A United States Coast Guard icebreaker escorts a Russian tanker through the Bering Strait, January 6, 2012 (Coast Guard)

America is out of the environmental protection businesses; so says the haughty God-Emperor Donald Trump, whose word is apparently law.

Too bad even god-emperors cannot change facts. Too bad, especially, for the billions who are almost certain to be disrupted, displaced and decimated by the looming geopolitical effects of climate change.

That basic truth is denied heartily by many who have incentive to play games for short-term gain. These are old-school industrial concerns, for whom environmental regulation hammers a bottom line; alt-right, alt-truthers, for whom simple science is a threat to their incoherent worldview; and shattered working classes, seeking a simple scapegoat for the complicated story of their economic dissolution and disenfranchisement.

As written in Salon:

The executive order is another example of the Trump Administration’s ignoring basic facts in service of a right-wing ideology rooted mostly in a blind, irrational hatred of Obama.

Unfortunately for Trump, undoing Obama’s climate legacy will require more than the stroke of a pen.

The science of climate change is so basic, however, that it is shaping geopolitical forces on a global scale. Whether those forces will overcome the denialists remains to be seen.

Climate change will be the human event of the twenty-first century. It will be a shaping of our species unlike anything since the end of the last Ice Age. To presume that nation states, or their successors, will somehow carry on blithely in spite of it is naive in the extreme. Read more “How Climate Change Will Be the Biggest Geopolitical Crisis of the Century”

In Alaska, Obama Calls for New Arctic Icebreakers

President Barack Obama was expected to call on Tuesday for new Coast Guard icebreakers in the Arctic, an area where the United States have fallen behind rival Russia.

While Russia operates some forty icebreakers, several of them nuclear-powered, and has six more under construction, the United States only have two. On a visit to Alaska, Obama was due to urge Congress to approve funding for new ships by 2020. Read more “In Alaska, Obama Calls for New Arctic Icebreakers”

Ukraine Overshadows American Arctic Council Takeover

On Friday, Canada handed over the chairmanship of the Arctic Council to the United States in its far northern city of Iqaluit. During its two-year tenure, the physical and geopolitical landscape of the Arctic has changed once again with much focus taken away from the region and put on the tensions between Russia and the West over the war in Ukraine.

Geopolitically, the Arctic remains important. For the United States, the key challenges are bringing the Arctic Council to the fore of international politics and balancing economic ambition and environmental sustainability.

Specifically, America needs to address its long-standing abstention from the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. If the relevant issues of sovereignty can finally be resolved, it would be a significant show of intent by the Americans in respect to not only the Arctic but maritime disputes in general. Failure to do so would see continued exasperation and disunity among the Arctic Council nations.

The United States are also behind in creating concrete policy for the Arctic. Canada used its chairmanship to create a regional oil pollution preparedness and response agreement. The American administrators may expand on this considering Alaska’s proximity to Arctic resources, hopefully sidestepping any environmental landmines along the way. Read more “Ukraine Overshadows American Arctic Council Takeover”

Canada Expands Arctic Claim to Include North Pole

Canada’s foreign minister, John Baird, made a remarkable claim this week: that Canada’s extended continental shelf should include the geographical North Pole.

The news came as an end of the year deadline for the country’s submission to the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf loomed large over its policies toward the Arctic and its neighbors.

Canada has good reason to establish its influence in the Arctic, a region that is believed to hold as much as a quarter of the world’s remaining oil and natural gas resources. The country has always maintained a robust stance in the High North which ranks above all other priorities in its foreign policy. Read more “Canada Expands Arctic Claim to Include North Pole”

At Arctic Meeting, European Union Left Out in the Cold

The news from Kiruna, Sweden last week was certainly a game changer for the future of the Arctic region.

As the chairmanship of the Arctic Council forum was passed to Canada, China, India, Italy, Japan, Singapore and South Korea were formally accepted into the “cold club” as observer members. A binding oil spill prevention agreement for the Arctic was also signed, highlighting the resources that are said to be found in the area. But the postponing of the accession of the European Union and the entry of China dominated proceedings following the ministerial meetings in the northern Swedish town.

The European Union’s bid to be an observer in the body was previously rejected in 2009 due to a dispute with Canada over its trade in seal products, illegal in Europe. The same issue likely prevented the European Union from entering the Arctic forum this year. Read more “At Arctic Meeting, European Union Left Out in the Cold”

Russia Considering Opening Arctic to Foreign Oil Majors

Russia is considering allowing foreign energy companies to own oil licenses in its Arctic waters. That would be a break from its existing policy of awarding offshore exploration licenses only to domestic conglomerates such as Gazprom and Rosneft.

Russian energy minister Alexander Novak told the Financial Times that the proposal would allow foreign companies not only to operate offshore projects but “have access to production,” or directly “book” Russian reserves instead of having to go through intermediaries.

The development of oil deposits in Russia’s north, including the South Barents basin and South Kara Sea, is critical to maintaining Russian oil production at ten million barrels per day. Novak predicted that between 25 and 30 percent of Russia’s crude oil production would come from offshore products by 2030. Read more “Russia Considering Opening Arctic to Foreign Oil Majors”

America Wakes Up to the Arctic’s Potential

In a sign that America is taking the enormous economic potential and future geopolitical challenges of the Arctic region seriously, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited the Norwegian city of Tromsø on Saturday.

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

The visit comes 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, is an Arctic power, but it has done little to advance its interests in the region. Read more “America Wakes Up to the Arctic’s Potential”

“N” for North: NATO’s Cold Future

NATO may take a different form as “the Great Melt” heats up. After the expected pullout from Afghanistan in 2014, pressure will mount on the alliance to turn northward. “The Arctic represents the emergence of a new geopolitical arena.”

As a result of climate change, many nations in the Northern Hemisphere could soon pivot to the pole, argues Lorenzo Nannetti, an analyst for the crowdsourced consultancy Wikistrat.

“As global demand for resources grows, the Arctic region becomes a new field for international competition as new sea lanes open due to ice melting,” he says. Read more ““N” for North: NATO’s Cold Future”

Norway, Russia Strengthen Arctic Relations

At a ministerial summit in Oslo last month, Norway and Russia agreed to improve military relations and expand cooperation in their Arctic territories.

Both northern states are reorganizing their armed forces in recognition of the changing strategic landscape. 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.

As a result of climate change, the Arctic region is set to assume newfound importance for the world economy. The melting ice could shorten global supply chains and free up vast oil and natural gas reserves to exploration. Read more “Norway, Russia Strengthen Arctic Relations”