G. G. LÓPEZ: The Arctic, the last frontier?
Vladimir Putin, in a press conference of the Ministry of Defense, announced the reopening of the military base located in Novosibirskie Ostrová, (archipelago of the Arctic Ocean), citing reasons of strategic security, since “the north of Russia is scarcely protected from possible attacks by both air and sea, “but behind this reasoning lies Russia’s interest in militarily controlling a route that will allow it to exploit the continental shelf and the Arctic mineral deposits, works that currently clash with the technical complexities of the exploration, extraction and the difficulty of transporting the extracted natural resources.
The Arctic, the last frontier?
According to an analysis of the Odnako website columnist, Alexander Gorbenko. “the north shipping route (that joins the Atlantic and the Pacific along the Russian coast), is considered as an alternative to the Suez and Panama canals, and could become in the near future one of the most important commercial corridors in the world.” The North Shipping Route and the Northwest Pass along the Arctic Ocean shores (more precisely in the north of Canada and Russia coasts) together with their capacity to provide a way for the transport of natural resources (oil and gas) extracted from the Arctic, can also reduce merchandise shipping times from the Pacific to the Atlantic coasts of Europe and North America (with this route ships can cut their trip by 7,400 nautical miles of the 11,500 they actually cover between Hamburg and Yokohama). According to Burica Press (BPP), during the first decade of the XXI century the interest in maritime transport between Europe and Asia through the Arctic Ocean has increased due to the massive thaws that have opened the “Ice Ocean” route. Thus, in the summer of 2009, two German transport ships used the North Sea Route without the aid of icebreaker ships.
On the Russian side, on August 14, 2010, the first tanker of high tonnage left Russian ports and took the North Sea Route to Asia, reaching Pevek on the Chukotka Peninsula and likewise, in the fall of 2010 the first shipment of iron was sent from Kirkenes, Norway to China via the North Sea Route and China first sent a merchant vessel to Europe through the Northeast Pass and would have secured access to the Arctic following the signing with Iceland of a Free Trade Agreement; while Canada is also preparing for a significant increase in utilization of the Arctic northwest route. The president of the Academy of Geopolitical Problems Leoníd Ivashov in declarations to KMRU said: “The North Sea Route is freed of ice, becoming more navigable and reducing in thousands of kilometers the shipping of the cargo in the Eastern hemisphere, which makes the Arctic an important geopolitical region.” The United States and Russia would have staged the start of the race for control of shipping traffic and the vast resources of the Arctic, according to the Sustainable Life Foundation, the Arctic energy reserves, conditioned by being until now under an icy sea, has around 25 percent of the world’s gas and oil reserves and according to several sources, more than 62 billion cubic meters of gas and more than 9 billion tons of oil could be found in the Arctic Ocean seas and some 3.5 billion tons of oil on its coasts.
According to vidasostenible.org, although in theory national sovereignty stops at 200 nautical miles from the coasts themselves, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea grants rights on the Arctic continental shelf to anyone who can demonstrate ownership (reminiscent of the initial anarchy of the Far West of the United States), so that in 2013 the 1st International Forum on the Arctic was held in the Siberian city of Salejard, under the bombastic epigraph of “The Arctic – Territory of Dialogue”. This Arctic summit was intended to lay the foundations for a constructive cooperation between countries with direct access to the Arctic, but only served to stage the lack of consensus among them, which are divided into two opposing blocs: on the one hand, the United States and its Western allies Canada, Norway and Denmark and on the other, Russia, leading an international coalition that would include Iceland as a shipping platform for China, India and possibly Germany.
Russia, for its part, planted its national flag on the Arctic Ocean bed under the ice sheet arguing that its continental shelf extends up to there and Denmark equally claims the sovereignty of Greenland arguing that both regions would be geologically linked through one underwater ridge. Meanwhile, the United States claims its rights to exploit Arctic regions near Alaska amounting to 30 billion barrels of crude while Canada and Norway claim their sovereignty over part of the region arguing their necessary ecological protection, leaving Iceland as a carrier of boreal China after the signing of an FTA that will allow the Asian giant access to the Arctic. From an economic point of view, the Arctic region becomes particularly important because, due to the progressive thawing, an old navigable route is recovered which opens the possibility of crossing the Northwest Pass all year round. In addition, it offers shipping companies a considerable reduction in navigation times, which will have as a side effect the gradual decline in maritime traffic along the traditional maritime routes of the twentieth century, resulting in a complicated obstacle course due to the saturation of traffic and the political instability in the surrounding countries and their main landmarks the Suez Canal, the Gulf of Aden, the Strait of Hormuz, the Straits of Malacca and the Panama Canal.
Towards the militarization of the Arctic?
“The fact that the Arctic has more than 25 percent of the world’s gas and oil reserves could revive the militarization of the region,” said Michel Chossudovsky, director of the Center for Research on Globalization in Canada, to RT. According to Chossudovsky, “the root of the problem lies in the fact that the United States does not really have border territories (or, rather, its territories bordering the Arctic Ocean are very limited), so Washington can only get its piece of pie through the militarization of the region, its allies Canada, Norway and Denmark, following the Rumsfeld doctrine which in 2002 claimed the entire region under the military umbrella of the US Northern Command (USNORTHCOM). As a result, the United States would be expanding and modernizing its Arctic military bases and would have created the Arctic Region Research Group (which operates at the Newport Naval Military Academy), with the mission of assisting the US Navy in the preparation of operational and strategic actions in the area.
Meanwhile Vladimir Putin, in a press conference of the Ministry of Defense, announced the reopening of the military base located in Novosibirskie Ostrová, (archipelago of the Arctic Ocean), citing reasons of strategic security, since “the north of Russia is scarcely protected from possible attacks by both air and sea, “but behind this reasoning lies Russia’s interest in militarily controlling a route that will allow it to exploit the continental shelf and the Arctic mineral deposits, works that currently clash with the technical complexities of the exploration, extraction and the difficulty of transporting the extracted natural resources. Thus, the Russian energy giant Gazprom will only want to extract 200,000 million cubic meters of gas from the Arctic region (six times the amount purchased annually by Germany) only until 2030, with the foreseeable militarization of the Arctic being only one more episode in the return to the recurrent endemism of the US-Russia Cold War.
GERMÁN GORRAIZ LÓPEZ-Analyst