Monday, June 22, 2009

Russia's Arctic Intentions

As the Arctic warms we’re seeing a new area of strategic studies open. Some are predicting wars, some see it as a new area for strategic confrontation, and others see it as a power vacuum needing new and updated institutions. However, it seems that the governments in the Arctic would be happy to govern the region the way the have for decades, before anyone started to pay attention. Recently, the Arctic States (Russia, the United States, Canada, Norway, Iceland and Denmark via Greenland) declared that there will be no "new 'Cold War' scrambles linked to climate change"

Just saying that, however, doesn’t make it true. There are several scenarios where conflict over a thawing Arctic could play out.

With an estimated 90 billion barrels of oil underneath the Arctic Sea, states seeking energy security such as the United States and EU, or national economies driven by energy exports like Russia seek to secure rights to as much as possible. It is important to note that the technology is not yet proven to be able to survive in the extreme conditions of the Arctic Sea, but oil companies are beginning to try. The article cites a US Geologic Survey study on the location of oil and natural gas reserves in the Arctic and concludes:
"Undiscovered natural gas is three times more abundant than oil in the Arctic and is largely concentrated in Russia.”
Russia needs the resources in the Arctic to make up for declining fossil fuel production elsewhere in the country. Currently, the UN's Law of Seas Treaty allows for a country to claim all natural resources in the ocean floor 200 miles from its shoreline and an additional 350 miles if it can prove that the area is part of its continental shelf. Russia just submitted its territorial claim under the UNCLOS earlier this year. Obviously, Russia is trying to prove a large part of the Arctic is part of its continental shelf.

Russia, from its Cold War days, has several nuclear powered submarines and half a dozen icebreakers to plow through and explore the Arctic. Already, it has planted flags on the seafloor in a publicity stunt. Regardless, Russia's military activities in the region indicate the region's strategic importance to them.

Russia does not also seem very serious about cutting carbon emissions as Noah Buhayar of the Wall Street Journal's Environmental Capital blog points out. These two aspects of Russian policy are related.

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