Showing posts with label Arctic. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Arctic. Show all posts

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Who Owns the North Pole (Part 87)

Russia has renewed its efforts to get the United Nations to recognise 1.2 million sq km (463,000 sq miles) of the Arctic shelf that it lays claim to. All other countries bordering the Arctic - Norway, Denmark, Canada and the US - reject Moscow's claim.
It made a similar move for the resource-rich territory in 2001, but that was rejected by a UN commission because of insufficient evidence. Russia's foreign ministry said the fresh bid is backed by scientific data. "Ample scientific data collected in years of Arctic research are used to back the Russian claim," Russia foreign ministry said in a statement.
he new move comes a week after the Kremlin said it was strengthening its naval forces in the Arctic as part of a new military doctrine.
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said the plans included a new fleet of icebreakers. Earlier this year, Russia's military conducted exercises in the Arctic that involved 38,000 servicemen, more than 50 surface ships and submarines and 110 aircraft.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Who owns the North Pole part 86

The Arctic Cold War Hots Up 

Canada plans to spend billions of dollars on new patrol ships, polar satellites, transport upgrade, and winter gear for its troops amid rising demands for the Arctic’s riches.

In line with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s vow to boost the country’s footprint in the Arctic in a bid to spur its economic growth, the Conservative government has announced a multi-billion dollar budget to purchase everything from naval ships to weather satellites, US-based Defense News reported this week.  According to the report, on top of the shopping list are five new patrol ships for the Royal Canadian Navy, which will be outfitted with Lockheed Martin avionics at a cost of CAN $3.5 billion ($3.4 billion), as well as up to $50 million in technical upgrades for the Air Force’s CC-138 transport aircraft. Canada plans to buy up to 100 all-terrain vehicles at an estimated price tag between $100 million and $249 million. The Arctic spending package will also include up to $49 million spent on new winter apparel, including snowshoes, skis and toboggans.

Several U.S. lawmakers are warning U.S. military leaders about the pace and scope of Russia's Arctic militarization, including the addition new brigades, ships and airfields to the fast-changing region. 
Russian initiatives are making it increasingly difficult for the U.S. to successfully compete in the area as new sea lanes emerge, they say. 
"When you look at what the Russians are doing in the Arctic, it is actually quite impressive --impressive, but disturbing," Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Ala., told military leaders at a recent Senate Armed Services Committee Navy budget hearing.
"The Russians are looking at adding four new combat brigades in the Arctic as our U.S. Army is thinking at pulling them out of there," he said. "I think that would give Vladimir Putin a lot of joy. They are building 13 new airfields and conducting long-range air patrols off the coast of Alaska."

"That we would even contemplate taking one soldier away from Alaska is lunacy given Putin's recent actions in the Arctic," he said. "Alaska's Army BCTs are the best cold-weather and mountain-hardened BCTs in the country.  The training makes them uniquely valuable to the U.S. Army and their presence in Alaska hopefully ensures that other nations never make us use them."
Experts say the pace of melting ice and rising water temperatures is expected to open more waterways in the region and possibly new sea-routes for commercial shipping, transport, strategic military presence and adventure tourism. The developments carry geopolitical and national-security risks, as well.
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert said the U.S. needs to intensify its preparations for Arctic activity.
"We need to look at it deliberately and understand it," he said. "We need to get industry up there and study the place and find out when it is going to melt. What are the sea lines that will open? Are there territorial disputes? Are there threats? Russia is increasing their military presence which sort of makes sense. Also, how do we survive up there with our ships our aircraft and our people?"
The Navy is researching technologies that will better enable sailors, ships, sensors and weapons to operate in such a harsh environment.
"We have to look at the hardening of our hulls," he said. "It is not just surface ships. It is the aircraft and the undersea domain. I've directed the increase in our activity up there."
The Office of Naval Research has deployed drones underneath the ice to assess the temperature and salt content of the water so as to better predict the pace of melting ice and the opening up of sea routes.

Greenert also said the Navy is increasing joint exercises with Canada and Scandinavian countries in preparation for increased Arctic activity.
Despite these measures, some lawmakers are still not convinced that the U.S. is doing enough to counterbalance Russian military initiatives in the region. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, expressed concern that the U.S. only operates a handful of ice breaker ships compared to Russia's large fleet of ice breakers.
"We have one heavy duty and one medium-duty Coast Guard ice breakers," he said. "The Russians have 17 ice breakers in the Arctic. If we are talking about innocent passage and trade, ice breakers are the highway builders and that is an example of how we are really not adequately developing our strategic interests in that region."
Sullivan also echoed Sen. King's concerns about the small U.S. fleet of ice breakers, adding that the Russians have six new icebreakers in development with five more planned.
The U.S. has more than 1,000 miles of Arctic coastline along its Alaskan border. However, Russia's Northern Sea Route, which parallels the Arctic and Russian border, is by far the largest existing shipping route in the region.
Recognizing that the quickening pace of melting ice and warming water temperatures may open up sea lanes sooner than expected, the Navy last year released an Updated Arctic Road Map, which details the service's preparations for increasing its presence in the region.

The Navy's initial version of the document released in 2009 includes mission analysis and "fleet readiness" details for the environment, including search and rescue, maritime security, C4ISR, cooperation with the U.S. Coast Guard, strategic sealift and strategic deterrence, among other things.
"The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the globe," the document states. "While significant uncertainty exists in projections for Arctic ice extent, the current scientific consensus indicates the Arctic may experience nearly ice free summers sometime in the 2030s."
An assessment by the Navy's Task Force Climate Change determined the rate of melting has increased since the time of this report. As a result, Navy planners anticipate needing to operate there to a much greater extent by the middle of the 2020s instead of the 2030s.
Although the thinning of the Arctic ice was reported by Navy submarines in the 1990s, there have been considerable changes to the environment since that time, said Robert Freeman, spokesman for the oceanographer of the Navy.
While stressing that budget constraints might limit what preparations are possible, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus also said the service was increasing its exercises and preparations for greater activity in the region.
"As the ice melts in the Arctic our responsibilities go up. It is not just platforms and capabilities -- it is what we are facing," he said. "We not only have less ice but it is freezing in different ways. The ice is forming in different ways that are beginning to be a hazard to navigation. We're upping our exercises and research into the area."

Putin called the Navy's Northern Fleet to full combat readiness in exercises in Russia's Arctic North apparently aimed at dwarfing military drills in neighboring Norway, a NATO member. Norway is currently holding its "Joint Viking" drills involving 5,000 troops and 400 vehicles in Finnmark county, which borders Russia in the resource-rich Arctic circle where both countries are vying for influence. This is an operative exercise with all weapons and branches involved,” said army spokesperson Lt. Col. Aleksander Jankov. “To illustrate the magnitude of this, I can mention that if we put the vehicles one after another on the road it will stretch 6 kilometers.”
Norway said its military drills had been planned before the Ukraine crisis. "However, the current security situation in Europe shows that the exercise is more relevant than ever," Lieutenant General Haga Lunde said in a statement. Russia's drills would include nearly 40,000 servicemen, 41 warships and 15 submarines, RIA reported. 

