The Arctic Sea Competition: Strategic Competition (Part Two)

By Caroline Mükusch
German Correspondent, Second Line of Defense

Credit image: www.crystalinks.com

11/28/2010 – When it comes to the North Pole and the question of who wins the race for the Arctic, two major interests are rising: energy and security.  Therefore Arctic neighbor states regularly assert their national interests in this region.  Predictably, they are increasing their civil and military engagement in the Arctic area.  Although Norway and Canada are very engaged in the Arctic area, the policy stage is still set by the Cold War superpowers Russia and the United States.  Russia has a proactive policy; the U.S. has a reluctant policy.

In 2008 after Canada, the United States, and Denmark criticized Russia’s territorial claims to the continental plateau of the Arctic, Russia set out training plans for military units that could be engaged in Arctic combat mission; extended the “operational radius” of its northern naval forces; and reinforced its army’s combat readiness along the Arctic coast – just in case of a potential conflict. [1]

In its new national security strategy (2009), Russia raised the prospect of war in the Arctic Ocean if Russia’s interests and border security were threatened by neighboring nations, likely considering the current circumstances of pending border agreements and disagreements between Russia and those nations.  To secure and guarantee its overall energy and security interests, Russia stated “in a competition for resources it cannot be ruled out that military force could be used to resolve emerging problems that would destroy the balance of forces near the borders of Russia and her allies.” [2]

Russia is willing – and able – to use the entire spectrum of instruments to settle legal status problems in disputed regions such as the Arctic, Caspian, and South China Seas.  [3]

Russia’s 2007-2015 rearmament program plans to rebuild the submarine force, recommending building several dozen surface ships and submarines, including five Project 955 Borey nuclear-powered strategic ballistic missile submarines equipped with new Bulava ballistic missiles, two Project 885 Yasen nuclear-powered multipurpose submarines, six Project 677 Lada diesel-electric submarines, three Project 22350 frigates, and five Project 20380 corvettes. [4]

The United States – although it had been an important Arctic nation since it purchased Alaska from Russia in 1867 – is now a “reluctant Arctic power.”  After the Cold War the United States became too passive in the Arctic, preferring mainly re-active policy measures than a comprehensive Arctic strategy.  [5]

With the end of the Cold War the United States steadily closed some northern military bases, including the naval base on Adak and Fort Greely.  These developments reflect the United States’ perception that a significant military presence is – since Soviet Union submarine force collapsed – no longer needed in the Arctic. Although the collapse of the Soviet Union seemed to make the challenges easier to resolve, the challenges in the Arctic facing now U.S. policy-makers are much more complicated than expected in 1991.  Threats are much more nebulous, long term, and complex.

With the end of the Cold War the United States steadily closed some northern military bases, including the naval base on Adak and Fort Greely.  These developments reflect the United States’ perception that a significant military presence is – since Soviet Union submarine force collapsed – no longer needed in the Arctic. Although the collapse of the Soviet Union seemed to make the challenges easier to resolve, the challenges in the Arctic facing now U.S. policy-makers are much more complicated than expected in 1991.

(Credit image: http://www.uscg.mil/history/docs/ArcticOverview%5B1%5D.pdf)Credit image: www.uscg.mil

Additionally resources are bringing new actors to the north as well.

  • Although China is lacking an Arctic coast, China stated recently: “The Arctic belongs to all the people around the world as no nation has sovereignty over it”. [6]
  • Japan for instance does not possess any Arctic claims, Japan is interested in gaining greater access to discussions and negotiations on the Arctic because it could benefit from the opening of the Northwest Passage, which would establish a route circumventing the Suez Canal and shorten transit times between Asia and Europe by 40 percent. [7]
  • Furthermore, Russia invited China – the world’s fastest-growing economy that requires 10 percent of global energy demand while meeting 95 percent of those needs with domestic energy supplies – to exploit oil and gas reserves locked in the “Russian section of the Arctic.” In 2010 China, with an interest in sustainable energy supplies, was offered a “mutually advantageous and constructive cooperation” exploring and exploiting the regional natural resources base with Russia.
  • In 2009 finally the United States changed its Arctic perception by releasing both an Arctic policy declaring security as top priority of American Arctic policy and an Arctic roadmap outlining the direction of U.S. maritime Arctic security protection [8].  But what is missing is a clear shaping of capabilities to implement the policy.

Hence, the strategic environment within the Arctic region is set by very simple rules:

  1. Sufficient scientific data about topography and environmental conditions
  2. Money for resource expedition, exploration and infrastructure projects
  3. Vague rules of international law
  4. A latent conflict level.

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References

[1] http://en.rian.ru/russia/20080624/111915879.html

[2] The London Times

[3] See Principles of the state energy policy and its implementation phases, Energy Strategy of Russia for the period up to 2030, Moscow 2010

[4] Compare: Rianovosti (2008): Russian Navy to receive Severod Severodvinsk nuclear submarine in 2010

[5] Huebert, Rob (2009): United States Arctic Policy: The Reluctant Arctic Power, The School of Public Policy: SPP Briefing Papers Focus on the United States. Vol 2, Issue 2, May 2009, p. 1-26

[6] Chang, Gordon G. (2010): China’s Arctic Play, The Diplomat from 3/10/10, http://the-diplomat.com/2010/03/09/china’s-arctic-play/

[7] The Japan Times from 11/7/08, http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/nn20081107a9.html

[8] National Security Presidential Directive and Homeland Security Presidential Directive No 66 / Homeland Security Presidential Directive No 25 and Department of the Navy (2009): Memorandum for Distribution – The U.S. Navy Arctic Roadmap, 3140 / Ser. N09/9U103038

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