The Arctic ice cap is melting. As of 2007, only 4 million sq. kilometers of the once 7.5 million sq. kilometers ice shelf remain. The consequences of the Arctic melt-down go far beyond the rescue of polar bears. The Arctic region highlights future world trends in fields such as trade, energy security, sovereignty and the fight against climate change. Will these challenges, much intertwined and sometimes contradictory, lead to conflict or cooperation?
The Arctic region is the new "Northern Frontier" for the neighboring states. New shipping routes will be appearing soon. The maritime route going from Tokyo to New York will, for instance, get 4000 kilometers shorter by 2030. Such new routes will offer unprecedented commercial opportunities thereby redesigning the world trade map. Sovereignty issues are at play: Coastal states are already fighting over these new maritime routes so as to decide if the straits are international or sovereign.
The Arctic region is soon to be considered as the new "El Dorado:" various studies confirm that the Arctic region concentrates about 30% of the remaining world reserves of natural gas and some 10% of the world reserves of oil. This triggered a sudden interest in the Arctic region from the “Arctic 5:” the US, Canada, Russia, Denmark and Norway, all claiming a part of the Arctic territory in order to exploit natural resources. Tensions reached a peak when Russia planted a flag underwater in 2007 so as to secure the Arctic's potential mother-lode of natural resources. Strategic interest in this region has increased military activity: Russia, Canada, the US and Denmark have all recently taken steps towards increased military presence in the region. Some experts say, this signaled a revival of the Cold War. While resource exploitation has allowed the newly first Indigenous State of Greenland to develop, new actors including China, Japan and the EU, with no geographical ties to the region have come into the picture. The Arctic region crystallizes contradictory interests among various actors, notably those of states, NGOs, corporations and local authorities. Will this multifaceted context lead to cooperation or conflict?
Cold War in Warming Waters
Above all, to what extent will the fight against climate change prevail over all the above-mentioned interests and developments? Ensuring nature conservation depends on leaving natural resources where they are and designing shipping routes in a way that limits impacts of human activity on the environment. Can a balance between national interests and global well-being be reached?
In this way, the Arctic region provides a “bellwether” to assess climate impacts and an extraordinary laboratory for global governance as a whole.
Answers to these questions depend largely on each stakeholder’s interests. In order to give the most comprehensive view of the challenges revolving around these issues, the atlantic-community.org editorial team has solicited articles by authors from different nationalities and backgrounds. We count among our distinguished contributors:
- Dr. Lev Voronkov, Professor at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations will give us an overview of the Russian strategy regarding the Arctic Region.
- Dr. Paal Sigurd Hilde, Head of the section for Norwegian security policy at the Norwegian Institute for Defense Studies and a participant in the Geopolitics in the High North research program, will give us a Norwegian perspective.
- Kenneth S. Yalowitz, Ambassador (ret.), Director of the Dickey Center for International Understanding and Ross A. Virginia, Director of the Dickey Center Institute of Arctic Studies will jointly tackle the possible scenarios for the future Arctic governance “Great Game” or International cooperation in the light of the economic downturn.
- Klaus Dodds, Professor of Geopolitics at Royal Holloway, University of London and Editor of The Geographical Journal will write about sea and state change.
- Mia Benett, a fourth-year undergraduate student in Political Science and European Studies at the University of California will present the potential power struggle in the Arctic region.
- Ingrid Lundestad, Research Fellow at the Norwegian Institute for Defense Studies will detail the shift in the American approach to the Arctic challenges from the Bush to the Obama administration.
- Dr. Robert W. Corell is the Director of the Global Change Program at the H. John Heinz III Center for Science, Economics, and the Environment, will study the coupled impacts of climate change and globalization on the Arctic region’s governance.
We would like to invite you to make comments on these issues so we can determine how the US and Europe should approach the Arctic governance challenges and the fight against climate change.
At the end of the week, we will create an Atlantic Memo - an executive summary of the best policy recommendations made in our open think tank. We encourage you to make use of this unique opportunity to get your voice heard in policy making especially in light of the upcoming State of the Arctic Conference to be held in Miami, Florida.
By Juliette Dixon, editorial team member at the Altantic Community
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