ACCORDING TO A 7.6.15 ARTICLE ON NEWSWEEK.COM “THE ARCTIC, WHICH COVERS EIGHT PERCENT OF THE EARTH’S SURFACE, IS WARMING TWICE AS FAST AS THE REST OF THE PLANET. WITH ALL THAT ICE MELTING, THE REGION IS IN DANGER OF BECOMING A 21ST-CENTURY WILD WEST-A FREE-FOR-ALL FOR POWER AND RICHES OPENING UP AT THE TOP OF THE PLANET.”
A Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) report released in May 2015 said that:“The Arctic is disappearing so fast that the U.S. Navy predicts the entire Arctic Ocean may be totally ice-free in summers by 2050, with ships able to traverse the top of the North Pole.
This will be the new Arctic Seaway.
And why might it lead to a new cold war? Because the new Seaway will have access to oil, natural gas and mineral resources worth trillions of dollars (almost as much as the entire U.S. economy/Source: 60 Minutes; 10.2.2016) and Russia encompasses about half of its coastline; over 10,000 miles.
Once again, according to the CFR, “The most recent Circum-Arctic Resource Appraisal, conducted in 2008 by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), estimated that nearly one-quarter of the earth’s undiscovered, recoverable petroleum resources lie in the region: 13 percent of the oil; 30 percent of the natural gas; and 20 percent of the liquefied natural gas. More than 80 percent of these are thought to be offshore. ‘The extensive Arctic continental shelves may constitute the geographically largest unexplored prospective area for petroleum remaining on Earth,’ said the USGS. The study did not account for nonconventional resources like oil shale, tar sands, or gas hydrates.”
Could Russia cause mischief by holding the Arctic Seaway ransom for European and Asian markets who want to use the Seaway for transit?
The reason why the Seaway is so important for European and Asian markets is because the calculated shipping distance between Asia and Europe using the Arctic Seaway is 37% shorter than using the the southern route via the Suez Canal, representing approximately 28 days. Or 7,200 nautical miles between between the ports of Yokohama and Hamburg. (Source: Financial Times 10.21.2016)
By shortening their shipping route, traders in the the North Pacific and North Atlantic will reduce fuel consumption, cause less carbon emissions, deliver goods faster and make more profits than the traditional routes through the Suez and Panama Canals.
In fact Russian President Vladimir Putin says he wants the Bering Strait, between Alaska and Russia, (55 miles at its narrowest point) to become the next Suez Canal. (Source: Newsweek.com 7.6.15)
On 10.2.2016 60 Minutes aired a segment entitled “The Arctic Frontier” by correspondent Leslie Stahl who reported on her recent trip to the Arctic.
She said her story was not “about climate change (but) a story about the competition for…riches. The Russians, for instance, have already amassed a major military presence in the region.”
Nevertheless, Ms. Stahl, reported that the fractured thinning ice where it was thick enough to support a U.S. base camp of scientists and naval personnel moved as much as eight-to-nine miles a day.
She reported that the Russians conducted a military exercise in the Arctic last year involving 40,000 troops, 41 warships and multiple aircraft. While it was their own territory, the exercise was not announced.
This was corroborated by the the U.S. Department of State International Security Advisory Board in a report dated 9.21.2016: “In March 2015, an exercise in the Barents Sea involved 41 warships, including 15 submarines, 38,000 ground troops, and 110 aircraft. President Putin has personally observed a Northern Fleet exercise. Aerial surveillance missions, some of which penetrated into, or came close to, the air space of neighboring nations or were flown in Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) areas without transponders operating, have also increased.
Submarines from the Northern Fleet have conducted operational patrols from their bases in the region on a scale rarely seen since the Cold War. These have not been confined to the ‘bastion’ but have included patrols through the so-called Greenland-Iceland-United Kingdom (GIUK) Gap into the North Atlantic. These activities reflect the generally more ambitious scale of Russian military, and particularly naval, operations but have not restored the levels of activity maintained prior to 1991.”
Newsweek ran a cover story on 7.17.16 entitled “In the Race to control the Arctic, the U.S. Lags Behind.”
In its story, Rob Reiss wrote that: “It’s a new kind of geopolitical cold war, and the U.S. is in danger of losing. ‘We’re not even in the same league as Russia right now,’ Coast Guard Commandant Paul F. Zukunft says. ‘We’re not playing in this game at all.’ In the Arctic, the only way to move around on the surface of the sea in even thinner summer ice—to do search and rescue, lead other naval or commercial ships, or conduct heavy research—is often on icebreakers.”
The U.S. has only two, both old and “there’s no money for new icebreakers,” reports Fran Ulmer, chair of the U.S. Arctic Research Commission. Ulmer says an icebreaker can cost up to a billion dollars, and “it takes years to get one built. Russia operates 27 icebreakers, and China, which is not an Arctic nation but has aspirations in the area, will have two by next year.”
Secretary of the U.S. Navy Roy Mabus was on a submarine in the Arctic for five days while Ms. Stahl was there and said: “Our responsibilities are changing as the ice melts and the climate changes.”
Russian Icebreaker, “Russia.”
So will the Arctic nations (Canada, U.S. (Alaska), Norway, Denmark (Greenland), Iceland, Sweden and Finland) let Russia control Arctic shipping, particularly since Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister has said that “the Arctic is part of Russia?”
Mead Treadwell, the 11th Lieutenant Governor of Alaska from 2010 to 2014 and the former Chair of the U.S. Arctic Research Commission, serving from 2006 to 2010, wrote in the 4.8.2015 Harvard International Review that “some U.S. reluctance to moving forward in the Arctic comes from the status quo.
As the U.S takes the chair of the Arctic Council… it wants to focus on fighting climate change; simultaneously promoting new business in this newly accessible ocean might come off as counter to the U.S. agenda at best, unseemly profiteering at worst.
Furthermore, diplomatic attention in this region is often focused on other matters. Even the U.S., which has not ratified the United Nations Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) agreement.”
Additionally, the U.S. agreed in Law of the Sea negotiations to the terms of Article 234, which would allow Russia to regulate shipping on the Northern Sea Route within their 200-mile limit, and Canada to require notification before vessels come through.
Mr. Treadwell argues that: “It is time to iron out this issue, either bilaterally or in a tribunal. Any solution should let the effect of Canada and Russia’s internal waters claim – a ship safety regime – move forward, and establish a similar regime in waters near the US.
Indeed, a requirement that ships coming and going through the Arctic Ocean pay for icebreaker assistance, for example, might under Article 234, be constructed in concert by six Arctic coastal states.”