‘Cold War’ in Arctic is heating up


annapolis arctic

China is now laying claim to the Arctic – bringing to six the number of countries vying for rights to the resource-laden region.

Jokes about global warming aside, the fact is that arctic climate changes over the past 30 years have been more dramatic than other regions. It is warming twice as fast as the temperate latitudes, and the changes will cause several weeks each year when “ice-free” conditions exist, meaning there will be less than one-tenth aerial ice coverage. This would likely bring a flotilla of trans-arctic container shipping, fleets of fishermen and even the ill-advised thrill seekers.

And all these will meet in a resource-rich region buried beneath disputed claims, untested treaties and now six nations vying for their share of sovereignty. For example:

  • Russia in 2007 planted a flag on the seabed beneath the North Pole, laying claim to an underwater mountain range which is thought to contain oil and gas reserves. Bears are flying frequent patrols in the region and missile tests have been conducted near the North Pole. Russia in 2008 also sent a submarine destroyer and a missile cruiser to patrol Arctic waters and protect fisherman.
  • Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2008 he revealed plans to double Canadian jurisdiction over Arctic waters to 200 nautical miles for environmental and shipping regulations. “To develop the North, we must know the North,” he said. “To protect the North, we must control the North. And to accomplish all our goals for the North, we must be in the North.”
  • Canada is planning to build its Navy six new Arctic patrol craft. The first is scheduled to be delivered in 2014.
  • The Canadian Senate’s fisheries and oceans committee in December recommended the nation arm its icebreakers with deck guns to improve security when “unauthorized” foreign vessels enter the Northwest Passage, the sea route between the Atlantic and Pacific. Canada also has threatened stricter registration requirements for ships sailing the route. Many nations, the United States included, consider the passage an international waterway and have cried foul. Canada’s fisheries and oceans committee said such opposition poses a challenge to Canada’s right to control shipping.

Now, China is in the mix.

Gordon G. Chang, of Japan’s The Diplomat, reports Chinese Rear Admiral Yin Zhuo declaring “The Arctic belongs to all the people around the world as no nation has sovereignty over it.” You can read his story here.

China is not one of the five nations Arctic littoral nations, which makes the declaration all the more bold.  “China must play an indispensable role in Arctic exploration as we have one-fifth of the world’s population,” the admiral is reported to have said.

What is the Navy doing about it?

Adm. Gary Roughead, Chief of Naval Operations, on May 15, 2009 ordered the establishment of Task Force Climate Change. Six months later this matrixed organization produced the “U.S. Navy Arctic Roadmap,” a far-reaching five-year strategy that addresses everything from missions and money to forecasts and facilities.

“I think you’ll see ships going up from time to time testing things, but I don’t see routine presence up there [until]2025,” Roughead told Navy Times.

You can read about it here.

“The Arctic is changing, and it is changing rapidly,” Rear Admiral David W. Titley, Oceanographer of the Navy, told Navy Times late last year. “If the Navy does not start looking at this today … we could wake up in seven or eight years and find ourselves way behind the power curve. I think we have the right level of attention on this … but if we take our eye off the ball, we would be at risk.”


About Author

A Navy brat who spent eight years in the Marines (two years aboard the carrier Independence). Worked in journalism in Eastern North Carolina through the latter part of the 90s, then became editor of Air Force Times in 2000. Stayed there five years, then took a break to finish some school. Now back in the game with Navy Times.

1 Comment

  1. Pumpkin Williams on

    Any blog, story, missive, joke at a bar or rude limerick about Arctic security without the mention of the US Coast Guard is copy not worth reading.

    A near-peer threat in that part of the world is not an issue with SSNs operating under the ice pack.

    The inevitable creation of a poorly monitored sea lane is far more troublesome.

    Currently the USCG has three heavy icebreakers, two of which are older than BETAMAX.

    The Canadians aren’t in much better shape with delays in their Arctic patrol ships, which under Canadian law the military takes the bulk of the responsibility for the shootin’ part of the enforcement.

    Mr. Bacon should be reminded of the 2007 voyage of the Berserk II, in which a crew of Norwegian reality show stars led the RCMP on an almost week-long chase in a sail-boat.

    For lack of a better term, irregular threats are where Arctic security issues are nestled.

    China’s just making political noise.

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