Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Coming War In The Arctic

Russia Announces Plan To Annexes Huge New, Oil & Gas Rich Territory

Graphic From BBC

Note : As some commenters pointed out, there is little actual land under the ice of the North Pole to be fought over. The below article probably doesn't make the point clear enough that potential conflicts will be over the divvying up of energy and mineral spoils from the ocean and the currently ice-covered coastal regions. The potential for future conflict not only includes the temptation for the more powerful nations to lay claim to territory that is rich in oil and gas, be it on land or in the ocean, but the US, Russia, Canada and Greenland do not have well defined borders in the Arctic, and the control of two potential new ice-free sea lanes for shipping will also be challenged.


When we first started writing about 'The Coming Arctic Wars' on this site more than 15 months ago, we thought the reality of such a situation as reported below actually developing to be not much more than a rank outsider in the sprawl of possible conflicts that could break out between nations out as the 'War on Terror' spreads, and increases its momentum and capacity to destabilise.

But Russia has decided that the United States is weak enough, now it has most of military and equipment bogged down in the Middle East, to not put up much of a fight over who owns what in the the Arctic Circle, so it has decided to announce a plan to annex an astounding 460,000 square miles of international territory. That's equal to the land mass of Italy, Germany and France, combined.

Sure, it's covered by ice and snow right now. But if global warming increases, and some of the more mind-boggling predictions of rapid climate change turn true, and the Arctic loses most of its summer ice, there are hundreds of millions of hectares of land up there that may be ready for development and exploitation in less than 20 years.

Even the most conservative estimates of untapped oil and mineral wealth in the currently frozen Arctic are in the range of many trillions of dollars. Unofficial estimates, the kind that oil and mining companies don't make public, because they are usually guesstimates, think there could be tens of trillions of dollars worth of oil, gas, coal and various minerals up there.

In the scope of world headlines, the news of what Russia is going to do will impact little. Right now. But decades from now, the day that Russia decided to announce it intendeds to annex international territory in the Arctic will probably be marked as the day the Arctic Wars really began.

And have no doubt that the countries bordering the Arctic will fight over the land that is losing its shield of ice and snow, and the North and NorthWest trade routes that are opening up now the sea ice is diminishing. They will fight over it all.

Not all the fights will end up with exchanges of missiles and gun boats blocking new shipping routes, but in a world where resources are running low, and vast tracts of land are depleted turning to desert, an ice-free Arctic will be the most coveted prize in the history of modern humankind.

Unpolluted, unexploited, unclaimed, undeveloped, unpopulated.

The Arctic will be a prize worth fighting and dying for. At least for the troops that the US, Canada and Russia send in to seize and hold territory some time after 2010.

From the UK Guardian :
It is already the world's biggest country, spanning 11 time zones and stretching from Europe to the far east. But yesterday Russia signalled its intention to get even bigger by announcing an audacious plan to annex a vast 460,000 square mile chunk of the frozen and ice-encrusted Arctic.

According to Russian scientists, there is new evidence backing Russia's claim that its northern Arctic region is directly linked to the North Pole via an underwater shelf.

Under international law, no country owns the North Pole. Instead, the five surrounding Arctic states, Russia, the US, Canada, Norway and Denmark (via Greenland), are limited to a 200-mile economic zone around their coasts.

On Monday, however, a group of Russian geologists returned from a six-week voyage on a nuclear icebreaker. They had travelled to the Lomonosov ridge, an underwater shelf in Russia's remote and inhospitable eastern Arctic Ocean.

According to Russia's media, the geologists returned with the "sensational news" that the Lomonosov ridge was linked to Russian Federation territory, boosting Russia's claim over the oil-and-gas rich triangle. The territory contained 10bn tonnes of gas and oil deposits, the scientists said.

Russia's Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper celebrated the discovery by printing a large map of the North Pole. It showed the new "addition" to Russia - the size of France, Germany and Italy combined - under a white, blue and red Russian flag.

Mr Priamikov said the area was one of breathtaking natural beauty. It was much drier, colder and quieter than the western Arctic, he added. "I've been there many times. It's an oasis for marine life," he said. Asked whether it would be feasible to drill for oil, he said: "Yes".

The shelf was 200 metres deep and oil and gas would be easy to extract, especially with ice melting because of global warming, he said.

Russia has the world's largest gas reserves. It is the second largest exporter of oil after Saudi Arabia. The Kremlin is keen to secure Russia's long-term hegemony over global energy markets, and to find new sources of fuel.

Well, not only has Russia now found "new sources of fuel", it's annexed the territory in which they lie. And Russia is likely to claim more, as the ice melts, and the 'Arctic Gold Rush' begins in the next decade.

Before the United States starts fighting with Russia over who can claim how much Arctic territory for themselves, they have to sort out their own borders with Canada and get out of Iraq.

Russia isn't waiting for Canada, Greenland and the United States to work out what they want. Russia knows what it wants, and it's taking it now, before the real fighting begins.

Canada, however, has not been slack when it comes to marking out future territory for energy exploitation and new trading and shipping routes.

From The Fourth World War blog, March, 2006 :
Russia, the US and even Greenland are enthusiastically eyeing off the opening up of new shipping lanes that will cut months off the journeys of major freight travels. As the ice retreats, not only do new shipping lanes become passable, but new areas exploitable for mining, oil extraction and even coastal residential development all become reality.

Canada controls some of the most valuable coastline in the new ice-free Arctic of the coming decades, but even they are already aware they will have to defend it.

The idea that war could break out in the Arctic between countries like Canada, Russia, Greenland and the US seem almost incomprehensible, but Canada at least is taking this future issue very seriously indeed.

April, 2006 : Canada Deploys Military On 'Epic' Arctic Recon

'Arctic Wars' Heat Up As Canada Makes Move On Rapidly Melting Territory

January, 2006 : Canada Steps Up Arctic Patrols, Plans Military Deployments, Clashes with US over NorthWest Passage

Russia Lays Claim To North Pole And All Its Oil, Gas And Diamonds

Russia Begins Mass Production Of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles

Canadian Sub Will 'Fly Flag' As It Takes Part In Arctic Military Exercises

Russia Sends Nuclear Powered Ship To Arctic For "Tests"