Monday, June 22, 2020

Who owns the North Pole

The United States and the United Kingdom engaged in joint training exercises in the Barents Sea. The exercise included three US destroyers, a fast combat support ship, reconnaissance aircraft, and a UK warship. What makes these exercises significant is the location, as the Barents Sea is located off the northern coast of Russia. This marks the first time since the 1990’s that the US has entered the region to conduct combat drills. This month’s drills were meant to “assert freedom of navigation and demonstrate integration among allies,” according to a US Navy news release. 

The Arctic continues to exceed warm weather records. Ice caps in the region continue to deplete at an alarming rate making the sea lanes more accessible. Many experts believe that the Arctic holds massive reserves of natural gas and oil, mineral deposits, and tourism opportunities. The economic and geopolitical incentives for staking a claim to the region are immense, which has resulted in increased presence and activity from Arctic countries like Russia, the US, Canada and even self-claimed ‘near-Arctic countries’ like China. Recent studies have shown that sea ice will shrink faster and faster causing mass degradation and change to the environment and ecosystem. Russia has been the first to respond, the former Soviet Union had outposts along its northern border but were largely abandoned. With a resurgent Russia, these outposts are now being utilized in a mass military buildup. Russia leads all Arctic countries in ice breakers and Arctic capable nuclear powered ships and submarines. In response to Russia’s military buildup, the US and NATO have responded by conducted training exercises in the region from Alaska to the Barents Sea most recently as well as committing resources to the region. Last year, the US conducted B-2 stealth bomber flights into the far north.

With numerous studies suggesting that Arctic ice caps will continue to melt and deplete faster and faster the Arctic will become more accessible. The competition between countries will intensify. The military buildup and confrontation will grow tenser. The jockeying for resources and economic advantages will grow more aggressive and assertive.

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