June 26, 2012
Russia and China are looking north to expand their claims over the Arctic. NATO needs to consider this issue seriously, because if one country unilaterally claims ownership over the Arctic, global security may be threatened.
Heritage Foundation expert, Luke Coffey, explains:
The Chinese have applied for Permanent Observer status in the Arctic Council, have sent high-level government visits to Arctic countries, and have established a small toehold on Svalbard…Russia is increasingly militarizing the Arctic. Russian air and submarine patrol activity in the Arctic and the North Sea has hit Cold War levels. The North Sea Fleet is now the largest fleet in the Russian navy. Recently, it was announced that Russia was reopening airbases on archipelagos above the Arctic Circle that were closed at the end of the Cold War.
Dominion over the polar ice cap would enrich its owner with many lucrative assets, Coffey says:
Some estimates claim that up to 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil reserves and almost one-third of the world’s undiscovered natural gas reserves are located in the Arctic region. As ice continues to dissipate during the summer months, new shipping lanes have offered additional trade opportunities.
For example, using the Northeast Passage along the Russian coast reduces a trip from Hamburg to Shanghai by almost 4,000 miles, cuts a week off delivery times, and saves approximately $650,000 in fuel costs per ship. Unlike in the Gulf of Aden, there are no pirates operating in the Arctic.
These temptations are impossible for countries like Norway, Canada, Russia, and China to resist.
Coffey suggests that NATO should take greater interest in the Arctic to ensure its security. But NATO has yet to address the issue. Neither the 2010 Strategic Concept or the 2012 Chicago NATO summit declaration even mentioned the Arctic. In fact, NATO is much better equipped to handle the issue than an individual country:
Since NATO is an intergovernmental alliance of sovereign nation-states built on the consensus of all of its members, it has a role to play in Arctic security if it so chooses. The military coordination and resources that NATO could contribute to the Arctic region would offer benefits beyond the alliance.
Coffey reminds us that “sovereignty equals security,” and that because NATO is an alliance of sovereign nation-states built upon the agreement of its members, it is the perfect inter-governmental institution to ensure multilateral control, and thereby global security. Read more about Coffey’s suggestions for NATO’s involvement in the Arctic here.
Do you think NATO should pay greater attention to the Arctic?