It has been a while since the blog added to its Who Owns the North Pole topic. Its silence does not mean that the Great Powers and the regional powers have been neglectful in trying to protect their interests in the Arctic.
As ice gives way to a more navigable ocean, the U.S. Coast Guard has estimated that there has been a 300-percent increase in human activity in the Arctic. These changing conditions raise the strategic stakes. Melting sea ice will create cheaper, faster shipping lanes between the world's major markets and unlock Arctic energy development, creating a race for 22 percent of the world's undiscovered resources. Denmark and Greenland have agreed to develop large deposits of rare earth materials and uranium, while Norway has ramped up production of liquefied natural gas (LNG) in the High North. Increased sea traffic, overlapping territorial claims, and competing economic interests raise important questions about sovereignty, freedom of navigation, and lawful resource development. The nations most affected by these dramatic changes have recognized the growing importance of the Arctic and are investing in their communities, economies, and defense.
Russia has staked its claim by aggressive investment, including ambitious new Arctic airfields, bases, and energy infrastructure from which it can project power on regional choke points. Russia continues to modernize its nuclear submarines and add new icebreakers to its current fleet of over 40, including the recent launch of the world's largest and most powerful nuclear icebreaker — designed for military purposes.
Norway increased its defense budget by 9.8 percent in 2016 in order to protect its investments in the Arctic, announcing plans for $19.8 billion in additional defense spending over the next 20 years, prioritizing investment in Arctic capabilities and platforms such as the F-35 fighter aircraft and new submarines. Sweden and Finland have also increased defense spending, and while it has no standing army, Iceland agreed in June to allow U.S. forces to be stationed there for the first time since 2006.
The United States unveiled its Arctic strategy, creating the Arctic Executive Steering Committee to realign U.S. focus. The Department of Interior's review of its five-year oil and gas leasing program –proposes two new lease sales in the Arctic. General James Jones, former national security advisor to President Obama and Supreme Allied Commander for NATO militaries in Europe and General Joseph Ralston who was the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and was also Supreme Allied Commander for NATO militaries in Europe explained it clearly. “It is time for the U.S. to resume its place as a global leader in the Arctic and back its claims with action.”