America Needs an Arctic Strategy

Global shipping may be on the verge of a breakthrough — literally. Within mere years, polar routes could be sufficiently ice free to revolutionize world trade. The distance between Europe and Japan could be shortened by up to 40 percent for example which would provide tremendous savings in time and resources.

As the Arctic assumes newfound significance for the world economy, national governments are stepping in. The melting ice isn’t just an opportunity for shipping; there are huge oil and gas supplies waiting to be exploited up north. Countries like Canada, Norway and Russia are already in conflict over maritime borders in the region.

Under United Nations sea law, the eight Arctic states have jurisdiction over waters extending twelve nautical miles from their shore with their exclusive economic zones stretching up to two hundred miles into the Arctic Ocean. Most of these countries already have extended oil and natural gas industries. Read more “America Needs an Arctic Strategy”

Arctic Council Signals Rulemaking Maturation

A recent summit of Arctic nations yielded two relatively minor agreements on future oil spill cooperation and combined search and rescue operations. The deals hardly constitute a breakthrough but what is important, according to Wikistrat‘s latest CoreGap Weekly Bulletin, is that the Arctic Council has moved into a rulemaking phase — “crucial given the rapid pace of events there.”

The eight members of the Arctic Council — Canada, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States — all claim part of the polar region which is rapidly becoming accessible to shipping and mining activity due to global warming. Read more “Arctic Council Signals Rulemaking Maturation”

Cameron Brings Northern Europe Together

During a two day Nordic Baltic Summit, the British prime minister said that, “right across the north of Europe there stretches an alliance of common interests.” He believes Britain, Scandinavia and the Baltic nations can lead in European job growth and prosperity.

Political and business leaders from Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway and Sweden joined Prime Minister David Cameron for the summit in London. There is much the countries have in common, he professed. Read more “Cameron Brings Northern Europe Together”

European Navies Train for Coastal Warfare

In September, the navies of thirteen nations gathered at the port of Turku in Finland for Exercise Northern Coasts 2010, a two week training event meant to “improve the interoperability between participating units and countries with main emphasis on maritime operations in confined and shallow waters,” according to the Finnish military. The event was tailored for “smaller naval units, such as fast patrol boats, corvettes, small frigates and Mine Counter-Measure Vessels,” Warships International Fleet Review reported. Read more “European Navies Train for Coastal Warfare”

Russian Bombers Intercepted Over North Sea

Two F-16s of the Royal Dutch Air Force intercepted a pair of Russian bomber airplanes over the North Sea on Tuesday. Two Tupolev Tu-95 strategic bombers, commonly referred to by their NATO designation “Bears,” were escorted by the Dutch fighter planes for some time.

Monday night, fighter jets of the British, Danish and German air forces were first to respond to the presence of the Russian bombers. The Dutch F-16s, part of the Quick Reaction Alert stationed near the city of Leeuwarden in the north of the Netherlands, were called to action Tuesday afternoon.

Russian bombers last penetrated European airspace in March when two Tupolev 160s were intercepted by British Tornados off the northwest coast of Scotland. The Russians have been conducting over a dozen of such flights over northern parts of the Atlantic and the Arctic in recent months. Last September it was reported that Russian submarines had been noticed stalking Britain’s Trident nuclear submarines.

Tension has been rising in the Arctic for quite some time. With ice caps melting and vast natural resources becoming readily available for exploitation, Moscow is determined to claim a stake in the region, planting its flag beneath the Pole in August 2007 and patrolling the area with bomber planes and warships in good Cold War fashion. It has also invested over a billion dollars in the expansion of its port of Murmansk which is supposed to double its capacity by 2015.

Under existing Under Nations sea law, the eight Arctic states have jurisdiction over waters extending twelve nautical miles from their shore while their exclusive economic zones stretch up to two hundred miles into the Arctic Ocean. Russia counts for the bulk of Arctic land and has made its designs abundantly clear in recent years.