"New challenges and threats to military security require the armed forces to further boost their military capabilities. Special attention must be paid to newly created strategic formations in the north," Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said, quoted by RIA news agency.

Russia's biggest new military development in the Arctic is the creation of the Russian Joint Strategic Command North (JSCN), which is built out of the former Northern Fleet. The command, according to Defense News, has a surface fleet and a submarine fleet of about 40 vessels each, although between 40% and 70% of those ships are currently unusable.

According to the Polish Institute of International Affairs, the JSCN won't be an ordinary naval fleet. The command will ultimately feature an air defense division, two Arctic mechanized brigades, a naval infantry brigade, a coastal defense missile system, and the placement of missile regiments in outlying archipelagos in the Arctic Ocean. As part of the air defense regiment, Moscow is moving a total of nine S-400 Triumph air defense missile systems to the coast. The S-400 is a long-range surface-to-air missile system that can engage a variety of targets, including aircraft, drones, and other missiles. Triumph air defense missile systems can strike at targets up to 250 miles away and at a maximum altitude of 18.6 miles.  New infrastructure throughout Russia's remote northern coast will support this military buildup. Formerly abandoned Soviet bases are being reopened and new ports and airstrips will be constructed. Moscow's current plans envision the opening of ten Arctic search-and-rescue stations, 16 deepwater ports, 13 airfields, and ten air-defense radar stations across its Arctic coast. Once completed, this construction will "permit the use of larger and more modern bombers," Mark Galeotti, an NYU professor specializing on Russia, writes for The Moscow Times. "By 2025, the Arctic waters are to be patrolled by a squadron of next-generation stealthy PAK DA bombers." One of the new bases is in Alakurtti in the Murmansk region, just 31 miles away from the Finnish border. Murmansk will soon be the location of over 3,000 ground troops, 39 surface ships, and 35 submarines.

Robert Papp, the U.S. special representative for the Arctic, says he questions reports that Russia has launched a major military buildup in the Arctic. Papp says he’s asking U.S. intelligence agencies to look beyond Russia’s military swagger for a realistic view of its Arctic activity. Papp says Moscow could be adding infrastructure for general use in the north.

“One person can look at what’s going on in terms of what they call ‘military buildup’ and rightfully say they’ve got an awful long border along the Arctic, and if you’re going to have increased maritime traffic you should have search-and-rescue facilities, you should have modern airports and other things — things I’d like to have built in Alaska as maritime traffic increases,” he said.

Army Chief of Staff Ray Odierno spoke yesterday of Russia’s military buildup in the Arctic. 
“We have seen over the last several years an obvious increased interest in the Russians in the Arctic,” Odierno said at a U.S. Senate hearing. “There are clear indications … that they are increasing their presence and building bases so in the future they will be able to increase the presence and have an impact in the Arctic region.”

Last week, the secretary of defense said much the same, and the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff said Russia is activating four new brigades in the Arctic.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Who Owns the North Pole (part 85)

The United Kingdom should select an ambassador for the Arctic or risk being left out of key decisions in the region, a House of Lords report says. It advised the UK should follow the example of nations including France, Singapore and Japan in appointing an ambassador for the Arctic.

Experts have said the Arctic will be free of sea ice in the summer as soon as 2020, which will give way to extract resources, open up a northern sea trade route and opportunities to “take advantage of the expansion of shipping” on Arctic routes. The committee suggests the interests of British companies need better representation.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Who Owns the North Pole Part 84

Russia may consider protecting its national interests in the Arctic with military means if necessary, the country’s defense minister said, pointing to the increasing interest in the region’s resources by countries with no direct access to the Arctic.

“The constant military presence in the Arctic and a possibility to protect the state’s interests by the military means are regarded as an integral part of the general policy to guarantee national security,” Sergei Shoigu said at a Ministry of Defense meeting. “It’s not a secret that the Arctic is turning into one of the world centers for producing hydrocarbons and is an important junction for transport communications,” he said. “Some developed countries that don’t have direct access to the polar regions obstinately strive for the Arctic, taking certain political and military steps in that direction.” Shoigu said, “To secure the safety of navigation on the Northern Sea Route and of the response to possible threats in the Arctic region, a force grouping has been increased at the Chukotski Peninsula.”

Brand new Russian submarines have been rehearsing actions in the glacial conditions of the north since the beginning of this year. These actions follow last year’s drills of the quick reaction mobile forces that took place in the Arctic. The New Siberian Islands, Novaya Zemlya, Frantz Josef Land Archipelago, and Wrangel Island – all located in the Arctic Ocean – have seen a continuing creation of modern military infrastructure. At the end of last year, Russia adopted a new version of its military doctrine until the year 2020, which for the first time named the protection of the country’s national interests in the Arctic among the main priorities for the armed forces. Within its framework, a joint strategic command was organized as part of the Northern Fleet in order to control and coordinate troops.

Russia has recently commenced to develop its northern regions, which includes the production of hydrocarbons, with national companies developing the exploration and construction of drilling facilities in the north of the country. The Northern Sea Route is becoming a more attractive option for shipping goods as ice melts. The United States hopes to begin drilling for oil and gas in offshore areas of Alaska. Last week, the White House produced a set of rules to govern exploratory drilling in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas that would ensure companies and contractors are prepared for the Arctic conditions. Last month, Denmark filed a claim with the UN for a total area of 895,000 square kilometers of the potentially resource-rich Arctic Ocean sea floor, provoking much criticism from Canada – who considers the territory its own

Shoigu also noted that countries that are adjacent to the Arctic are all trying to expand their presence. According to existing international law, Arctic nations – Russia, the US, Denmark and Greenland, Norway, and Canada – have a right to develop the continental shelf limited by 200 nautical miles. Should a state claim further territory, it should provide a special UN commission with scientific and technical data backing the claim.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Who Owns the North Pole part 83

Canada is moving ahead on building a fleet of Arctic patrol ships to provide a naval presence in the resource-rich north. The CAN $3.5 billion project (US $3.2 billion with Lockheed Martin handling onboard combat systems, will produce five ships.

Royal Canadian Navy commander Vice Adm. Mark Norman has said the Arctic patrol ships will give the service greater reach into the remote region. "The Arctic offshore patrol ships will enable us to become a truly Arctic, rather than just northern, Navy with the capability to operate in the Canadian Arctic archipelago on a sustained and persistent basis," he told delegates to a naval conference in October.

