11 November 2011, 11:47

Western militarization of the Arctic. Part I

Western militarization of the Arctic. Part I

A monumental struggle for the Arctic is taking place almost unnoticed amid the on-going geo-political upheavals in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

A monumental struggle for the Arctic is taking place almost unnoticed amid the on-going geo-political upheavals in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

The world was used to the fact that major intrigues are invariably related to the Arctic Council, which was set up back in 1996 to settle territorial disputes between the northern countries, namely Russia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden, the United States and Iceland.

Things have changed other countries now seem to resent this approach, for they would also like to take part in the division of the Arctic pie. Following in the footsteps of the UK, Germany, France, Spain and Poland are India, Japan, South Korea, Australia, Brazil and China, which are knocking at the Council door, insisting that the Arctic should belong to everyone.

The Chinese proved the quickest in taking action. They launched several polar expeditions, set up a polar station on Spitsbergen Island and got an icebreaker of their own.

The Arctic has not yet been proclaimed to be available to one and all, but the issue of free access to its riches has already been raised, and this has at once added to the importance of the use of force.

In May of this year mass media carried details of Denmark’s “Strategy for the Arctic”. It follows from the document that Denmark claims the continental shelf in five areas around the Faroe Islands and Greenland, and also the North Pole, which it sees as part of the Greenland shelf and Copenhagen plans to make a relevant submission to the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf no later than 2014.

The news drove Canada crazy, since Ottawa proclaimed its sovereignty over the North Pole back in the 1950s. Under the International Court ruling, the claim may be granted if no other country proves, within 100 years, that the Arctic Ocean floor belongs to it. More than half of the term has elapsed since, but in recent years the demonstratively peaceful Canada, which has actually never fought a war, has started showing unprecedented alarmism.

When it became clear five years ago that global warming is making it possible to navigate through the Northwest Passage from the Baffin Bay to the Lincoln Sea, the Canadian authorities sent six patrol boats to the region.

At first, Ottawa aimed its demarche at Washington, which also sought control over the route. But Canadian officials started fulminating against everyone when Denmark, too, marked its military presence in the region; for Denmark has been vying with Canada for Hans Island (Tartupaluk) for half a century.

While Denmark was gathering documentary evidence to substantiate its claims, Canada allocated funds for building a deep-sea port and a naval base in the once abandoned Nanisivik. That effort was followed by rebuilding and expanding the Resolute army training centre, as well as by the construction of new Arctic patrol vessels.

Canada also boosted the strength of its military force in the Arctic area tenfold. Canada has now made it a point to hold war games in the Arctic every summer, and no one can say how things would have worked out in the long run, if the UK had not unexpectedly suggested that the Arctic should be divided between Canada and Russia.

Canada has got a kind of special status as a result, that of a NATO interest representative in the Arctic and Russia’s chief opponent in the region. The United States and Denmark are now taking part in the Canadian naval force war games in the Arctic in the framework of the strategy, with the NATO war games gaining in scale by the year.

Canadian politicians have simultaneously focused their aggressive rhetoric on Russia; they no longer mind ethics and tell Moscow bluntly not to barge in. Russia is now concerned about an increase in military control of the Russian water area, the more so since British yachts and Chinese schooners have been regularly visiting the coastal waters that are part of the Northern Sea Route.

Russia has set up motorized infantry brigades for the Arctic that will reinforce the aircraft and coast defence ships patrolling the Northern Sea Route. Meanwhile, the Commander-In-Chief of the Russian Navy, Admiral Vladimir Vysotsky, has voiced concern about the fact that the North Atlantic Alliance has defined the Arctic as part of its zone of interest and that NATO’s moves, aimed at establishing the Alliance’s dominant position in the region, have been growing systemic and “coalition-based” in character.

Russia is forced and compelled to fight off the challenges in question, and is reinforcing its Northern and Pacific Fleets. Meanwhile, the United States is actively developing its sea-based ABM system, and it would seem that nothing can prevent it from deploying the elements of the system in the Arctic Ocean to control the greater part of Russian territory.

The struggle for mineral resources and transport routes, differences on approaches of principled importance, and also militarization and global warming are turning the struggle for the Arctic into a complicated multiple-factor game, in which the military component is looming increasingly large.       

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