Newly emerged geo political scenario at the end of the earth -the arctic region


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Newly emerged geo political scenario at the end of the earth -the arctic region

  1. 1. NEWLY EMERGED GEO-POLITICAL SCENARIO AT THE END OF THE EARTH -THE ARCTIC REGION Keshav Prasad BhattaraiSince the second half of last decade the geopolitics of Arctic region more or less has been defined by anew geo- energy era that has given the Arctic Ocean including the islands and Northern edges of thecontinental land masses of Russia, Canada, Norway, Denmark and United States that are surrounding theNorth Pole - a greater strategic significance.The core five countries joining the Arctic sea mentioned above and the other three- Iceland, Sweden andFinland in the Arctic Region - have constituted a preeminent regional body named Arctic Council. TheCouncil has published a comprehensive assessment of the impacts of climate change on Snow, Water, Iceand Permafrost in the Arctic (SWIPA) 2011. The report has brought together the latest scientificknowledge about the changing state of the Arctic Cryosphere and larger impacts bringing upon the Arcticregion and the world as well. According to the report the years 2005-2010 have been the warmest period inthe region bringing tremendous changes in the Arctic landscape - the extent and duration of snow coverand sea ice that have decreased across the Arctic with rising temperatures.The largest and most permanent bodies of ice in the Arctic – multiyear sea ice, mountain glaciers , ice capsand Greenland Ice Sheet have all been melting faster since 2000 than in the previous decade. That hascontributed over 40 % of the global sea level rise of around 3 mm per year observed between 2003 and2008. As a result of this global sea level is projected to rise up to 1.6 meter by the end of this century.The report has predicted that the Arctic Ocean will become nearly ice free in summer within this centuryand more likely within the next thirty to forty years. All these will bring tremendous change in the ecologyof arctic region, challenging the indigenous human civilizations, life cycle of wild lives, vegetation and seamammals and the bio- diversity of the Arctic as a whole.Similarly, this will inevitably bring most serious societal impacts with higher rise in sea level to damagingsurges in sea storms directly affecting the millions of people in low lying coastal areas like Bangladesh,Shanghai, New York and Florida.On the other hand the great cryospheric changes taking place in the Arctic region is opening up fortremendous economic activities along with those challenges. Some greater opportunities areemerging in a region where for months there will be no day light and for other months the sun willnever set but move circling over the sky.Scientific studies have estimated huge amount of world’s untapped oil and gas reserve followedby massive stock of high quality gold, diamond, plutonium and other rare earth minerals in the 1
  2. 2. Arctic. As the ice recedes, it will open transpolar shipping routes across the Arctic Ocean thatwill reduce the distance between Europe and East Asia by more than 40 percent than to thecurrent routes.MILITARIZATION IN THE ARCTIC AND GLOBAL SECURITYThe Arctic region is estimated to contain some 15 percent of the world’s untapped oil and as much as 30percent of the world’s natural gas reserve. Similarly it represents 22 percent of technically recoverable 2
  3. 3. hydrocarbons. The increasing oil prices that is estimated to double in another 10 years will continue todrive for more advanced technology and resource mobilization in offshore drilling in Arctic waters thanin the Strait of Hormuz, the South China Sea and the Caspian Basin. Besides the growing economies of thedeveloping countries and their huge middle class populations will make the oil and gas the most criticalstrategic commodities. This is making Arctic the geo-political as well as geo-energy hot-spots in decades tocome.A report published recently by Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) says - “Many of the Arcticstates have begun to reexamine their military capabilities to operate in the Arctic region” from rebuildingtheir military forces to modernization and relocation of the military programs in an attempts geared uptoward advanced combat capabilities rather than constabulary capacity. This has excited some other Arcticcountries drawing up plans to begin powerful military presence in the region trailed by some multilateralorganizations and non – Arctic states including China and Japan eying for new roles in the Arctic.The C2ES has observed that because of its very early stage of security environment in the Arctic, it hasremained an open question whether the emerging security environment in the Arctic will predominantly becooperative or competitive. However, some