Defense analyst Martin Shadwick said for the Navy, the contract is significant as the ships will be capable of patrolling farther into the Arctic and stay in the region for longer than the service's existing ships. "For the Navy it is a deal changer," said Shadwick, who teaches strategic studies at York University in Toronto. "We have been without a credible Arctic naval capability since the late 1950s."

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Who Owns the North Pole - Part 82

The People’s Republic of China has systematically increased its activity in the Arctic high north through various avenues. The region’s massive resource reserves, China’s growing presence, Chinese challenges to regional Arctic governance, and the current standoff between Russia and the West are a potentially potent combination. China’s wealth and capital make it an important partner for Arctic nations in developing the high north. China declares itself to be a “near Arctic state” and an “Arctic stakeholder,” even though its northernmost territory lies more than 1,000 miles south of the Arctic Circle. As the most populous country in the world, China claims that it should have a say in Arctic policy and disagrees with Arctic issues being decided by Arctic states alone. More broadly, given the region’s resource reserves, shipping lanes, and implications for global warming, China argues that Arctic state interests and claims must be balanced against international interests in the seas and resources of the region. Very prominent and influential Chinese scholars and officials push this rhetoric. For example, the head of the European department of the China Institute for International Studies recently pronounced: “Countries closer to the Arctic, such as Iceland, Russia, Canada, and a few other European countries may tend to wish the Arctic were private or that they had priority to develop it, but China insists that the Arctic belongs to everyone just like the Moon.” Similarly, the director of the Chinese Arctic and Antarctic Administration has stated that “Arctic resources…will be allocated according to the needs of the world, not only owned by certain countries.” And in response to Russian Arctic territorial claims, Chinese Rear Admiral Yin Zhuo declared that “the Arctic belongs to all the people around the world as no nation has sovereignty over it.” In the context of the country’s quest for natural resources, Chinese attitudes toward the Arctic are unprecedented. While it has been aggressive in pursuing resources around the globe, China has also maintained a clear respect for sovereign claims in doing so. Its rhetoric concerning the Arctic diverges from this practice.

China’s growing physical presence in the Arctic, the statements of prominent government officials, and the region’s significant potential benefits encourage the sense that China may label its activity in the region as a core interest. The introduction of such a large actor into Arctic international relations with interests beyond mere investment and trade – i.e., claims and ownership – is a recipe for elevated conflict in a region that already possesses its share of tension due to the often incompatible claims of Arctic littoral states. The economic dependence being nurtured between China and certain Arctic nations has the potential to hasten the arrival of the situation noted above. This dependence could give China an amplified voice in northern affairs and an ever-deepening Arctic presence. For Iceland and Denmark, Arctic trade with and investment from China are significantly more important to them than the reverse is for the PRC. This gives those countries a strong incentive to support China’s regional ambitions and, accordingly, affords China significant leverage. As Russia becomes increasingly isolated and its economy suffers due to its actions in Ukraine and resulting sanctions, it will find itself in a similar position in Arctic interactions. Russian support for Chinese Arctic ventures and interests will begin to grow in attractiveness out of a desire to gain investment and trade, and not to offend its sole significant partner.

The Arctic offers China diversity, security and savings. Despite significant inroads with Russia, China is largely dependent on oil imports from the volatile Middle East that must pass through the chokepoint of the Strait of Malacca in Southeast Asia. In 2011, approximately 85 percent of China’s oil imports transited this passage. The source and travel path for these resources, and China’s current lack of alternatives, are not ideal. Arctic energy sources and shipping lanes provide attractive diversity and security.

Arctic shipping would also substantially reduce transport costs. The distance from Shanghai to Hamburg along the Northern Sea Route over Russia is approximately 30 percent shorter than the comparable route through the Suez Canal. Such a reduction in shipping time and distance will yield large savings on fuel and increase China’s export potential to Europe. In 2013, 71 vessels sailed the Northern Sea Route, moving 1,355,897 tons. This is a substantial increase over the four vessels that did so in 2010. China hopes to send 15 percent of its international shipping through the Arctic by 2020.

 China has taken substantial steps toward establishing a financial and physical presence in the Arctic and placing itself in the conversation on Arctic affairs. China is spending approximately $60 million annually on polar research (more than the U.S., which actually controls Arctic territory), runs the Chinese Arctic and Antarctic Administration, opened the China-Nordic Arctic Research Center in Shanghai in late 2013, and plans to dramatically increase its Arctic research staff. China’s physical presence in the Arctic has also increased considerably in the past decade. In 2003, it completed the Arctic Yellow River Station, a permanent research facility on Norway’s Spitsbergen Island. China also currently possesses one icebreaker directed toward Arctic operations, with another to be completed by 2016. Despite being a non-Arctic nation, it will soon have the same number of Arctic icebreakers as Arctic littoral states Norway and the U.S.

In the realm of international organizations and politics, China has joined a litany of international Arctic scientific groups. In 2013, it also became a permanent observer to the Arctic Council – the eight-member intergovernmental forum that is the center of international Arctic policy formulation. Similarly, with respect to bilateral relations, the PRC has actively courted northern states, and made substantial progress with both Iceland and Denmark. Following Iceland’s 2008 economic crash, China provided it with large aid packages. In 2012, then Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao began his tour of Europe in the small country, and a Chinese-Icelandic free trade agreement was inked in 2013. China is also seeking energy projects in Greenland and courting Danish leaders. The targeting of small countries in great need of capital, investment and labor allows China to use its wealth and resources to cultivate economic entanglement and, ultimately, degrees of dependence. As a result, Iceland and Denmark have become very supportive of China having a louder voice in Arctic affairs and policy.

Now, something similar is developing between China and Russia. While energy trade between Russia and China has been steadily advancing since the mid-2000s, early 2013 saw the first major Arctic cooperative deal between the countries. The China National Petroleum Corp. (CNPC) contracted with Rosneft to survey three areas of the Arctic in the Pechora and Barents Seas. Later that same year, CNPC announced it would partner with Novatek, Russia’s largest independent natural gas producer, and take a 20 percent stake in the Yamal Project tapping the resource rich Arctic South Tambey gas field. Although Russia’s turn east has thus far been largely on its terms, this year’s sanctions are changing the dynamic. Compared to smaller countries, Russia has traditionally not been as susceptible to foreign influence. Yet the sanctions are taking a significant toll and severely limiting its potential Arctic partners, leaving Russia with few places to turn. When it comes to its needs and bargaining stature with China on Arctic issues, Russia is progressively finding itself in an even weaker position than that which Iceland and Denmark occupy: in need of capital and funding but severely limited in partner choice.

