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ALEXANDRE LATSA: ARCTIC AGE. Part II

ALEXANDRE LATSA: ARCTIC AGE. Part II

During the Cold War era the Arctic was considered to be the shortest route to attack the enemy, but now the ongoing climate changes (global warming and glacier meltdown) revive the heated interest towards this region as long as new naval trade routes between the West and Asia emerge — they’re shorter, more lucrative and safer (due to lack of piracy). Actually, since 1979 the area of Arctic glaciers has decreased by 20% and it is to decrease by 50% more by 2100.

Last century architects of the operational geopolitics — Halford John Mackinder and Nicholas Spykman — defined the key terms that help to understand the contemporary geopolitical events. According to them, the world consists of the "global island" or the axial space of the world (the Heartland), including Europe, Asia, Africa, "outskirt islands" (America and Australia) and the rest of the world — "world ocean". According to Mackinder theory, in order to rule the world, one has to control Heartland — the zone stretching from Central Europe to the Western Siberia with an outlet to the Mediterranean Sea, Middle East, South-Eastern Asia and China. Spykman considered that the essential territory lies not in the center of Eurasian continent, but rather at its outskirts, the ring of "coastal lands" that he has named the Rimland. According to Spykman, in order to be the leading power in the world, the USA is to control the Rimland states.

In fact, Mackinder and Spykman have merely adopted the olden theories to the events of the 20th century. Alfred Thayer Mahan has already indicated that having a mighty navy is crucial for the USA in order to become a naval power — exactly the kind of power America has been throughout the 20th century. Much earlier, in the 17th century great English seafarer Sir Walter Raleigh stated the following: "He who controls the sea, wages the trade; he who wages the trade, possesses the wealth; he who possesses the wealth, owns the world itself". These Anglo-Saxon geopolitical doctrines aimed to achieve the military and commercial might, help to understand the reasons of a profound stand between the naval states (England, America) and the continental states (Germany, Russia). According to Mackinder theory, we have to view the world through the prism of "polar" cartography, allowing to strictly define the center of the "global island": we’re talking about the zone including territory of modern Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Caucasus and Kazakhstan along with the coasts of North, Caspian and Black Seas.

Energy zones of Eurasian continent and the energy transit corridors linking them (along with the coastal lands giving access to the seas) are situated at the "global island". It’s obvious that the northern border of the "world axial space" is the Russian Arctic stretching from the northern point of Norway to Bering Strait. Taking the Mackinder "polar" theory into consideration, the set of the regional strategic objectives and the reasons why the Arctic become a confrontation casus belli during the Cold War between the superpowers of the time (the USA and the Soviet Union) become clear. According to Jean Claude Besida1, the Arctic was a "demarcation line between the spheres of influence" at the time. In 2011 the statement seems topical as ever.

Krauss Clifford, a journalist and the Council on Foreign Relations employee, believes that "territorial claims emerge all over the world, yet it is the Arctic, where the experts forecast the majority of them to take place in future" (New York Times, Oct 2005).

During the Cold War era the Arctic was considered to be the shortest route to attack the enemy, but now the ongoing climate changes (global warming and glacier meltdown) revive the heated interest towards this region as long as new naval trade routes between the West and Asia emerge — they’re shorter, more lucrative and safer (due to lack of piracy). Actually, since 1979 the area of Arctic glaciers has decreased by 20% and it is to decrease by 50% more by 2100.

The two following routes are worth your attention:
— Northern Naval route, going along the Russian north, round the Siberian coast and allowing to enter the Atlantic Ocean through the Pacific. This route is 13.000 kilometers long and today it is considered to be "the only and the most accessible route, linking Murmansk and Vladivostok with the natural resources deposits of the Russian Far East and Siberia".
— North-Western route, which goes through Canadian far north between the Arctic islands, linking the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans. Canadian government insists that the route goes through its domestic waters, while the USA and France claim that the naval route should have a status of international strait.

Ponder on this: comparing to the Russian North-Eastern route, Rotterdam-Tokyo naval route is 14.100 kilometers longer and it is 15.900 kilometers longer than the Canadian North-Western route. It is also 21.100 kilometers longer than the Suez Canal and 23.300 kilometers longer than the Panama Canal. Other countries, willing for the naval routes of those northern countries to be international, apparently deem the positions of Russian and Canada unacceptable. Anyway, the discovery of the new trade routes will turn the Arctic waters into a strategically important artery, connecting the Western world and Asia.

Surely, the Cold War has ended long ago and there’s no risk of a military conflict. Yet, in 1999 when Vladimir Putin came to power in Russia, the restoration of the Russian Arctic might started and that caused certain shifts in the relations of states, situated in the northern hemisphere. Today Russia is able to stand for its opinion at the international arena. As for the Arctic, today the new naval routes are not the attractions of it. The region is rich with natural resources, deposited at the depths of the ocean. It is assumed that a quarter of not yet prospected global deposits of oil and gas are in the Arctic. In 2010 Siberian branch of Russian Academy of Science2 calculated that the Arctic deposits should make up approximately 90 billion tons of oil and 250.000 billion cubic meters of gas. For your comparison: there are 10 billion tons of oil and about 25.000 billion cubic meters of gas in the Pacific Ocean, 35 billion tons of oil and 65.000 billion cubic meters of gas in the Atlantic Ocean and 40 billion tons of oil and 70.000 billion cubic meters of gas in the Indian Ocean. The Arctic is also rich with various valuable minerals (nickel, iron, phosphates, copper, cobalt, coal, gold, tin, tungsten, uranium and silver). Finally, the region hosts the largest stock of fresh water on the planet (Greenland).

Lately the militarization of the Arctic has been under way. Frankly, five countries put forth their territorial claims for the region: the USA, Canada, Russia, Denmark and Norway. All the countries except Russia are the NATO members. Great Britain, Finland and Sweden have also joined the conflict. During the Cold War the USA had created a network of air field, which were subsequently upgraded and became a part of the radar stations included into the anti-missile defense. Today Canada and the USA cooperate in order to secure a reliable supervision and control of the northern aerial space within the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD).

Besides, from time to time Canada repeats the intentions to secure its sovereignty over the major part of the Arctic continental shelf and provide an efficient control over the said territory through building up its military presence. Full-scale NATO military maneuvers are held annually and with each passing year their scale becomes all the greater. The Nanook maneuvers make an example of that. The number of its participants increases with on a yearly basis. In 2011, for instance, a hundred foreign soldiers and 1.100 Canadian servicemen took part in them. "The North is ours. We’d like to demonstrate our presence in the region to our foreign partners and that’s our goal" — captain third rank Luc Tremblay confessed to the Radio Canada right after the operation. State government has also decided recently to increase the staff strength of its Arctic brigades.

By Alexandre Latsa

Translated from French. Brief version of the article was published at "French National Defense Review" magazine.

1 Besida Jean-Claude, "Geopolitique de l’Arctique", memoire presente sous la direction de Mr Yves Lacoste.
2 Godard Alain et Andre Marie-Francoise, Les milieux polaires: Armand Colin, 1999.

 

 

 

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ALEXANDRE LATSA: ARCTIC AGE. Part II
During the Cold War era the Arctic was considered to be the shortest route to attack the enemy, but now the ongoing climate changes (global warming and glacier meltdown) revive the heated interest towards this region as long as new naval trade routes between the West and Asia emerge — they’re shorter, more lucrative and safer (due to lack of piracy). Actually, since 1979 the area of Arctic glaciers has decreased by 20% and it is to decrease by 50% more by 2100.

 

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