In October 2009 I wrote a piece called the “New Cold War?” The article discussed the rivalry among numerous countries that border the Arctic for control over it. Today’s news casts report that Russia is claiming that the Arctic belongs to it. The Russians claim that its border should be extended northward. The government says that hidden under the Arctic’s icy waters is a mountain range, the Lomonosov Ridge, which goes all the way to the North Pole. They say this shows that Russia continues north below sea level. Russia has scientists in the Arctic Ocean now, collecting evidence for the claim.
Given these new claims the following is the article published in 2009.
The Arctic, with 1670 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 90 billion barrels of oil, according to the United States Geological Survey, is increasingly becoming an area of competition between the United States and Russia.
The oil / gas resources and the increased accessibility to the region because the Northwest Passage has been open more of the year is what brings the importance of the Arctic to the front of our concerns.
Russian intentions are indicated by a statement attributed to the 2007 expedition leader to the Arctic. This Russian expedition planted the Russian flag under the ice and its leader declared: “The Arctic is ours.” Russia actually claims more than 50 percent of the area as its own economic zone. Additionally the Russian military has started training for Arctic warfare.
Russian efforts appear to be in violation of several international agreements on the Arctic and its defined 200 mile coastal limits. Canada, Norway, Denmark, and the US have objected to Russia’s apparent intentions. The Canadian Defense Minister has invited Secretary of Defense Gates to visit the area. However, there are disagreements between each of the opponents to Russia, which make cooperation more difficult. One of the critical disagreements is whether the Northwest Passage, if it becomes free from ice more of the year, is a Canadian inland waterway or an international strait between two high seas as the US claims. (Recently two German cargo ships reduced the transit time from Europe to Korea by 10 days by using the Northwest Passage.)
The Canadians are increasing their ability to conduct military activities in Arctic warfare, but they are not the only ones. Finland, Sweden, and Norway are developing a Nordic security partnership to protect their interests in the Arctic. The US, with its focus in Iraq and Afghanistan is keeping its military options exercised by conducting annual exercises in the area—mostly air, not ground forces, though paratroop drops are simulated.
In order to contain the Russian expansionist intent, the first thing that needs to happen is that Canada, Denmark, Norway, the United States and Sweden need to resolve their issues and confront Russia with a united front. To facilitate this unity the United States should agree to the Canadian position that the Northwest Passage is a Canadian inland waterway, thus requiring Canada to defend and control it. NATO needs to review its position towards the Arctic and Russian expansionism.
Is the Arctic another area that the United States is surrendering to the Russians in exchange for cooperation on other issues, as suggested during our discussion of missile defense.
What do you think? What should we do about the Arctic?