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MILITARIZATION OF ARCTIC
Imagine this. As an international committee responsible for peace and security, you are facing challenges at every world corner. Whether a problem is a territorial dispute, or it is of economical nature, every world problem is unique and deserves to be dealt with differently. It is on you to try to solve the old ones, the ongoing rocky ones, and also to prevent the future ones. In all that madness you have, a new challenge is rising from the ashes - or more specifically, rising from the sea - the Arctic situation. Even though little known to public, countries have been fighting over the Arctic for the last hundred years. The battle to stake ownership over the territory is escalating as fast as the temperatures at the North Pole are rising-at an alarming rate.
The Arctic Ocean attracts political interest from an increasing number of states, European as well as Asian, big as well as small, polar as well as tropic. This importance relates in varying degrees to six geopolitical features of the Arctic:
- Its geographical location in between three continents – America, Europe and Asia, offering short trade distances - destination as well as transit.
- Its assumed abundance of strategically important industrial resources and mineral deposits, in particular oil and gas, offering degrees of increasing economic and energy security to the parties taking part in regional resource extractions.
- Its sea lanes - inside and outside of the region - and its man-induced operational conditions.
- Its dwindling sea ice regime due to global warming and climate change, offering more easy access to resources and better exploitation conditions in the region.
- Its unique environmental fragility, vulnerability and interconnections with ecosystems in southern latitudes
- Its regulatory affinity to existing global ocean conventions, in particular the third Law of the Sea Convention of 1982(UNCLOS III).
The Arctic is not yet a region owned by any particular state. Due to its great economic, environmental and military value, several countries have already announced claim over the Arctic, with nations readying their military advances to defend their claims in the Arctic Region. Currently, all territorial claims to the Arctic region are regulated throuh the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), under international law (“Law of the Sea”). With 160 nations as signatories, the UNCLOS imposes coastal state jurisdiction and control in the Arctic region. It allows coastal states the authority to enforce laws and regulations to their respective maritime territories in the Arctic Region. The UNCLOS allows all bordering nations to maintain an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) that stretches around two hundred nautical miles outwards their respective Arctic coastlines. In these EEZs, nations are allowed to explore or exploit, and conserve or manage the natural resources in that region.
On the term of Military Activity in recent years, Russia unveiled a new Arctic command, four new Arctic brigade combat teams, 14 new operational airfields, 16 deep water ports, and 40 icebreakers with an additional 11 in development. The United States has one working icebreaker for the Arctic. The U.S. Navy is mapping out how to expand its presence in the Arctic beginning around 2020, given signs that the region's once permanent ice cover is melting faster than expected, which is likely to trigger more traffic, fishing and resource mining. The U.S. Navy has long operated submarines in the region, and flies surveillance and unmanned aircraft as needed, but by 2020 it plans to boost the number of personnel trained for Arctic operations.
In recent years, as vast spaces in the Arctic have opened up, a scramble has ensued for the region’s undiscovered natural resources (estimated to be 30% of the world’s undiscovered natural gas and 13% of its undiscovered oil, together with gold, diamonds and other minerals).
Unsurprisingly, the rising military presence in the Arctic is being increasingly justified by the need to project national influence and sustain claims over the region’s sea-lanes and natural resources.
This has caused the Arctic to now be wrangled over by the Arctic Five (all of whom are also member states of the Arctic Council) – Russia, Canada, the US, Denmark and Norway, of which only Russia, it should be noted, is not a NATO member. In addition to that, Russia has arguably been the most militarily active Arctic state. The situation gets more complicated due to internal bickering over territorial claims amongst the Five. The US and Canada cannot reach agreement on the Beaufort Sea (a marginal sea of the Arctic Ocean) while Canada is also battling over Hans Island with Denmark. Of the Arctic countries, all but one has ratified UNCLOS which allows countries to make claims to extended continental shelves. Nevertheless, the United States which is the sole objector, consider the key provisions of the “constitution of the seas” as customary international law. A permanent observer of the Arctic Council since May 2013, China has increased the number of its researchers in the Arctic Region. In January the Chinese government published its first policy document outlining its Arctic strategy. The paper referred to China as “a near-Arctic nation”. The European Union’s main interest in the Arctic region is to keep the balance between the preservation of Arctic environment and the need for sustainable use of potential resources. Three nations of the European Union- Sweden, Finland, and Denmark- are Arctic States, on the basis of which the EU claims for a permanent observer status in the AC.