The Coming Battle for Arctic Resources

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The Coming Battle for Arctic Resources

In May 2019, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo set forth his “Northern Doctrine” in a speech to the Arctic Council, attended by all the countries with Arctic borders: Canada, Denmark (including Greenland), Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and the United States.  In blunt terms, he put Russia and China on notice with regard to militarizing the region and chastened Canada, describing its claim of sovereignty over the Northwest Passage as “illegitimate.”

Underlying this newfound interest is the fact that scientists predict that in 25 years the ocean will be largely ice-free in the summer months.  This will open-up resource development and navigation along three routes linking Asia and Europe:

One is the Northeast Passage or the Northern Sea Route that transits mostly Russian territorial and internal waters and offshore Norway through the Barents Sea;

The second is the Northwest Passage, which transits the Canadian Arctic Archipelago and the coast of Alaska;

The third is the Transpolar Route across the North Pole, beyond the territorial waters of any Arctic state.

The Transpolar route won’t be navigable anytime soon, while Russia’s Northeast Passage is already ice-free much of the summer and hugs a somewhat populated coastline.  Commercial traffic from China is already transiting that route, and investments worth billions of dollars are already being made into navigational, search and rescue, and icebreaking capabilities.  This route shaves 20 days off the Asia-Europe journey for cargo ships by bypassing the Suez and Panama Canals.

For the United States, the primary non-military concern is that the Russians will create a transpolar logistical monopoly for shipping goods between Asia and Europe, as well as delivering liquefied natural gas and other commodities to both.  This could allow Moscow to exclude or gouge competitors. 

The military concern is that Russia is boosting its military presence along the Arctic sea route, while China lurks nearby.  The enormous potential of Arctic natural resources coupled with the demographic pressures that will confront both nations is a recipe for rich imperial adventurism.  This has piqued the concern of both the Pentagon and the State Department.

According to research by two scholars at Webster Vienna Private University, the Arctic “encompasses about six percent of the Earth’s surface and an estimated 22 percent of the world’s undiscovered fossil fuel resources...

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