The resource rich Kara Sea is likely the first place where Western sanctions will significantly benefit China. Exxon and Rosneft jointly discovered a massive reserve in the region estimated to contain 11.9 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 750 million barrels of oil. After completing the much more complex tasks of exploration and drilling but before pumping any gas or oil, Exxon was forced to pull out. Now, Russia is faced with an expensive undertaking that necessitates a partner – and China is in an excellent position to assume Exxon’s stake in the resource operation for several reasons. For one, Russia has already begun talks with China to sail rigs from the South China Sea to the Arctic Ocean to replace exiting Western installations. Rosneft, which is currently studying Arctic offshore cooperative offers from Asia, has also contracted to sell a 10 percent percent stake in one of Russia’s largest oil fields and “Rosneft’s biggest production asset” to China, evidencing its readiness to partner with China on nationally important projects to ease sanctions-related burdens. In addition, Chinese prospecting areas in the Pechora and Barents Seas in the Russian Arctic directly abut the Kara Sea. Just as with Iceland and Denmark, China will slowly increase its trade and Arctic partnerships with Russia to substantial levels. This will breed a level of economic dependence. Trade between Russia and China was already trending upward before Western sanctions were levied; these measures will serve to speed up this process. Russia’s lack of alternative partners gives China a distinct advantage in any negotiations, and the PRC has displayed this new dynamic by driving hard bargains in energy deals reached with Russia since the Ukrainian crisis began.

What is concerning about the impact of Western sanctions on China’s entry into the Arctic is not the PRC potentially “locking up” a substantial portion of the Earth’s untapped resources. Rather, the issue is the introduction of a large, assertive, and potentially combative actor into already tense Arctic relations where Arctic states have a host of conflicting claims to the region that will likely only be exacerbated as global warming opens it up.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Who owns the North Pole Part 81

Russia's interests in the Arctic go beyond the economic and military advantages offered by the Northern Sea Route. The region is rich in minerals, wildlife, fish, and other natural resources. Some estimates claim that 13 percent of the world's undiscovered oil reserves and almost one-third of the world's undiscovered natural gas reserves are located in the Arctic region. For now, the Arctic region is an area of low conflict, and it is in everyone's interest to keep it that way. Although the security challenges currently faced in the Arctic are not military in nature, there is still a requirement for military capability in the region that can support civilian authorities. So it should be no surprise that like Russia, other Arctic countries deploy military assets into the region. Even so, Russia has taken steps to increase military capability in the region that seems to be beyond the scope of supporting civilian operations.

Russia's primary military focus in the Arctic is in the maritime sphere. New Russian naval doctrine calls for Russia to increase its maritime presence in the Arctic. Already, Russia's Northern Fleet, which is based in the Arctic, counts for two-thirds of the Russian navy. There will be a significant increase of Russian ground troops based in the region too. Over the next few years two new so-called Arctic brigades will be permanently based above the Arctic Circle, and the current regiment of marines assigned to the Northern Fleet will increase by one-third. Russia has plans to build 13 airfields as well as 10 radar posts along the course of the Northern Sea Route. Most of these airfields will be refurbished Soviet era bases, but others will be new.

Nationalism is on the rise in Russia, Putin's Arctic strategy is popular among the population.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Who owns the North Pole part 79

Russia will address the UN on the expansion of its Arctic shelf next spring. If successful the move would see the country adding an area of 1.2 million sq. kilometers in the Arctic Ocean, holding 5 billion tons of standard fuel, to its territory. The Russians now say they possess all the necessary studies to put an application together and present it to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS). For the UN to recognize Moscow’s ownership of those areas, it must be scientifically proven that they are a continuation of the continental crust with the same general geological structure.

The move would permit Russia to increase its potential hydrocarbon reserves by at least 5 billion tons of standard fuel, Sergey Donskoy, the country’s natural resources minister, said, adding that “those are just the most humble assessments, and I’m sure that the actual figure will be a lot larger.”

Over 60 large hydrocarbon fields have been discovered above the Arctic Circle, with 43 of them in the Russian sector.  The total recoverable resources of Russia’s part of the Arctic are estimated at 106 billion tons of oil and 69.5 trillion cubic meters of gas. The discovery of the deposits sparked international competition over the region’s resources, in which all the Arctic states – Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and the US – are involved. Approximately 30 percent of the world’s undiscovered natural gas and 15 percent of its oil lie in the Arctic, with an estimated 84 percent of the Arctic’s 90 billion barrels of oil and 47.3 trillion cubic meters of gas remaining offshore.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Who owns the North Pole part 78

There is a great deal at stake in the Arctic.

The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that the Arctic holds 13 percent of the world’s oil reserves and 30 percent of its natural gas. There are also significant coal and iron ore deposits. As the ice retreats, new fishing zones are opening up, and—most importantly—so are shipping routes that trim thousands of miles off voyages, saving enormous amounts of time and money. Expanding trade will stimulate shipbuilding, the opening of new ports, and economic growth, especially in East Asia.

NATO’s top military commander, Adm. James G. Stavridis of the United States Navy, warned in 2010 of an “icy slope toward a zone of competition, or worse, a zone of conflict” if the world’s leaders failed to ensure Arctic peace. Tensions in the region arise from two sources: squabbles among the border states (Norway, Russia, Canada, the United States, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, and Sweden) over who owns what, and efforts by non-polar countries (China, India, the European Union, and Japan) that want access.

The Russians lay claim to a vast section of the North Pole based on their interpretation of the 1982 Convention on the Law of the Sea, which allows countries to claim ownership if an area is part of a country’s continental shelf. Moscow argues that the huge Lomonosov Ridge, which divides the Arctic Ocean into two basins and runs under the Pole, originates in Russia. Canada and Denmark also claim the ridge as well.

One hundred and sixty-eight years ago this past July, two British warships—HMS Erebus and HMS Terror—sailed north into Baffin Bay, bound on a mission to navigate the fabled Northwest Passage between the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans. It would be the last that was seen of Sir John Franklin and his 128 crew members. Canada organized an expedition this past summer to find out what really happened to Franklin and his two ships. The search was a success—one of the ships was found in Victoria Straits—but the goal was political, not archaeological: Canada is using the find to lay claim to the Northwest Passage.

Denmark and Canada are meanwhile at loggerheads over Hans Island, located between Ellesmere Island and Danish-controlled Greenland. The occupation of the tiny rock by the Canadian military has generated a “Free Hans Island” campaign in Denmark.

Although it’s constrained by the fact that Washington has not signed the Law of the Seas Convention, the United States has locked horns with Canada over the Beaufort Sea.
The Pentagon released its first “Arctic Strategy” study last year. The U.S. maintains 27,000 military personnel in the region, not including regular patrols by nuclear submarines. The Russians and Canadians have ramped up their military presence in the region as well, and Norway has carried out yearly military exercises—“Arctic Cold Response”—involving up to 16,000 troops, many of them NATO units.