of the states have strongly admitted that “they will defendtheir national interest in the region” by all means if necessary.Quite naturally the melting of the Arctic ice has explored new shifts in geopolitics of the region that hasbeen triggering up great power rivalry in terms of resources, routes, boundaries and military deployments.The new geopolitical shifts in the Arctic, which has strategically brought Europe and the East Coast ofNorth America closer to East and South East Asia that itself pivots the global economic and militarygeography.Somewhat unsurprisingly, during the Cold War most of the Arctic countries were divided in two belligerentcamps – Soviet Union and Finland at one side, Canada, Denmark, Iceland, Norway and the United States atthe other. Both the USSR and USA had deployed their nuclear tipped submarines in the Arctic waters tomonitor each other’s naval operations and work as deterrent. But after cold war most of the militarycapabilities of the Arctic countries were dismantled or reduced to a large extent. During 90s the Arctic -the focal point of Cold war rivalry was neglected and almost forgotten.But a report on Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA) presented at a workshop supported by AMAPand Nordic Council of Ministers drew worldwide attention. In an attempt to research the problems ofclimate change in the Arctic and to sketch out a comprehensive and collaborative, international effort toaddress future challenges.Russia in 2007 initiated a new militarization campaign in the Arctic by planting a rust proof titanium metalflag on the sea bed 4200 meter below the North Pole to mark its permanent claim to the Arctic. Afterpositioning the flag the leader of the Russian missions leader, explorer and parliamentarian ArturChilingarov, exclaimed “If a hundred or a thousand years from now someone goes down to where we were,they will see the Russian flag. . .”In a security document released in June 2008, Russia claimed that it will mainly focus on sources of energyin Barents Sea, Arctic Region, and Caspian Sea and admitted that the struggle for hydrocarbon resourcescan be developed into a military confrontation as well. Taking considerations on these, Russia has announced 3
  4. 4. plans to create an armored Arctic brigade of its own on the Kola Peninsula- located in the far northwest ofRussia, almost completely to the north of the Arctic Circle.REDRAWING A NEW GEO-POLITICAL, GEO-ENERGY AND GEO-ECONOMIC MAP OF THE WORLDNorway on the other hand has planned to convert one of its High North battalions into a strong Arcticbrigade comprising naval and Special Forces units. The Canadians have also developed similar plans formilitary deployment above the Arctic Circle. Similarly, while EU has expressed its intention to develop agovernance mechanism to protect the interest of all member countries, especially on environmental issues,France has announced its plans to build some military capabilities with focus on Arctic affairs.It is reported that Russia has resumed patrolling the Arctic region with bomber planes and warships whileinvesting more than a billion dollars in the expansion of its northern port of Murmansk which is supposed todouble its capacity by 2015.Correspondingly, China although, the non Arctic country has expressed its interest in the scientificresearch activities in the region and has opened a department of strategic affairs in its Polar ResearchInstitute.Obviously, NATO representing its member countries of the region - Canada, Denmark, Norway and UnitedStates is likely to remain engaged in the region with stronger military capability and has outlined its focuson improving better coordination on security related issues, Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrovhowever, has repeatedly said that NATO has no place in the Arctic, be it for political or security reasons.After 15 years of the establishment of the Arctic Council, United States was represented forthe first time by its Secretary of State in its Council meeting in Nuuk in Greenland last year.Signifying its greater importance for its huge natural resources, Hillary Clinton in its SeventhCouncil meeting in May last year was also accompanied by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazarand Senator Lisa Murkowski, from Alaska – the adjoining American state that credits America asArctic country.This year again, in early June Clinton arrived at the Norwegian city of Tromso - located at the north ofArctic Circle where the Arctic Council has established its secretariat. From Tromso she conveyed themessage to the World that the region is going to gain greater geopolitical significance for its new foundwealth and opportunities – that soon will redraw a new geo-energy and geo-economic map of the world withnew shipping routes to global trade. The Reporter, weekly (June 18-24, 2012) 4