Now for a taste of geopolitics in the Far North

With vast oil reserves waiting to be taken from the Arctic, it is interesting to read about Russia’s saber-rattling and implications for the United States, Canada and other countries that want to claim a piece of what lies below the frozen earth.

I don’t know much about geopolitics in the Arctic — and I may be reading too much into recent news stories I’ve seen — but there may be something going on in the world that we should watch.

The following is from a story written last week by Randy Boswell of Canwest News Service in Canada:

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev directed his top Kremlin officials to develop a comprehensive and assertive strategy to exploit the region’s vast Arctic frontier — including the demarcation of boundaries and the exploiting of polar resources …

Initial reports of Mr. Medvedev’s address to Russia’s national security council suggested he was advocating unilateral action to secure Arctic territory at a time when the five polar nations — including Canada — are collecting geological data for planned sea floor territorial claims under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Later in the same piece, there is a discussion about Russian aircraft invading Canadian air space in Far North.

During the Conservatives’ August rush to the Arctic, both Foreign Affairs Minister David Emerson and Defence Minister Peter MacKay expressed concern over the increasing number of Russian patrol flights in the Arctic.

“We’re obviously very concerned about much of what Russia has been doing lately,” Mr. MacKay said… “When we see a Russian Bear approaching Canadian air space, we meet them with an F-18. We remind them that this is Canadian airspace, that this is Canadian sovereign airspace, and they turn back. And we are going to continue to do that, to demonstrate that we are watching closely their activities here.”

A story Wednesday in the online publication TerraDaily goes into even more detail about the provocative oil connection:

President Dmitry Medvedev set the task of formalizing Russia’s right to a considerable part of the Arctic shelf at the September 17 meeting of the country’s Security Council.

This will “turn the Arctic into Russia’s resource base of the 21st century,” he said at the meeting held to discuss protection of Russia’s national interests in the Arctic.

According to experts, that part of the Arctic Ocean, which Russia has always considered as part of its national territory, contains about 25% of the world’s shelf hydrocarbon resources. Huge offshore deposits of natural gas have been discovered in the Barents and Kara seas…

Canada has long laid claim to the North Pole and the resource-rich Lomonosov Ridge that lies beneath. Denmark says the disputed ridge — a 1,500-km (932-mile) undersea mountain range that runs past the pole between Siberia and North America — is a geological extension of the northern coast of Greenland.

The United States, Norway and other countries have also joined the fray. Everyone wants a piece of the Arctic pie, the larger the better…

2 thoughts on “Now for a taste of geopolitics in the Far North

  1. If your sources had worked with a good translation of the statement of the russian security council it would have been clear that the meeting addressed the _southern_ region of the Russian arctic, including the land territory, the EEZ and the island territories of the arctic region. An emphasis was placed on reopening the Northern Sea route to transit by both russian and international traffic. Another point was treating the resources of the land and sea, both minerals and energy, as a resource to be developed for their benefit. The plan that has been directed to be prepared by December 1st is to be based on a draft prepared in 2006, so this is not a sudden decision.

    At a time when Canada is developing its own arctic resources and is proposing the construction for the navy of the largest fleet of ice-capable warships in the world, the russian activity seems less aggressive than the canadian.

    On the other hand, all the arctic nations have agreed to establish their claims to the continental shelf based on the rules contained in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Canada, Denmark, Russia and the United States have been and continue to quietly share geological data relevant to these claims.

    Disputes will probably arise regarding the drawing of boundaries between adjacent states )notably US-Canada and Canada-Denmark), but none of the countries expect these to rise to the level of armed conflict.

  2. With all this excitement in the Arctic its surprising that Senator Cantwell’s Coast Guard Reauthorization Bill is stuck in Congress due in part to republican opposition to building new ice breakers for the Coast Guard. There’s plenty in there for Washington since those ships are homeported in Seattle and there’s also a provision requiring all commercial vessels calling on our waters to underwrite the cost of the Neah Bay tug which has responded to 41 vessels since 1991 on the public’s dime.

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