Sunday, July 17, 2011

Who owns the North Pole - Part 36

Norway’s decision to move its military command centre 1,000km north from its former location last year highlights the rising strategic stakes in the Arctic amid predictions that global warming will unlock icebound resources and shipping routes.

“More than half of Norwegian waters are north of the Arctic Circle,” says Maj-Gen Rune Jakobsen, deputy chief of staff at the headquarters, gesturing at a map showing Norway’s maritime borders converging with those of Russia, Canada, the US and Greenland around the North Pole. “So it’s only natural that it gets a lot of our attention.”

Norway is not the only country turning its military’s attention to the frozen north. Russia’s defence ministry announced plans last week to create two army brigades to defend its polar territory, and Canada is sending more than 1,000 troops to the region in August for its biggest Arctic. After a quiet period at the end of the cold war, the Russian air force has become more active around Norway’s Arctic airspace. Norwegian officials claim Russia has even carried out mock bombing raids off the coast near Bodø.

The build-up is fuelling fears of conflict in a region estimated to hold up to a quarter of the world’s undiscovered oil and gas. Norway is counting on polar resources to prolong its oil boom as North Sea reserves decline. Statoil, the Norwegian state-controlled energy group, already has one Arctic project on-stream – the Snohvit gas field in the Barents Sea – and in April announced a big oil discovery 100km farther north. The country also stands to benefit from the opening of new shipping routes as polar ice recedes. Last summer, a mine in the far north of Norway delivered 41,000 tonnes of iron ore through Arctic waters to China, shaving 18 days off the time it would have taken via the Suez canal.

“If you put together resources, transport routes and people you have the mix you need for potential conflict,” says Jonas Gahr Støre, Norway’s foreign minister. “But it is up to the Arctic states to manage this responsibly and make sure that is not how it ends up.”

"If you want peace, prepare for war" is the age-old adage - Socialist Courier thinks that the idea of ensuring peace by military build-ups rather ominous and fool-hardy.

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