Arctic countries have decided to join hands and gorge on Arctic resources
THE GEOPOLITICS OF the new Arctic entered the mainstream on August 2nd 2007. Descending by Mir submersible to a depth of over 4km, a Russian-led expedition planted a titanium Russian flag beneath the North Pole (pictured). The news shocked the world.
The Lomonosov ridge under the pole, which is probably rich in minerals, is claimed by Russia, Canada and Denmark. The Russians, it was assumed, were asserting their claim, perhaps even launching a scramble for Arctic resources. One of their leaders, Artur Chilingarov, Russia’s leading polar explorer and a Putin loyalist, fanned the flames. “The Arctic has always been Russian,” he declared. Yet the expedition turned out to have been somewhat international, initiated by an Australian entrepreneur and a retired American submarine captain, and paid for by a Swedish pharmaceuticals tycoon.
Even so, fears of Arctic conflict have not gone away. In 2010 NATO’s top officer in Europe, James Stavridis, an American admiral, gave warning that “for now, the disputes in the north have been dealt with peacefully, but climate change could alter the equilibrium”. Russia’s ambassador to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, has hinted at similar concerns. “NATO”, he said, “has sensed where the wind comes from. It comes from the north.” The development of the Arctic will involve a rebalancing of large interests. The Lomonosov ridge could contain several billion barrels of oil equivalent, a substantial prize. For Greenland, currently semi-autonomous from Denmark, Arctic development contains an even richer promise: full independence. That would have strategic implications not only for Denmark but also for the United States, which has an airbase in northern Greenland.