Is the Cold War over? Not at all. Just as a pandemic is spreading in the world, hotbeds of confrontation are breaking out in different parts of the world. The Middle East, Africa, Asia, Europe – military or political battles have become commonplace here. The Arctic deserves special attention.
Today, the ambitions of superpowers extend beyond the planet. Donald Trump’s decision to support commercial development of resources on the Moon is worth it. One would think that no one would be surprised by the claims to the Arctic region. However, the conquest of space, including its militarization, is a promising issue. Both the U.S. and Russia still need to work on their technologies to launch a confrontation there. The Arctic is a more realistic bridgehead. It resembles a rabbit bait in a dog race just before the start.
Ice, oil and… nuclear domination.
Of course, the Arctic would not have been of interest to superpowers if it had not been for specific resources. There are huge oil and natural gas reserves – about 25% of the world’s hydrocarbon reserves, to be exact.
“The Bering Sea has the potential to become a new Persian Gulf, and this will have a strong impact on the world arena. But the United States no longer has a place in this region,” said Johns Hopkins University Professor Hall Brands.
Only a resource is not just oil or gas. A resource can be economic or even military-political. All this can be found in the Arctic.”
China sees the Arctic Route as a way to halve the cost of transporting goods to Europe. Crude oil consumed by China’s maritime transport is the biggest factor in shipping costs. The price of fuel is half of the total freight cost,” said Wang Qi, Executive Director of the Institute for Strategic Cooperation between China and Russia.
In its own way, Norway reacted to the activity in the region. Last summer, Foreign Minister Ine Marie Erikson said that the country is initiating the inspection of the Northern Sea Route. This step had obvious political connotations, especially since Norway did not interfere with the passage of ships. Rather, Oslo was trying to slow down the stormy activity in the region, hoping to buy time for itself.
As far as military and political resources are concerned, it is logical to assume that warships can also sail in the Arctic. Vice Admiral Dary Cowdle said that “the Arctic is a potential strategic corridor between the Indo-Pacific region, Western Europe and the United States.
But there is another factor that explains the phrase “nuclear domination”, which is mentioned above. In the Arctic, the northern parts of three continents – Europe, Asia and North America – are in contact. Anyone who gets control over the North Pole and places weapons with the required range there, will be able to hit targets in the Northern Hemisphere as soon as possible. From a geopolitical point of view, this is an incredible advantage, which becomes a key justification for the rivalry between the US and Russia.
Methods of struggle: Demonstration of power and Spanish shame…
All the strategic importance of the Arctic has only been appreciated in recent years. So far the US has not betrayed the importance of this region. American interests have extended to the Middle East, the Indo-Pacific region, but the Arctic has been neglected. As a consequence, the U.S. did not pay attention to the parameters of its military equipment, which would allow it to operate at extremely low temperatures. Morally outdated American icebreakers are not the kind of fleet that is capable of providing states with the Arctic leadership.
U.S. interests in the Arctic are represented by two icebreakers: Healy (1999) and Polar Star (1978). The latter had a twin called “Polar Sea”, also released in 1978, but has been idle for 10 years.
Now in the USA there is a program “Polar Security Cutter”. In the White House it was called the key to “the return of American leadership in the Arctic”. But the first icebreaker under this program was planned to be built by 2024.
Obviously, the situation is depressing. For comparison, the Joint Strategic Command of the Russian Northern Fleet includes 38 surface ships, 42 submarines and two Arctic motorized rifle brigades.”
Implementation of the state policy in the Arctic by the Russian Federation has led, among other things, to the creation of a new all-Arctic military group in the Arctic regions of the country, capable of ensuring military security in any military and political situation”, – said Vladimir Putin.
The Russian superiority is explained by the fact that it developed its infrastructure in the region even when no one paid due attention to the Arctic. But when the U.S. got involved, it was no longer possible to confront anything significant. Therefore, a well-established path of ostentatious power was chosen.
Perhaps, from the point of view of the US, it would have been much more effective to strengthen its forces without any extra pathos. After all, showmanship often turns into a fiasco. What is it worth flying two Russian Tu-95 bombers to us by the American military camp Seadragon in the Arctic.
The consequences of the Arctic race, coming and going.
October 2018. NATO countries deploy the largest Arctic exercise in the last ten years Trident Juncture. The polar provinces of Norway have become the main theater of conditional warfare. About 50 thousand soldiers from 31 countries, 10 thousand combat vehicles, 60 ships, 250 planes and helicopters took part in maneuvers.
November 8 at 4:03 local time frigate “Helge Ingstad” of the Royal Norwegian Navy, returning from maneuvers, collided with a tanker Sola TS, marching under the flag of Malta in the oil terminal Stur. About 10 tons of fuel for the deck helicopter was discharged into the seawater. Oil leaks were avoided.
Even earlier, on January 16, 2017, the same 40-year-old American ice-breaker Polar Star broke through the ice on its way to the U.S. research center at McMurdo station. That’s when a few tens of tons of diesel fuel was poured into the water.
One thing remains unchanged: politicization distracts attention from many environmental problems in the Arctic. They are speculated on, used to accuse the enemy. If the environmental problems of the Arctic are raised, for example, by experts in the U.S., nothing prevents those in power from saying that this is an attempt by the Kremlin to harm American interests. And by the way, environmental changes in the Arctic are causing global problems.
Russia is preparing to become the chairman of the Arctic Council from 2021 to 2023. During this time it plans to take measures to consolidate control over the Arctic. The international military information agency Army Recognition estimates that by 2030 it can take control of 55% of Arctic resources. Obviously, the U.S. will do everything it can to prevent this from happening. A fierce confrontation is waiting for us, and we can hope that it will not go beyond politics. One thing is clear, the superpowers will not think to concede the Arctic to their opponent, because deployment of long-range missiles at the North Pole will be a turning point in terms of global stability.
Le Club est l'espace de libre expression des abonnés de Mediapart. Ses contenus n'engagent pas la rédaction.