The battle for the Arctic is already underway. And the United States is already behind.

“Everything we do is to maintain good order at sea,” Rear Admiral Rune Andersen, head of the Norwegian Navy and Coast Guard, told me weeks later. He said that he has seen an increase in international commercial maritime and specifically Russian naval activity in the Barents Sea and the Norwegian Sea in the last five years. Andersen says the Norwegian fleet has devoted new resources to underwater monitoring, aerial surveillance of shipping lanes and intelligence sharing with other Arctic nations like Sweden. “We have been improving to make sure we have control over the North Atlantic. What is happening now in the North is important. It has a direct effect on security in other places.”

Since the end of the Cold War, the Arctic has been largely free of visible geopolitical conflict. In 1996, the eight countries with Arctic territory formed the Arctic Council, where they agreed on environmental protection standards and pooled technology and money for the joint extraction of natural resources in the region. Svalbard, the northernmost inhabited settlement in Europe, just 700 miles south of the North Pole, perfectly embodies this spirit of cooperation. Although it is a territory of Norway, it is also a kind of international arctic station. Home to the KSAT satellite station, trusted by everyone from the US to China; a constellation of research laboratories from a dozen nations; and the Doomsday Seed Vault (where seeds from around the world are stored in the event of a global loss in crop diversity, whether due to climate change or nuclear fallout). Svalbard, where polar bears outnumber people, is considered a visa-free demilitarized zone by 42 nations.

But today, this arctic wilderness is fast becoming the center of a new conflict. The vast sea ice that covers the The Arctic Ocean is melting rapidly due to climate change, losing 13 percent per decade. – a rate that experts say could make the Ice-free Arctic in the summer as early as 2035. Melting ice has already created new shipping lanes, opened up existing seasonal routes for more of the year, and provided more opportunities for natural resource extraction. Nations are now competing for military and trade. control over this newly accessible territory, competition that has only grown more intense since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

During the last two decades, Russia has been dominating this fight for the Arctic, building its fleet of nuclear-capable icebreakers, ships and submarines, developing more mining operations and oil wells throughout its 15,000 miles of the Arctic. coast, vying to capture control of the new “Northern Sea Route” or “Transpolar Sea Route” that could begin to open by 2035, and courting non-Arctic nations to help fund those efforts.

At the same time, the United States is catching up in a climate in which it has little experience and capabilities. The US government and military seem to be waking up to the threats of climate change and Russian domination of the Arctic: they recently issued a National Strategy for the Arctic Region and a report on how climate change affects US military bases , opening a consulate in Nuuk, Greenland. , and this year appointing an ambassador general for the Arctic region within the Department of State and a deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Arctic and Global Resilience. America’s European allies have also been rethinking national security, increasing national defense budgets and security around critical energy infrastructure in the Arctic as they aim to increase their defense capabilities and become less aid dependent. US.

But 17 Arctic observers, including Norwegian diplomats, State Department analysts and Arctic-focused national security experts, said they fear that The United States and Europe will be unable to control the region’s energy resources and diplomacy as Russia places more civilian and military infrastructure in the Arctic, threatening the economic development and national security of the other seven nations whose sovereign land lies. inside the arctic. Arctic Circle.

Although the United States says it has developed stronger Arctic policies, five leading Arctic observers i spoke to say that the US government and military take too narrow a view, view the Arctic primarily as Alaska and an area for natural resource extraction, but not as a key geopolitical and national security battleground beyond US borders. They say the US is short on resources in the Arctic and unprepared to deal with the growing climate threat, which will require new kinds of technology, training and infrastructure with which the US has little experience. Various US government officials involved in Arctic planning they told me privately that they also fear a nuclear escalation in the Arctic, which would threaten to plunge Europe and its allies into a major conflict.

“We are committed to expanding our engagement throughout the region,” one such official, who was granted anonymity to speak candidly about a tense geopolitical region, told me, “but we are not there yet.”

“The [Defense] The Department sees the Arctic as a potential avenue for closer homeland and as a potential site for great power competition,” the new US Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Arctic and Global Resilience wrote to me in an email. Iris A. Ferguson. Ferguson described Russia as a “sharp threat” and also outlined fears that China, a “pace threat”, was seeking to “normalize its presence and play a greater role in shaping Arctic regional security and governance affairs.” “. (China has contributed to liquefied natural gas projects and financed a biodiesel plant in Finland as part of its Belt and Road initiative now reaching the Arctic.)

There have been tense moments in the Arctic in recent decades, but Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine in February has pushed the competition to new highs. Immediately after the invasion, the other seven members of the Arctic Council said they would boycott the upcoming talks in Russia. Norway, considered NATO’s northern listening post, restricted access to its ports for Russian fishing trawlers but still allowed Russian fishing in the Barents Sea. In May, Russia declared a militarization of its fishing fleet and maritime vessels. Norway moved to increase alert status at military installations and critical power and liquid gas infrastructure across the country, much of which is in the Arctic and sub-Arctic. Europe, which cut ties with Russian gas exports, has come to depend on that Arctic energy.

In mid-November, US Special Forces demonstrated the use of an experimental parachuted guided weapons system over Norwegian territory. “We are trying to deter Russian aggression, expansionist behavior, by showing enhanced Allied capabilities,” Lt. Col. Lawrence Melnicoff told the Stars and Stripes military newspaper.

In Norway’s High North, a term used to describe the Norwegian Arctic territories, no fewer than seven Russian citizens have been detained in recent months. to fly drones, prohibited under the same prohibitions for Russian airlines in European airspace. The drones were discovered flying near critical infrastructure areas. One of those arrested in October was Andrey Yakunin, 47, the son of Vladimir Yakunin, a former chairman of Russian Railways and an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who was sanctioned by the State Department after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.

Since the invasion of Russia, “we are reminded of a local historical realization, which happens a few times in every generation, that things can get much worse than you thought,” Espen Barth Eide, a former Norwegian defense minister, told me. “It’s much easier [for Russia] meddle if there is an area of ​​uncertainty between the West and Russia.” Barth Eide said of the waters around Norway, whose fisheries are often contested by Russia.

“The Arctic, at least as a security problem area, has not been on the agenda since the collapse of the Soviet Union,” said Commander Göran Swistek, visiting fellow for international security at the German Institute for International Security Affairs, author from a study. about Russia’s growing interest in the north, he told me in a telephone interview. “But the northern area has again become a new front line where Russia feels it is vulnerable.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *