The real interests in the Arctic

Much of what is said or written about the Arctic – especially by governments or government funded institutions – is political positioning for military reasons, for staking a claim to the resources in the region, or to ensure potential sea transportation routes. Denmark’s positional strength is entirely dependent upon Greenland being part of Denmark whereas Iceland is only a second-tier country as far as rights in the Arctic are concerned. Without Alaska, the US would be in a very much weaker position (and in 1867 the purchase price paid to the Russians was just $7.2 million, or about 2 cents per acre!)

The region is divided into five sectors of responsibility between Russia, the US, Norway, Canada and Denmark. But there are others wishing to develop rich Arctic resources. Among them there are Sweden, Finland and Iceland. 

Arctic Circle  Image Athropolis.com

Arctic Circle Image Athropolis.com

The Russians have just had a conference about future development of the Arctic Region:

The Arctic is in the zone of Russia’s special interests. During the last week,

  • the Russian authorities, experts and the international community were actively engaged in the issues of developing the Arctic region.
  • President Vladimir Putin held a meeting on the issue of military presence in the Arctic;
  • leading political scientists and scholars participated in a round table discussion of the development of infrastructure in the Arctic;
  • and the International Maritime Organization announced an adoption of the Polar Code in the coming days.

……. It’s not a secret that a conflict is swelling between the countries making bids for the development of this territory rich of hydrocarbons and having a unique transit potential. Last year, Putin urged the Ministry of Defense “to pay special attention to the deployment of infrastructure and military units in the Arctic direction.” Today, the military industry is ready to supply the Defense Department with weapons that may be required in Northern latitudes. ….. Next to Russia, the US announced the increasing of its military presence in the Arctic. In these circumstances, Moscow needs to adhere to the course that was chosen during the Soviet times, member of the Federation Council Nikolay Fedoryak says.

“Back then, a serious contingent of Soviet troops was present in the Arctic. The troops located there mainly defended us from a possible air attack of the enemy. It’s not a secret that all strategic routes of US bombers were laid through the North Pole. Now, American capabilities of using high-precision weapons are significantly higher than in 1970-80ies. Therefore, it is inevitable that we need to restore the infrastructure and even do it on a higher level, so that we can protect our national interests. And if we don’t do it now, we may be late.”

…..  Russia puts great hopes on the development of the Northern Sea Route, which may become the most popular route from Europe to Asia. Its use will be strictly regulated in two years. The International Maritime Organization has announced its readiness to adopt the Polar Code of shipping. It will define international standards of the use of the Arctic for transportation purposes. The voluminous document will define in details what vessels and their crews, whose route passes above the 72nd parallel north, can and cannot do.

Until now, strange as it may seem, there were no international conventions regulating navigation in the Arctic. In other words, the same rules as those applied to the Adriatic Sea or in the Mediterranean with their mild climate were applied to the severe Northern region. However, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea of 1982 stated that each state could introduce its own rules of Arctic shipping, head of the Center of Maritime Law Vasily Gutsulyak says.

“The international community can establish provisions on the environmental protection in Northern areas. Thus, it provides a carte blanche to extend the application of a number of international conventions to the Arctic. But the Polar Code quite clearly determines the order of requirements to vessels.”

The game is really worth it. Enormous reserves of hydrocarbons – for example, more than 90 billion barrels of oil – are concentrated in the Arctic. Hence, he who is the most active player in the Arctic direction will secure economic and geopolitical influence in the region.

The positioning of each country is immediately obvious in news articles and the statements of politicians. But it it is also discernible in most scientific papers about the Arctic and especially those about climate and the potential for ice-free regions giving rise to potential new sea routes. Many so-called “scientific expeditions” to the Arctic (just as with the Antarctic) are merely for demonstrating a presence or establishing a claim, for

he who is the most active player in the Arctic direction will secure economic and geopolitical influence in the region.

The next frontier after the Arctic and Antarctic which will see countries similarly jostling for position will surely be the moon. Positioning is one of the key drivers for the Chinese Chang’e-3 moon mission and for the Jade Bunny’s gambolling there. Similarly the Japanese and Indian Space Programmes have political and commercial positioning goals among their key drivers.

Science fiction is coming to life. Within 100 years we shall probably see Japan and China playing out their terrestrial island territorial disputes also around planets and asteroids in space. I have visions of some astronauts being left on asteroids by one country or the other to establish territorial claims!! Maybe we will see mining companies “occupying” mineral rich asteroids.

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