China may be a thousand miles from the nearest ice floe, but as the second largest economy in the world, it has no intention of being left out in the cold. This past summer the Chinese icebreaker Snow Dragon made the Northern Sea Passage run, and Beijing has elbowed its way into being a Permanent Observer on the Arctic Council. Formed in 1996, the council consists of the border states, plus the indigenous people that populate the vast frozen area. Japan and South Korea are also observers.

The Arctic may be cold, but the politics surrounding it are pretty hot. Aqqaluk Lynge, chair of the indigenous Inuit Circumpolar Council says, “We do not want a return to the Cold War.”

From here 

Monday, November 10, 2014

Who owns the North Pole (part 77)

The Arctic has attracted an increasingly intense gaze from the powerful nations that border it in the past decade, not least because it is thought to contain up to 30 percent of the world’s oil and gas. As technologies have advanced, more and more of those hydrocarbons have become recoverable and viable. The stretch of sea can also provide new shipping lanes for goods traveling between Asia and America and Europe. Russia already has rights to any territories located within 370 km of its border, but has lodged claims on a much bigger part of the territory with the UN, due to the existence of an underwater shelf, which would make a sizeable portion of the Arctic an extension of Russian territory. Canada and other Arctic powers have followed suit, with the exact divisions of territories expected to be decided over the course of the next decade.

Russia will have military control of the entirety of its 6,200 km Arctic coastal zone by the end of 2014, just a year after Moscow announced its plan to build military presence in the region, Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu has announced. Many of the sites in the region have to be repaired. In fact, a lot of them, such as airfields, logistics facilities, water intakes, power stations will have to be built from scratch, which is what we are doing right now.”

Two Borey-class nuclear submarines, which will form the spine of the refurbished fleet, have been armed this year, and a third one has just completed trials. In total, eight Borey vessels are expected to be built by the end of the decade, though some of them may be re-deployed with the Pacific fleet. Russia is also in the process of unsealing at least seven airstrips that were shut down following the collapse of the Soviet Union, with Tiksi in Yakutia expected to house the bulk of the Arctic air force. Work also began in September on a permanent base located on the New Siberian Islands in the Laptev Sea. A military group consisting of two brigades will be stationed in the far North as part of the new military district.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Who Owns the North Pole (part 76)

The U.S. will assume leadership of the international Arctic Council this week. The Arctic Council consists of representatives from eight countries—Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States—plus permanent participants representing indigenous peoples.  For environmentalists, by opening U.S. Arctic waters to oil drilling leases, the Obama Administration hasn't instilled confidence in its stewardship of the complex and swiftly changing ecosystem. A Clean Air Task Force report, "The Last Climate Frontier" said "For climate change, the Arctic is the lynchpin—the future of the Arctic will determine the future of all coastal communities, from Miami to Norfolk to Shanghai."  Heather Conley, director of the Europe program at the Center for Strategic & International Studies," told Environment & Energy. "Climate change and the policies around climate change have different meanings to each of the eight Arctic members."

Russia "is engaging in large-scale militarization of the Arctic, a vast area coveted by itself and its four neighbors: Canada, the United States, Norway and Denmark," the Guardian reported Tuesday. "Such moves may bring back the atmosphere of the cold war, when the region was the focus of US and NATO attention, as they were convinced that it would be a launchpad for nuclear strikes."

The Russian news agency RIA Novosti said  that Russia will complete deployment of military units on its territory along the Arctic circle by the end of 2014.ITAR-TASS, another state news agency, reported that Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu said "this is fundamental, large-scale work." According to RIA Novosti “Over the past few years, Russia has been pressing ahead with efforts aimed at the development of its Arctic territories, including hydrocarbon production and development of the Northern Sea Route, which is gaining importance as an alternative to traditional routes from Europe to Asia. A number of political, economic and military measures have been taken to protect Russia’s interests in the Arctic amid NATO’s increased focus on the region. In April, President Vladimir Putin said that Russia would build a unified network of military facilities on its Arctic territories to host troops, advanced warships and aircraft as part of a plan to boost protection of the country’s interests and borders in the region.”

Russian officials are especially wary of NATO interests in the area. "We firmly believe that there are no problems in the Arctic which demand NATO participation," Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said during a public lecture.. despite Russia's own military build-up.

Meanwhile, Canada, which laid claim to the North Pole last year, has recently tested unmanned ground vehicles and drones near its facility in Nunavut, the northern-most permanently inhabited place in the world.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Who Owns the North Pole (part 74)

“Our government is … expanding our economic and scientific opportunities by defining Canada’s last frontier,” said Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq in a Canadian government statement. “This is important to Canadians, especially those in the North, as this is their future and prosperity at stake.”

Russia's growing military presence in the Arctic is a concern and Canada should not get complacent about it, Canada’s  Prime Minister Stephen Harper said.  Russia is busy rebuilding former Soviet-era military bases in its north, and has a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines and icebreakers patrolling its waters. Russian planes have also tested the boundaries of Canadian airspace, Harper said. "I just think we should not be complacent, because we have seen over the period that President Putin has been in power just a gradual growing in aggressiveness of his government toward neighbours and the gradual military assertiveness of that country, and I just think it's something we should never be too at ease about."

In the coming days, the prime minister will take part in a series of military manoeuvres in the Northwest Passage meant to assert Canada's Arctic sovereignty.  Harper is scheduled to observe the Canadian Armed Forces’ annual military exercises near Baffin Island. Operation Nanook, now in its seventh year, is meant to demonstrate Canada’s ability to respond to threats and emergencies in its northern waters — including working with Denmark, the United States and territorial governments.

The Canadian Forces will develop a network of sites throughout the Arctic in order to stockpile equipment if needed and move troops and gear quickly into the region in case of emergency, according to documents obtained by Postmedia News. The military hopes to have the sites in place by 2018. “A series of Northern Operations Hubs will be created with the view to facilitate initial rapid deployment and up to 30 days sustained operations in the North,” wrote Lt.-Gen. Stuart Beare in outlining his plan. Beare is head of the Canadian Joint Operations Command, responsible for military operations both at home and abroad.

Earlier this month, the Canadian government announced that the CCGS Louis S. St. Laurent and CCGS Terry Fox were heading north to conduct scientific surveys in support of a claim to the North Pole. Like all waters more than 200 nautical miles (370 kilometres) from shore, the ocean at the North Pole is international. The only sovereign rights that could possible exist concern seabed resources. Yet according to Mr. Harper, claiming the North Pole is central to defending Canada’s Arctic sovereignty.