The Arctic is estimated to contain about 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil and so much as 30 percent of the world’s undiscovered natural gas. Together this represents 22 percent of all untapped but technically recoverable hydrocarbons. Over 80 percent of these resources lie offshore.

Rise, Arctic, Rise!

The Russian Geological Survey’s first Arctic summit is currently underway in Moscow. Nearly three hundred delegates, including 58 from the Scandinavian countries, Canada and the United States, meet to discuss climate change and the future exploitation of the Arctic’s natural riches. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin of Russia addressed the convention today.

Three years after Russia planted its flag onto the seabed beneath the North Pole, the Kremlin is reportedly regarding the summit as an opportunity to forward its claims in the region. Putin struck a conciliatory tone however. “Even though the Arctic is at the juncture of geopolitical and economic interests,” he said, “all Arctic related issues, including the continental shelf, can be settled by negotiation on the basis of existing international agreements.” Putin envisaged the region as “a venue for establishing true partnership on economic and security issues, education and science and for preserving the cultural legacy of the North.”

Under current UN sea law, the eight Arctic states have jurisdiction over waters extending twelve nautical miles from their shore while their exclusive economic zones stretch up to two hundred miles into the Arctic Ocean. Russia counts for the bulk of Arctic land and has made its designs abundantly clear in recent years. In good Cold War fashion, it has resumed patrolling the region with bomber planes and warships while Moscow invested more than a billion dollars in the expansion of the port of Murmansk which is supposed to double its capacity by 2015.

Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and the United States all claim part of the polar region as well which is rapidly becoming accessible to shipping and mining activity due to global warming.

The Arctic is estimated to contain about 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil and so much as 30 percent of the world’s undiscovered natural gas. Together this represents 22 percent of all untapped but technically recoverable hydrocarbons. Over 80 percent of these resources lie offshore.

Last April, Norway hosted a large-scale NATO exercise above the Arctic Circle. More than 8,500 troops along with 1000 special forces from fourteen different nations participated, including soldiers from Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States. Arctic tensions have been rising since Russian president Dmitri Medvedev said in March that his country is prepared to defend its claim on the region’s natural resources.

“We have seen attempts to limit Russia’s access to the exploration and development of the Arctic mineral resources,” said Medvedev at the time. “That’s absolutely inadmissible from the legal viewpoint and unfair given our nation’s geographical location and history.”

Russia most recently clashed with Canada over which country controls the Lomonosov Ridge, a mountain chain that runs underneath the Arctic. Russia and Norway on the other hand signed a treaty last week that ended a forty year-long dispute over their maritime borders in the Barents Sea.

In order to fully appreciate these countries’ eagerness to gain a foothold in the Arctic region, Laurence Smith painted the following picture for The Wall Street Journal last week.

If Florida coasts become uninsurable and California enters a long-term drought, might people consider moving to Minnesota or Alberta? Will Spaniards eye Sweden? Might Russia one day, its population falling and needful of immigrants, decide a smarter alternative to resurrecting old Soviet plans for a 1,600 mile Siberia-Aral canal is to simply invite former Kazakh and Uzbek cotton farmers to abandon their dusty fields and resettle Siberia, to work in the gasfields?

Smith predicts the emergence of a “New North” above the 45° parallel, “a place of rising human presence and world interest in the twenty-first century. Such a bloc,” he notes, “would contain over twelve million square miles (more than triple the land area of China), a quarter-billion people, some of the world’s most livable cities and a $7 trillion economy.”

I imagine the high Arctic, in particular, will be rather like Nevada — a landscape nearly empty but with fast growing towns. Its prime socioeconomic role in the twenty-first century will not be homestead haven but economic engine, shoveling gas, oil, minerals and fish into the gaping global maw.

The Arctic nations so far have haven’t exactly rushed to annex the region yet but Smith points out that urbanization and economic opportunities are cause for fast paced growth. Some of these countries, including Norway and Russia, are heavily dependent on the export of natural resources. Moreover, if the earth does warm up quickly; if sea levels rise and natural disasters formerly confined to the tropics become more common in North America and Europe, a northward population shift may not be so far stretched after all.

