The Nations of The North
There are several nations which border the Arctic: Russia, Canada, Greenland (Denmark), China, The United States, and Iceland. That’s no typo, you can count them for yourself.
What? China is down near the Equator? Silly reader, I assure you that’s not true. China wants you to know that they are a “Near Arctic State” and must be included in any dividing of resources to be found North of the Circle.
Here’s a bit from The Diplomat:
“Among the economic possibilities that the paper elucidated, in addition to the further development of shipping routes, was the greater availability of fossil fuels and minerals and potential for sustainable energy such as wind and geothermal power, as well as seafood and service industries such as tourism.”
The shipping route thing is part of The Belt & Road and is mostly for the benefit of Russia. After all Sergey deserves the same cheap plastic crap Roger & I are blessed with. It should also be noted that there are far too many Russians with jobs. China has renamed Arctic shipping lanes as the “Polar Silk Road”. While Russia remains wary, China has made progress: In particular, involvement in the LNG project in Yamal has been decisive. It’s fallout from Ukraine.
The other passage is far more concerning. They want to drill for oil and dredge the ocean bottom for minerals. How? By investing in Greenland & Iceland. Iceland in particular has accepted China and appears ready to assist the Chinese in return for money. At this point, the Chinese have not been able to obtain a sea or air base despite several attempts. Thankfully there are no tiny islands out in the middle of the Arctic Sea to be stolen.
I do have mixed emotions about all this. While my opinion of China, the nation, has markedly changed over the last couple of years, I adore the Chinese people. I consider myself fortunate to have known and even worked for a number of Chinese over time. They are wonderful people.
However, it’s clear that Chairman Xi Jinping is an aggressive imperialist who would make any 18th Century British leader blush in envy. He seems hell bent on getting into a war with one or several of China’s neighbors. It’s sad, really; China deserves so much better.
When I was growing up in the sixties, there was only one way the world was going to end – Armageddon would be the result of the growing feud between the two super-powers, America and the Soviet Union. Later that century, it seemed it would be the Middle-East that would light the blue touchpaper; at least that was what Nostradamus predicted back in the 16th century, if you believe some of the dubious translations.
Come the 21st century, and it seems that most nation’s intolerance with any other whose narrative doesn’t fit could escalate into something bad, very bad.
But just when you think there would be enough going on in the natural world, what with Climate Change and a world-wide pandemic to occupy fully the minds of the elite, another very worrying development looms large over the horizon. To be more specific, on top of the world. The Arctic.
Back in the era of the Cold War, this area of our planet was seen by America to be worthy of loads of military bases, so they could blow out of the sky all the Russian missiles and bombers that were on their way to destroy New York and Washington, and probably every other major city. All that seemed to dissipate following the break-up of the USSR, but guess what – those bases are back, and more.
You see, Russia borders a fair part of the area, and it’s known that it has a nuclear capability on the Kola Peninsula. And as always, other countries will stake their “legitimate” claims. But they will all be fighting for something quite different this time. Not only does the area hold a wealth of nickel, phosphates and iron ore, but is now the subject of extensive oil and gas exploration.
And here’s the huge, unbelievably massive irony of the situation. Why oil and gas now? Simples. The sea ice is retreating towards the north as average temperatures rise rapidly, making it now much cheaper and cost-efficient to extract it. So the very same forms of energy, whose consumption has caused that melting ice and all its associated problems, will now be fought over no doubt by many nations, so they can exploit the situation, and make Climate Change and Global Warming ever worse.
You surely couldn’t make this utter stupidity up. I totally despair. World leaders should be getting their heads together to solve the planet’s problems, but instead, they will be happy to fight for a source of fuel that frankly should be dead and buried, should remain where it lies, never to be touched again.
So will there be World War 3 as a result? For the first time in these blogs, where I have discussed the various hot-spots around the world, my thinking is yes, it could well kick-off in the next few years. Sometimes I genuinely wish for the big players to go and blow each other up, and leave us peaceful folk to enjoy what’s left of our planet.
Frozen battlefields: merchants or warriors?
When exploring Alaska, Russian trappers (with sea otters being target #1) were called promysloviks. It comes from promysel that stands for small business, fortune-dependent odd earnings. These guys were first explorers of the land to the other side of the Bering Strait, true founders of the emerging Russian America. Then, in the 1840s, several Russian expeditions ventured up Far North, to the Alaskan Arctic, to explore new frontiers. One of them was the famous Lieutenant Otto Kotzebue expedition. Those were already not promysloviks but polyarniks or ‘polar explorers’ in Russian.
But the word itself, polyarniks, has popped up to the general audience much later, in the 1930s, when Stalin’s Russia started to actively explore and develop the Arctic. Otto Schmidt and Valery Chkalov, other Polar Soviet explorers, both seamen and pilots, had become the country’s true heroes and household names. The Soviet Arctic exploration program wasn’t just something of great importance to the state, but also a very romantic affair. Being a polyarnik in 1930s was something like being a Cosmonaut in the 60s: very cool and even breathtaking.
Now it seems that Russia is coming back to its past but in a slightly different way; no more romantics, just business and security, as claimed by the Kremlin. It is a functional thing now, one of the country’s strategic goals – in the region that seems to be very rich in natural resources. Yes, it is all about oil and gas. Plus, with global warming well underway, the ice cover is retreating up north, so commercial navigation in the Arctic has already become something real. It is destined to have a very promising future in terms of world trade as sailing the Arctic route from China to Europe is shorter than southwards. It could also be much safer taking into account instability in South East Asia. Russia wants to control the Northern sea route claiming its territorial rights. Other northern countries, with China becoming now one of the biggest players there, would want to claim their rights, too.
The Arctic is rapidly becoming a strategic area for too many powerful countries involved. Russia, the United States, Canada, Norway, Denmark (because of Greenland) plus two Asian guests, Japan and, of course, China.
Some experts even believe that controlling the Arctic would mean controlling the world, though I wouldn’t go that far. But the fact is that fierce international rivalry for the offshore natural resources and the commercial naval routes in the Arctic has already begun.
Russia has dozens of ice-breakers, including modern ones, already trailblazing the northern seas. The US, I far as I know, has only two ships of such class. The opinion that ‘we’re behind the Russians’ in this field is kind of widespread in Alaska. Russia is also coming back to its abandoned Soviet military bases in the region, establishing new ones there.
Some people fear that the Arctic could be the next world battlefield. True, a conflict for the natural resources and trade routes doesn’t look like something unreal, especially taking into account the current state of affairs between Russia and the West. It may happen.
I do not think though that it would escalate to a military clash. The reason why I think it won’t happen is that there will be no clear upper hand in such a conflict and the current status quo would still be kept, more or less. No country would 100 per cent project its power in the region. This means there’s no need for conflict as it won’t bring a final solution to any of the sides.
Cooperation, in the end, seems to have more benefits than confrontation. Though I think that each country would seek its strongest initial position in the big Arctic game.
Not a Cassandra though but I’d predict some fierce geopolitical rivalry in the first half of the century in the Arctic. Then a compromise would be finally found, the rules set up and business as usual would start. With all actors playing the game by these rules. Trade is better than war, true. Well… you have to be strong not to be involved in a conflict to lose your position. Eventually, it will be an era of promyslovik that will overshadow the time of the Russian America’s sea otter hunters.