A buildup of military forces around the Arctic amid growing excitement about its oil wealth has the ability to undermine stability in the region, a research paper has warned.
According to the report — called Climate Change and International Security: the Arctic as a Bellwether — the military buildup is neither advisable nor a sensible peacekeeping measure, as it is increasingly designed for combat rather than policing.
The paper, published by the US non-profit organization, the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES), warns: “Although the pursuit of co-operation is the stated priority, most of the Arctic states have begun to rebuild and modernize their military capabilities in the region. The new military programs have been geared towards combat capabilities that exceed mere constabulary capacity.”
It adds: “States such as Norway and Russia are building new naval units designed to engage in high-intensity conflicts. While this capability may be understood as prudent, the ability of rivals to intimidate or subdue with sophisticated weapons systems could, if collegiality falters, undermine diplomacy and stability in the region.”
The US Geological Survey has estimated that about a quarter of the world’s oil and gas reserves could lie under the ice cap — encouraging a race for resources. Shell has applied for drilling rights in the Arctic off Alaska this summer and is also planning to make boreholes on behalf of other oil companies off Greenland.
Former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev said in 2008 that “our first and main task is to turn the Arctic into Russia’s resource base of the 21st century.”
His successor, Vladimir Putin, has just unveiled plans to give tax breaks to encourage companies to exploit new oil and gas fields, such as the Shtockman field in the Barents Sea.
Russia and Norway have recently signed a boundary agreement in the Barents Sea and undertaken joint military exercises, but the C2ES research paper says Norway “continues to take seriously its preparations for the defense of the High North, as it calls it.”
The US has begun to increase the visibility of its submarines in the Arctic, while Canada has unveiled plans for an Arctic training center in Resolute Bay for its army.
The authors of the Bellwether report argue that a first step towards easing the military pressure would be for states to talk about it. It suggests the Arctic Council, which currently has a prohibition on the discussion of security issues, is the place to start.