Although Canada has rights over extensive areas of seabed elsewhere in the Arctic Ocean, it has no basis for a claim at the North Pole. This is because international law uses the “equidistance” principle to delimit maritime boundaries. According to this principle, boundaries between adjacent coastal states are drawn along a line, every point of which is an equal distance from the respective shores.

In 2012, Canada and Denmark used the equidistance principle to delimit a boundary 200 nautical miles into the Lincoln Sea, north of Canada’s Ellesmere Island and Denmark’s Greenland.Although the boundary does not extend beyond 200 nautical miles, the principle of equidistance will serve as the basis for an eventual agreement separating rights beyond this point. Like it or not, the North Pole falls on the Danish side of the equidistance line – it will never be Canadian.  Harper knows that Canada’s claim will fail. But he also knows that the failure will emerge only after he leaves office. In the meantime, the North Pole presents him with an opportunity to rehabilitate his image as a champion of Canada’s Arctic sovereignty.

 A separate issue concerns the extent of Canada’s rights along the Lomonosov Ridge. This underwater mountain range runs from Ellesmere Island and Greenland toward Russia’s New Siberian Islands. The Lomonosov Ridge passes near but not over the North Pole, which remains off to the Danish side of the Arctic Ocean. According to international law, Canada, Denmark, and Russia may assert rights over this submarine structure if they are able to scientifically demonstrate that the formation is a “natural prolongation” of their land mass. Canadian and Danish scientists believe the Lomonosov Ridge is a prolongation of both Ellesmere Island and Greenland, while Russian scientists believe the Lomonosov Ridge is a prolongation of Asia. Scientists on both sides may well be right, since North America and Asia were once a single continent. Consequently, Canada, Denmark, and Russia could all have legitimate claims over the Lomonosov Ridge.

From here and here

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Who owns the North Pole part 70

A Russian military official told Russian media that the Kremlin was forming a new strategic military command to protect its interests in the Arctic. The formation of the new command follows a December 2013 order from Russian President Vladimir Putin to ramp up Russia's military presence in the Arctic. Putin said Russia was returning to the Arctic and "intensifying the development of this promising region" and that Russia needs to "have all the levers for the protection of its security and national interests."

"The new command will comprise the Northern Fleet, Arctic warfare brigades, air force and air defense units as well as additional administrative structures," a source in Russia's General Staff told RIA Novosti.

Russia created the Northern Fleet-Unified Strategic Command to protect oil and gas fields on the Arctic shelf.

 Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia, and the United States — the five countries that have a border with the Arctic — have been rushing to secure rights to drill for oil and natural gas in places that are now accessible. Hundreds of billions of dollars are at stake. Experts estimate that the Arctic holds some 30 percent of the world's natural gas supply, and 13 percent of the world's oil. That's why companies like Royal Dutch Shell, the U.S.-based Arctic Oil & Gas Corp. and Russia's Gazprom have all been making exploration claims on land in the Arctic.

Countries are making new claims in the Arctic as well. Each of the five nations with Arctic borders is allotted 200 nautical miles of land from their most northern coast. Putin's military expansion was in direct response to a claim of additional land by Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird, who last year asked scientists to craft a submission to the United Nations arguing that the North Pole belongs to Canada. The Canadian claim also asserts that it owns the Lomonosov Ridge, an underwater mountain range located between Ellesmere Island, Canada's most northern border, and Russia's east Siberian coast.

 The American Department of Defense last November released a new Arctic strategy outlining American interests in the region. The new strategy calls for the Pentagon to take actions to ensure that American troops could repel an attack against the homeland from a foe based in the Arctic and calls for increased training to prepare soldiers for fights in Arctic conditions. It makes clear that the Pentagon believes the Arctic is becoming contested territory, and the DOD would act to protect American interests.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Who Owns the North Pole (Part 69)

"A great chess game is being played with countries staking claims to the Arctic to make sure they are not left out. Climate change is taking place at twice the global average speed in the Arctic. Some countries, like China, are looking 50 years ahead," said Malte Humpert, director of the Washington-based thinktank the Arctic Institute.

 The Arctic has now become a true strategic hot spot at the centre of global interest. The high north embodies high stakes. A paradigm shift in international politics is taking place," said Sturla Henriksen, head of the Norwegian Shipowners' Association.

The city of Nadym, in the extreme north of Siberia, is one of the Earth's least hospitable places, shrouded in darkness for half of the year, with temperatures plunging below -30C and the nearby Kara Sea semi-permanently frozen. Over the next 30 years climate change is likely to open up a polar shipping route between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, cutting travel time to Asia by 40% and allowing Russia's vast oil and gas resources to be exported to China, Japan and south Asia much faster. Nadym stands to benefit from a warmer climate more than any other Arctic city – the Russian government plans to connect it by road and rail to other oil and gas centres; Gazprom, the world's largest gas company, is building a port nearby with French oil major Total; and if the new northern sea route is open for even six months of the year. Expectations are high that the route will complement the Suez canal as a key waterway for trade to and from Asia. Sailing trans-arctic from Yokohama to Hamburg would shave 40% off the distance compared to the Suez Canal. Confidence that the Arctic will become economically important is seen in the rush of countries and companies to claim a stake. Eleven countries, including Poland and Singapore, have appointed Arctic ambassadors to promote their national interests.

"The entire centre of gravity of the world economy is shifting to Nadym," said the mayor, Stanislav Shegurov.

 "The Arctic is our home and our future. We will make full use of the northern sea route. We are building infrastructure, we are making history. We have ambitious plans," said Anton Vasiliev, Russian ambassador for the Arctic.

"The Arctic is changing rapidly. It will be our most important foreign policy area.”  said the Norwegian prime minister, Erna Solberg.

Only 71 large ships, working mostly with Russian icebreakers, navigated the route in 2013, but Russia expects a 30-fold increase in shipping by 2020 and ice-free water over most of its length by 2050. The summer ice has declined by nearly 50% in 40 years and by 2050, say Laurence Smith and Scott Stephenson of the University of California, ordinary vessels should be able to travel easily along the northern sea route and ice-strengthened ships should be able to pass over the pole itself. Gazprom last week launched in South Korea the first of four giant "ice-class" natural gas carriers for the sea route. The Russian government plans to spend more than $3bn reopening a military base on the Novosibirsk Islands and is building new icebreakers and navigational centres. Oil giant Rosneft and ExxonMobile will start drilling for oil in the Kara Sea this year. Norway and the other Nordic countries have all made Arctic development a priority. Finland, which has no access to the northern sea route, has proposed a railway linking its mines to the Russian coast. "Finland needs a new Nokia. The Arctic could be it," said its Arctic affairs ambassador, Hannu Halinen.

