Arctic strategic conflict

who rules the new corridors?

Dr. Amr Mohammed Eldeeb
Latest posts by Dr. Amr Mohammed Eldeeb (see all)

The Arctic region, the Arctic Ocean and the adjacent territories of the Russian Federation, which is three times the size of the continent of Europe, has become a front of conflict between the Russian Federation and the West since 2010, and at the same time, it has become an important theater for Russian foreign and security policy.

The significance of this region has increased as a result of climate change, the increase in the average temperature of the earth and the melting of ice, which has given greater opportunities for navigation in the area and also made the mining process easier, especially in the field of energy.

In this regard, defining exclusive economic zones has become more important than before. In 2015, Russia seized a large part of the continental shelf in the Arctic, which prompted other countries to take the same step. There is a strong competition for sovereign rights over this oil-rich region.

According to the US estimates, 15% of the oil reserves and about 30% of the natural gas reserves in the world there are existed in the southern part of the Arctic. [1]

As for Russian estimates, about 60% of Russia’s reserves of oil and 90% of gas, chromium and manganese are in the Arctic, meanwhile, Russia’s gold reserves in this region are about 40% [2] in addition to the unlimited fish wealth. Melted ice in the Arctic as a result of global warming has led to the opening of waterways used for maritime transport, thus, the northern sea route from Murmansk to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky and from there to Vladivostok and Nakhodka is the shortest waterway from the eastern Asia to Western Europe.

In 1989, eight countries in the Arctic (Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, the Soviet Union, Sweden, and the United States) began working on a “strategy to protect the environment in the Arctic,” called the “Finnish Initiative”, and Russia (instead of the Soviet Union) ratified the document in 1991.

In 1996, also at the initiative of Finland, the “Arctic Council” was established, which is an intergovernmental forum that encourages cooperation, coordination and interaction between the Arctic countries, especially with regard to sustainable development and environmental protection in the Arctic. Its founders were (Russia, Canada, the United States of America, Norway and Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Iceland), applications were soon submitted to join the Arctic region by countries that do not have a geographical relationship with the Arctic Ocean, and currently there are 21 countries associated with the Arctic, all of whom are members of the Arctic Council. In this organization, there are 13 observer countries (Great Britain, Germany, Spain, Italy, The Netherlands, Poland, France, Switzerland, China, India, the Republic of Korea, Japan and Singapore).

The countries that control in various forms the Arctic region are the United States, Denmark, Norway, Canada and Russia, and these countries, except for Russia, are members of NATO or strategic partners to it, and in order to strengthen the sovereignty of the founding countries of the Arctic Council in the Arctic region, strategies and guidelines were set in this regard. For the first time, the National Strategy for the Arctic was developed by Norway, and in 2006, the “Government Strategy for the Northern Territories” was published, and in 2011 a new document was approved, whereby the Arctic was declared as one of the main priorities for the states’ development.

In August 2011, the “strategy of Kingdom of Denmark in the Arctic 2011-2020” was adopted, especially in the field of energy, mining, trade, tourism development, shipping, education, science, and preservation of the natural environment, and through this strategy, special attention is given to Greenland.

As for the United States

In February 2014, Washington approved what is known as the “United States National Strategy for the Arctic Region,” and this strategy aims at promoting the interests of the United States in the field of national security, as the document clarifies that the United States’ policy in the Arctic to strengthen its hegemony in this region as well as restrict the growth of Russian influence in the region.

As for Canada, in the document “The Northern Strategy of Canada, Our North, Our Heritage, Our Future” (2009), it outlined key principles for it, including (exercising Canada’s sovereignty in the Arctic; promoting social and economic development; protecting the environment in the north; developing management in favor of community rights) Also, for some major European countries (France, Germany, Britain) who enjoy an observer status, they have strategies for exploiting the Arctic, especially in the field of maritime transport and environmental studies.

There is also a clear role for the Asian countries that have observer status in the Arctic Council, and that role is increasing, China, India, the Republic of Korea, Japan and Singapore.

Only China has its Arctic strategy, and on January 26, 2018, the Arctic White Paper appeared, a book through which Beijing formulated political objectives and basic principles of the country’s activities in relation to the Arctic countries for a long time, and India’s priorities in the Arctic region are to expand not only economic and scientific cooperation, but also strategic and political cooperation with the northerners.  As for the strategy of South Korea in the Arctic, it aims at attracting a wide range of management and business structures to implement investment projects. At the meantime,  Japan focused on the possibility of using small and medium companies and conducting marine scientific research in the Arctic, while Singapore has established itself in the Arctic as one of the world’s leading commercial maritime powers.

It is worth noting that Russian President Vladimir Putin announced in April 2019 plans to adopt a new strategy in the near future to develop the Russian Arctic until 2035. [3]

 The division of resources in the Arctic will be subject to the calculations of the military and naval power of the countries bordering it

Russia and other powers interested in the Arctic know that the natural resources in the Arctic region will be divided according to the number of naval and missile forces for each country in this region. Therefore, NATO countries and their American allies in the North are actively working on forming their military strength in the Arctic region. They are creating new units for Arctic purposes, and conducting large-scale military exercises.

This justifies the growth of military and political activity in the Arctic on the partof Canada, Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark. Ottawa is constantly seeking for militarize the Arctic region. The construction of a special training center for the army to prepare military personnel for operations in the Arctic has also begun. A special fleet of patrol ships for “security” work in the disputed territories with Russia.

Military maneuvers have also taken place on the territory of Sweden on an annual basis, as troop units and soldiers train on “combat skills in conditions of the Far North”, while Britain allocates aircraft carriers and military aviation to participate in the military exercises, and Denmark is working to strengthen its military presence in Greenland, at the Thule base Air Force, and plans to deploy a military unit and command and to control forces in the Arctic. Concurrently, Norway has purchased 48 Lockheed F-35 combat aircraft to patrol the Arctic Ocean.

Near the border with Russia, the United States has placed an anti-missile radar, which allows tracking Russian missile launches, while Russia has been strengthening its defense capabilities in the north since 2008, and the Russian Security Council’s plan also provides for the establishment of more than 200 military sites and ten airports, and the deployment of up to 20 air defense systems behind the Arctic Circle until 2020, in addition to the permanent military maneuvers in this region, which threaten Sweden in particular.

This danger was confirmed by Vladimir Putin in an interview with the Italian newspaper “Il Corrieredella Sera” in 2015: “The Arctic represents a danger of becoming a confrontation zone with the United States and NATO. All of Russia’s neighbors in the far north – the United States, Canada, Norway and Denmark – are members In NATO, off the coast of Norway; US nuclear powered submarines with ballistic missiles are able to hit targets in central Russia in a few minutes. [4]

Recently, there has been clear US criticism of Russian behavior in the Arctic region, and even these criticisms extended to China, which Russia is participating in huge projects in this region. [5].

Moscow opposes any attempt to internationalize the Arctic corridors as an infringement of Russian sovereignty

Russia prohibits the passage of any ship belonging to another country in the Arctic waters without prior permission from it, and also requires the ships that allow their passage that Russian military personnel be present on board, while the United States, since the beginning of this year, has been calling for making the Russian maritime corridor in the Arctic an international pass, but this will not be approved by Russia in any way, because this matter is linked to Russian sovereignty in this region. Actually, these matters are related to the US-Russian conflict in recent years, as the conflict over this region in the next few years will be at its most intense due to its fortunes  and because the geography of this space unites the Russian Federation with all its enemies in NATO and the People’s Republic of China.

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