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International Relations Arctic

Designing an Effective European Arctic Strategy

Photo: flickr/NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

The promise of new shipping routes and access to natural resources continues to attract external players to the Arctic. While states such as Singapore have successfully acquired permanent observer status in the Arctic Council (AC), the European Union (EU) has historically been far less successful in contributing to or securing a voice in Arctic governance. This problem is eroding away, however. All Brussels has to do is play to its strengths and continue focusing on ‘small target’ goals that can be achieved through existing political structures.

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International Relations Foreign policy Defense Arctic

Arctic Rhetoric

Royal Navy Sea King Mk4 conducting Arctic training. Photo: UK Ministry of Defence/flickr.

This article was originally published on the World Policy blog on 17 January 2014.

Despite ongoing cooperation between Arctic nations – Canada, Denmark (Greenland), Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Russia, and the United States– mainstream rhetoric often implies Arctic stakeholders are teetering on the brink of conflict. To a great extent, this sentiment is reflected in mass media and political banter, inflaming the passions of audiences. This is true, not only in the U.S. but also elsewhere, evidenced in the mass media reporting of other Arctic nations and beyond.

Consider, for instance, the impact of headlines pronouncing a “New Cold War” or a “Rush for Riches,” headlines not uncommon in U.S. media. Some reactions may be visceral– insidiously implanting notions of fear, lust, or chaos into the very core of society. Similarly, political banter suggesting belligerent rivalries reminiscent of bygone years may well influence public opinion to the detriment of strengthened Arctic relations.

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International Relations Environment

Think Again Before Exploiting the Arctic’s Resources – Where’s the Infrastructure?

ARCTIC OCEAN – The Canadian Coast Guard
Photo: U.S. Geological Survey/flickr.

Climate change is not an ideology, as some would have us believe – it is an existential fact.  Greenland’s ice cap is melting up to four times faster than it was two decades ago, and if current predictions hold true, by mid-century the Arctic’s seas will be navigable in the summertime. This probability may frighten climate change specialists, but it is good news to those who want to access the High North’s once inaccessible resources (oil, minerals and gas), or to rely upon its shorter and therefore cheaper shipping routes. Indeed, the burgeoning interest of governments and investors in the Arctic guarantees that for better (economic development) and worse (oil spills, shipping accidents, and cultural dislocation), the human footprint will grow exponentially in the region. For those who are ready to kick-start this 21st century ‘gold rush,’ however, here’s an inconvenient question – where’s the infrastructure that is going to support it?

First, let’s begin by stating the obvious – compared to the rest of the world, the broader Arctic region still has almost no infrastructure and what little exists is expensive. Canada’s per-capita transport and communications costs, for example, are 36% higher in the Northwest Territories and 160% higher in Nunavut than in the country as a whole. These costs, driven as they are by the still-extreme climate and extended transport routes, will continue to turn near- and mid-term expectations of large-scale wealth and development into fool’s gold.

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Security

Missile Defence and the Arctic

A Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) interceptor is launched
A Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) interceptor is launched. Photo: U.S. Missile Defense Agency/flickr.

The most basic definition of a security community of independent states within a defined region is that there exists a reliable expectation that the states within that region will not resort to war to prosecute their disputes. Put another way, such a “pluralistic security community … [is] a transnational region comprised of sovereign states whose people maintain dependable expectations of peaceful change’.” 1 That is certainly a widely affirmed expectation, even if not yet a guarantee, for the Arctic region.

But there is another characteristic of a security community that is less entrenched in the Arctic, namely, “the absence of a competitive military build-up or arms race involving [its] members.”2 There is no denying that there is currently a build-up of conventional military capacity within the region,3 and it is not yet definitively clear whether it will turn out to be a competitive build-up that undermines the growing expectation that change will be peaceful, or whether it will instead facilitate increased security cooperation and build capacity for more effective domestic and cross border support to civil authorities in search and rescue, and in monitoring regional activity and ensuring compliance with international regulations.

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Arctic

Big Oil in the Arctic Council?

A tugboat towing an oil drilling platform into the Alaskan Arctic. Photo: anyaku2419/flickr

 

Drilling for oil is almost always risky business. Deposits are rarely found in convenient places and drilling is expensive. Even if alternative energies are slowly taking over the energy market, most experts agree that we still need oil. As current wells dry up, therefore, we must also drill in new, more challenging places, like the Arctic seas.

The US Geological Survey estimates that the Arctic holds ninety billion barrels of undiscovered oil. This is almost three times annual global consumption and could be as much as thirteen percent of the world’s undiscovered reserves. The vast majority of Arctic oil, however, lies offshore – protected by fierce weather conditions that make drilling almost impossible, or at least very dangerous.

Commercial interest in the Arctic is nonetheless high. As recently as September the Norwegian government announced that forty-two companies had applied for drilling permissions in the Norwegian Arctic. Statoil alone applied for drilling in seventy-two new blocks and will drill nine new exploration wells next year. Meanwhile, Royal Dutch Shell (finally) received permission to drill to shallow depths at the Beaufort and Chukchi wells in Alaska, US.