American, Canadian, Japanese, South Korean and British companies all intend to use the sea route to mine across the region, but no country hopes to gain more than China, according to Wang Chuanxing, polar researcher at Tongji University, Shanghai. "China's economy is 50% dependent on trade. The development of the northern sea route would have a major impact on its economy. One-third of China's trade is with the EU and the US. The opening of the northern sea route is vital for China," he said. The polar research institute of China said that Arctic shipping would play a major role in the country's future trade, and suggested that, by the year 2020, 5%-15% of China's trade value – about $500bn – could pass through the Arctic.
Japan also hopes to benefit. "Ten per cent of the world's unexploited crude oil and 20% of its natural gas is said to be in the Arctic. Recent changes because of climate change are attracting people in Japan. We want to actively participate. We are researching the Arctic sea route," said Toshio Kunikata, the Japanese ambassador in charge of Arctic affairs.

Taken from here

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Who Owns the North Pole - Part 68

Canadian officials confirmed Monday that the nation is preparing to include the North Pole as part of its Arctic Ocean seabed claim in the multi-country push to prove jurisdiction over further territory in the resource-rich area.

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and Arctic Council chair Leona Aglukkaq officially announced Monday Canada’s claim to the extended continental shelf in the Arctic. It was reported by The Globe and Mail last week that Prime Minister Stephen Harper requested a government board charged with assessing Canada’s claims beyond its territorial waterways, per United Nations rules, to seek a more expansive stake of Arctic area to include the North Pole.

"We have asked our officials and scientists to do additional work and necessary work to ensure that a submission for the full extent of the continental shelf in the Arctic includes Canada's claim to the North Pole," Baird said during a press conference at the House of Commons.

The North Pole is 817 kilometers north of Canada’s - and the world’s - northernmost settlement, Alert, Nunavut. The town is home to a Canadian Forces station and Environment Canada station.

"Fundamentally, we are drawing the last lines of Canada. We are defending our sovereignty," Aglukkaq said, according to CBC News.

Canada has spent nearly US$200 million on the scientific-discovery process of the area, including dozens of icebreaker and helicopter trips for teams of scientists. An unmanned submarine was used to collect data below the frigid Arctic water.  About 90 billion barrels of oil and 1,670 trillion cubic feet of natural gas lie in the largely untapped 18-million-square-mile Arctic region, according to the US Geological Survey, making up about 10 percent of the world's petroleum resources. The dominant portion of these resources are hidden beneath the ice that is shared between five nations bordering the Arctic: Canada, Denmark, Norway, the Russian Federation and the US.

Both Russia and Canada say the resource-abundant Lomonosov Ridge, below the ocean and close to the geographic North Pole, is a natural extension of their continental shelves.
“As for the Arctic, there are not only large economic interests for the country – a huge amount of mineral resources, oil and gas,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said last week, underlining his nation’s interests in the region. “But there lies a very important part of our defense capabilities.”

Monday, December 09, 2013

Who owns the North Pole - Part 67

While many existing oil and gas reserves in other parts of the world are facing steep decline, the Arctic is thought to possess vast untapped reservoirs. Approximately 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil deposits and 30 percent of its natural gas reserves are above the Arctic Circle, according to the United States Geological Survey. Eager to tap into this largess, Russia and its Arctic neighbors — Canada, Norway, the United States, Iceland and Denmark (by virtue of its authority over Greenland) — have encouraged energy companies to drill in the region.

 Arctic drilling poses an unacceptable threat to the region. Any major spill that occurs there is likely to prove far more destructive than the one produced in the Gulf of Mexico by the Deepwater Horizon disaster in April 2010, because of both the lack of adequate response capabilities and the likelihood that ice floes and sea ice will impede cleanup operations. As more companies push into the Arctic and accelerate their operations there, the risk of accidents and spills is bound to increase.

The risk of conflict over the ownership of contested territories is likely to grow. Five of the Arctic states have asserted exclusive drilling rights to boundary areas also claimed by one of the others, and control over the polar region itself remains contentious. In an area with the “potential for tapping what may be as much as a quarter of the planet’s undiscovered oil and gas,” Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel warned recently, “a flood of interest in energy exploration has the potential to heighten tensions over other issues.”

Most of the Arctic states have asserted their right to defend their offshore territories with force and have taken steps to enhance their ability to fight in these areas. Russia, for example, recently announced plans to establish what it calls a “cutting-edge military infrastructure” in the Arctic.

Another  big danger in Arctic drilling is posed by the release of mass amounts of Methane gas trapped under the permafrost. Enough gas will be released into the atmosphere to kill all life on the planet.

None of this, however, is likely to deter other interested countries. With the demand for oil at an all-time high and existing fields incapable of satisfying global needs, the major energy firms are bound to pursue every conceivable source of supply.

No extra measure of oil and natural gas is worth the destruction of pristine wilderness or the onset of an Arctic arms race but capitalism will not stop its expansion.  What do they care about wildnerness? All they see is money and power, power and money. The capitalist’s greed  always trumps common sense. Rushing for profits and greater ownership is what world capital interests seek above all else.

From here 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Who owns the North Pole Part 66

The United States warns that it will defend its sovereignty in the face of strengthening international interest in newly opening shipping lanes and natural resource extraction opportunities as the region’s ice disappears.

 US Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel says experts now expect a tenfold increase over those numbers along what is known as the Northern Sea Route.

“With Arctic sea routes starting to see more activities like tourism and commercial shipping, the risk of accidents increases. Migrating fish stocks will draw fishermen to new areas, challenging existing management plans,” Hagel told a security conference in Canada on Friday, where he announced the new strategy. And while there will be more potential for tapping what may be as much as a quarter of the planet’s undiscovered oil and gas, a flood of interest in energy exploration has the potential to heighten tensions over other issues.” He added “Throughout human history, mankind has raced to discover the next frontier. And time after time, discovery was swiftly followed by conflict,”

Currently, the United States stations around 27,000 military personnel in Alaska, and Hagel says the US Navy will offer a new plan for its operations by the end of the year.

Gustavo Ampugnani, Arctic team leader for Greenpeace explained “We are glad that the Defence Department’s Arctic Strategy acknowledges the diminishing of the ice caps in the Arctic. But the approach shouldn’t be seen as an opportunity for business, nor to create better conditions to exploiting its resources. If countries grant leases to open more space for the oil corporations, this will speed up not just the industrialization of the Arctic but also investments in military presence, leading to a military race in the Far North. From our perspective, the best way to keep the region peaceful, stable and free of conflict … is to priorities the scientific work, in a cooperative spirit, to understand more how the Arctic ecosystem is key to regulating the global climate.”