Cold Response

Between February 17 and March 4, Norway hosted the Cold Response 2010 military exercise in Troms county, above the Arctic Circle. More than 8,500 troops as well as 1,000 special forces from fourteen different nations participated, including soldiers from Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The exercise, the first of its kind to take place exclusively in the minus thirty degree Celsius temperatures above the Arctic Circle, tested cold weather amphibious operations as well as interoperability between expeditionary forces. Ground operations ranged from company-sized maneuvering to a brigade-sized beach assault. Both American and Royal Marines hit the beaches in landing craft, with air and naval support, responding to the “invasion” of fictitious Northland by the enemy from Eastland. Read more “Cold Response”

Arctic Tensions Rising

Tensions between Russia and its Arctic neighbor states flared up against last week when President Dmitri Medvedev told his Security Council on Wednesday that the country must be prepared to defend its claim on the region’s natural resources.

With global warming rapidly changing the Arctic landscape, the region might well emerge as a future battleground between the former superpower and nearby interested states, including Canada, Denmark and Norway. The whole Arctic contains about 13 percent of the planet’s untapped oil resources and so much as 30 percent of the world’s undiscovered natural gas. Medvedev predicted that conflict will arise over possession of these riches. Read more “Arctic Tensions Rising”

Future Arctic Battleground

Global warming is rapidly changing the Arctic landscape. In the summer of 2008, for the first time in recorded history, the polar icecap retreated far enough to allow shipping north of Eurasia and North America; by 2013, these sea routes are expected to be completely ice free during the summer.

The region promises more than shortcuts for international shipping however. The Arctic is estimated to contain about 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil and so much as 30 percent of the world’s undiscovered natural gas. Together this represents 22 percent of all untapped but technically recoverable hydrocarbons. Over 80 percent of these resources lie offshore. No wonder then that nearby countries are only too eager to make the high jump into the cold.

There are some complications: energy prices need to be high enough to make production in such an extreme environment economically viable. To make matters worse, some Arctic coastal states have not settled on the regulatory standards for development yet which is especially hampering Norway.

It isn’t stopping the Russians from more or less trying to annex the Pole for themselves of course. Gazprom has partnered with the Norwegian company StatoilHydro in the Russian Arctic and hopes to bring the enormous Shtokman field in the Barents Sea on stream by 2013. The field holds enough gas to provide the whole of the United States with electricity for six years!

Russia made its designs on the Arctic abundantly clear in August 2007 when it planted its flag on the seafloor of the North Pole. In good Cold War fashion, it subsequently began patrolling the Arctic once again with bombers and warships while Moscow invested more than a billion dollars in the expansion of the port of Murmansk which is supposed to double its capacity by 2015.

Whence all the fuss? As former Director of the FSB and current secretary of the Russian Security Council Nikolai Patrushev stated last year: “The Arctic must become Russia’s main strategic resource base.” This, perhaps, to compensate for waning influence in Central Asia.

Russia isn’t the only interested Arctic state. In 2008 Canada held its greatest military exercise ever conducted in the region and the country is spending $40 million on scientific research that is meant to bolster its Arctic claims. Together with Denmark, Norway and the United States, Canada in part contests the Russian pretenses but Russia doesn’t shred from threatening with war over ownership of the giant untapped oil and gasfields. Indeed, it has already shown itself quite willing to violate Canadian airspace just to make a point.

The United States remains strangely silent when it comes to the Pole. Earlier this year, in Foreign Policy, Scott G. Borgerson called upon Washington to take on a more active stance in the Arctic but only recently did Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speak on the issue.

With Canadian-Russian aminosity flaring up, the Pole “is an area that we have to pay real attention to,” said to Clinton, “but it’s not an area that I get called about by reporters or have to answer questions about at the White House yet.” Most opinion- and policymakers do not seem to be aware yet of the great possibilities, and the great dangers, that the melting of the Arctic will provide. It’s about time the United States get involved nevertheless, if only to prevent the Arctic from indeed becoming a future battleground.