Competition Heats Up in the Melting Arctic

5 mins read  Sealuminati TeamJune 17, 2021

The frozen Arctic has been only an afterthought to global economic competitiveness for decades, but that is changing because the rising climate is melting its ice.

Russia is now aiming to secure a larger portion of the Arctic seabed as its own. From the forgotten era of the Cold War, Arctic military bases have been reconstituted, with plans to test their nuclear-energized Poseidon torpedo in the Arctic. The recent election in Greenland established a new independent government has that is opposed to foreign mining for rare earth metals, including power technology initiatives from China and the U.S.

The Arctic area has warmed at least twice as quickly as the rest of the earth. Now thinner than before, with sea ice vanishing in the spring, various nations have been looking at the Arctic for access to precious natural resources, including fossil fuels- the primary ingredient for global warming, as well as for faster routes for business vessels. A tanker transporting liquefied natural gas from northern Russia to China first attempted the aforementioned quicker route last winter, traversing over the usually frozen North Sea Routes with the aid of an icebreaker in February. The route almost halved the shipping time.

For years, Russia has been building up its icebreaker fleet to exploit opportunities like these. Meanwhile, the United States is lagging far behind Russia. While Russia now has access to more than 40 of these ships, the United States Coast Guard only has two, one of which is far past its authorized service life.

Marine trade specialists and Arctic geopolitical analysts have closely monitored the rising activity and geopolitical tensions in the Arctic. The importance of new thinking in U.S. Arctic strategy has been highlighted to confront rising competition in the region.

America's outdated icebreaker fleet has long been a source of dissatisfaction in Washington.

In the face of more critical demands, Congress delayed investment in better icebreakers for decades. The absence of polar-class icebreakers now jeopardizes America's capacity to operate in the Arctic area, notably in disaster response, as shipping and mineral development expand.

One method of increasing the icebreaker fleet would be for partners to jointly acquire and manage icebreakers while maintaining their fleet.

The Biden administration, for example, might work with NATO allies to form a partnership based on NATO's Strategic Airlift Capability of C-17 planes. The airlift program, which began in 2008, maintains three big transport planes that its 12 member countries may utilize to move men and supplies swiftly.

A similar program for icebreakers might operate a fleet under NATO – potentially beginning with icebreakers provided by NATO members like Canada or partner nations like Finland. Each member country would purchase a proportion of the shared fleet's operational hours depending on their total contributions to the program, similar to the Strategic Airlift Capability.

Another method that might strengthen U.S. influence in the Arctic, defuse future confrontations, and settle seabed claims is for the Senate to ratify the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Ratification would strengthen the United States' international legal standing in disputed waters. This would also allow the United States to claim as much as 386,000 square miles of Arctic seabed — an area twice the size of California – and avoid overlapping claims from any other country in that area.

In general, the Arctic has been a zone of international collaboration. The Arctic Council, an international entity, has kept the region's eight nations with land sovereignty focused on the Arctic's fragile ecology, the well-being of its native people, and crisis mitigation and management.

However, "near-Arctic" nations such as China, Japan, South Korea, the United Kingdom, and several European Union members have become increasingly involved in recent years, while Russia has been highly dynamic.

With escalating discontent and more unrest in the region, the era of constructive engagement has begun to fade, as has the receding sea ice.