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Who owns the North Pole 63

Cashing in on climate change 

 In preparation for Arctic routes, shipyards in South Korea, Singapore and India are building ice-strengthened cargo ships and tankers. Some of these are equipped with dual-directional technology that enables them to use a high efficiency bow on open seas, and an icebreaking stern when moving backwards through ice.

 The Chinese media refer to the Northern Sea Route as the "Arctic Golden Waterway". Professor Bin Yang of Shanghai Maritime University estimates the route could save his country $60bn to $120bn per year. The "Malacca dilemma" results from China's dependence on the Strait of Malacca between Indonesia and Malaysia for over 80 percent of its oil imports. This leaves the country's energy supply vulnerable to interruption. Another major chokepoint is the Suez Canal, which is controlled by politically unstable Egypt. Ships wishing to use it must also transit the pirate-infested Arabian Sea. Then there is the Panama Canal, controlled by Panama, which is heavily influenced by the United States. The passage is also too narrow for many large vessels. Ships can avoid these chokepoints by looping around Africa or South America, but the extra distance costs time, fuel and wages.

 China, along with other Asian trading nations, are looking towards the north for alternate shipping lanes. The Bering Strait is a deep, wide, pirate-free channel between Russia and Alaska that connects the Pacific and Arctic Oceans. Eastward from there, Canada's Northwest Passage offers a 7,000-kilometre shortcut to the US' Atlantic Seaboard. Westward, Russia's Northern Sea Route offers a 10,000-kilometre shortcut to Europe. With time, a third route will open across the centre of the Arctic Ocean.

 In September 2011, President Vladimir Putin told the media, "I want to stress the importance of the Northern Sea Route as an international transport artery that will rival traditional trade lanes in service fees, security and quality". Russia already uses icebreakers to escort commercial vessels, and charges for the service. In 2007, it launched the Fifty Years of Victory, a nuclear-powered behemoth able to break through 2.5 metres of ice at speed. Other projects designed to increase the viability of the Northern Sea Route include ten new search-and-rescue stations, renovations to rundown Arctic ports, easier-to-obtain shipping permits, and a new central office in Moscow to provide improved weather and ice forecasting in English.

 In just four years, shipping along the Northern Sea Route has increased ten-fold. In 2012, more than 40 ships sailed through, most of them bulk carriers or tankers carrying iron ore, oil and liquefied natural gas from Northwest Russia to China, South Korea or Japan. As a sign of things to come, one transit involved a load of coal being shipped from Vancouver, Canada, to Hamburg, Germany. This year, 55 ships have already received permission to sail through, during a season that now extends from July through November.

 Shipping through the Northwest Passage has also increased, but at a slower rate. In 2012, there were a total of 30 transits, none of which involved large cargo ships or tankers sailing to other countries. This is at least partly due to the Canadian government's lack of investment in its northern infrastructure, and its failure to provide icebreaking services for commercial vessels. Further complicating the situation, the US opposes Canada's claim that the Northwest Passage constitutes "internal waters" which foreign ships require permission to enter. Instead, the US insists the waterway is an "international strait" through which foreign ships may pass without constraint.

 Russia takes the same position as Canada with respect to the Northern Sea Route, insisting that the narrowest stretches of the waterway constitute Russian internal waters. But while the US protests the Russian position, it has so far never physically challenged it.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Who owns the North Pole Part 61

The UK is "complacently standing by" as firms start drilling for oil and gas in the Arctic, a group of MPs has said. The Environmental Audit Committee said this was despite oil companies being unable to prove "they could clean up an oil spill in such harsh conditions".
It called for a halt to new drilling, saying it was risky for the climate and the environment. Exploring for new reserves in the Arctic is therefore "needlessly risky", the MPs argued.
"What happens in the Arctic will affect the UK, impacting our weather systems and biodiversity," committee chairwoman Joan Walley said. "Yet this government is complacently standing by and watching new oil and gas drilling in the region." She added: "The rapidly-disappearing Arctic sea ice should be a wake-up call for this government to tackle climate change, not pave the way for a corporate carve-up of the region's resources."
Greenpeace UK political director Ruth Davis said the present government stance on drilling for oil in the Arctic suggests "its real interests lie in promoting the irresponsible plans" of oil companies.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Who owns the North Pole - Part 60

US  Congressman Don Young testified in front of Armed Services Committee in support of Alaska national defense priorities.“We must be able to project power into the Arctic environment and extensive Arctic training is needed to do that.”

Canada recently took over the leadership of the Arctic Council and will be succeeded by the U.S. in 2015. There are fears that the Arctic could become an arena for political and military competition. With potential new shipping routes and countries further staking their claims to the vast untapped natural resources, defending strategic and economic interests may lead to rivalries in the region. There is also the possibility that conflicts which originate in other parts of the world could spillover and affect the stability of the Arctic.

 “One issue that has not received much attention is the need to discuss the growing militarization of the Arctic. While the Arctic Council is formally forbidden from discussing military security in the Arctic, the time has arrived to rethink this policy.” Rob Huebert of the Canadian Defence & Foreign Affairs Institute explained  , “The militaries of most Arctic states are taking on new and expanded roles in the region that go beyond their traditional responsibilities, which may create friction in the region.”

 In June, the Northern Chiefs of Defence Meeting was held in Greenland. It brought together representatives from the U.S., Canada, Denmark, Russia, Sweden, Norway, Finland and Iceland. Gen. Charles Jacoby, Commander of North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and U.S. Northern Command (USNORTHCOM) also attended the event. The second annual gathering was used as an, “opportunity for direct multilateral and bilateral discussions focused on Northern issues. Topics discussed included the sharing of knowledge and expertise about regional operational challenges; responsible stewardship of the North; and the role Northern militaries can play in support of their respective civil authorities.” The Northern Chiefs of Defence meeting has become an essential forum to address common Arctic safety and security concerns.

Ahead of Secretary of State John Kerry's trip to attend the Arctic Council Ministerial Session in May, the White House unveiled a National Strategy for the Arctic Region. It outlined strategic priorities including advancing U.S. security interests, pursuing responsible stewardship and strengthening international cooperation. The document acknowledged competing environmental and economic goals, but in the end sets an aggressive agenda for the exploitation of Arctic oil, gas and mineral reserves. In addition, the strategy recommended enhancing national defense, law enforcement, navigation systems, environmental response, as well as search-and-rescue capabilities in the Arctic. It also builds off of National Security Presidential Directive-66 issued by the Bush administration in 2009. In coordination with the new plan, the U.S. Coast Guard has released their Vision for Operating in the Arctic Region which will work towards improving awareness, modernizing governance and broadening partnerships. According to James Holmes, professor of strategy at the U.S. Naval War College, the Coast Guard and Air Force could become the military's odd couple in defending America's Arctic front.