As Ice Cap Melts, Militaries Vie for Arctic Edge

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Common Dreams

As Ice Cap Melts, Militaries Vie for Arctic Edge

by
Common Dreams staff

dsearls via Flickr/CC

While the corporate media continues to keep alive a false narrative that the world's scientists are still divided over global climate change - new reports show the military has moved beyond that debate. The Associated Press reports today that "to the world's military leaders, the debate over climate change is long over."

Instead, military planners from a number of nations that border the Arctic are gearing up for a new cold war - a battle for control of the vast treasure of mineral and oil resources and control of new, strategic sea lanes. As the ice cap melts, the war for the North Pole is heating up.

Greenpeace reported last year: "Wikileaks releases... have shown the Arctic oil rush is not just a threat to the environment and our climate, but also to peace."

"The documents show how deadly serious the scramble for Arctic resources has become."

"They’re preparing to fight to extract the very fossil fuels that caused the melting in the first place. It’s like putting out fire with petrol." - Greenpeace"And the terrible irony of it is that instead of seeing the melting of the Arctic ice cap as a spur to action on climate change, the leaders of the Arctic nations are instead investing in military hardware to fight for the oil beneath it. They’re preparing to fight to extract the very fossil fuels that caused the melting in the first place. It’s like putting out fire with petrol."

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The Associated Press reports today:

[...] Last month, Norway wrapped up one of the largest Arctic maneuvers ever - Exercise Cold Response - with 16,300 troops from 14 countries training on the ice for everything from high intensity warfare to terror threats. Attesting to the harsh conditions, five Norwegian troops were killed when their C-130 Hercules aircraft crashed near the summit of Kebnekaise, Sweden's highest mountain.

The U.S., Canada and Denmark held major exercises two months ago, and in an unprecedented move, the military chiefs of the eight main Arctic powers - Canada, the U.S., Russia, Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland - gathered at a Canadian military base last week to specifically discuss regional security issues.

None of this means a shooting war is likely at the North Pole any time soon. But as the number of workers and ships increases in the High North to exploit oil and gas reserves, so will the need for policing, border patrols and - if push comes to shove - military muscle to enforce rival claims.

The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that 13 percent of the world's undiscovered oil and 30 percent of its untapped natural gas is in the Arctic. Shipping lanes could be regularly open across the Arctic by 2030 as rising temperatures continue to melt the sea ice, according to a National Research Council analysis commissioned by the U.S. Navy last year. [...]

Russia, Canada and the United States have the biggest stakes in the Arctic. With its military budget stretched thin by Iraq, Afghanistan and more pressing issues elsewhere, the United States has been something of a reluctant northern power, though its nuclear-powered submarine fleet, which can navigate for months underwater and below the ice cap, remains second to none. [...]

Russia - one-third of which lies within the Arctic Circle - has been the most aggressive in establishing itself as the emerging region's superpower.

"We have an entire ocean region that had previously been closed to the world now opening up. There are numerous factors now coming together that are mutually reinforcing themselves, causing a buildup of military capabilities in the region. This is only going to increase as time goes on."
-Rob Huebert, University of Calgary

"We have an entire ocean region that had previously been closed to the world now opening up," Huebert said. "There are numerous factors now coming together that are mutually reinforcing themselves, causing a buildup of military capabilities in the region. This is only going to increase as time goes on."

Noting that the Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the globe, the U.S. Navy in 2009 announced a beefed-up Arctic Roadmap by its own task force on climate change that called for a three-stage strategy to increase readiness, build cooperative relations with Arctic nations and identify areas of potential conflict.

"We want to maintain our edge up there," said Cmdr. Ian Johnson, the captain of the USS Connecticut, which is one of the U.S. Navy's most Arctic-capable nuclear submarines and was deployed to the North Pole last year. "Our interest in the Arctic has never really waned. It remains very important." [...]

Acknowledging the need to keep apace in the Arctic, the United States is pouring funds into figuring out what climate change will bring, and has been working closely with the scientific community to calibrate its response.

"The Navy seems to be very on board regarding the reality of climate change and the especially large changes we are seeing in the Arctic," said Mark C. Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences University of Colorado. "There is already considerable collaboration between the Navy and civilian scientists and I see this collaboration growing in the future."

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