Melting Arctic boosts tensions

Published 2:48 pm Thursday, June 7, 2012

Global warming may be nonsense but is heating up a new cold war.

The Arctic ice pack is melting. As major oil companies step up Arctic exploration and border nations push territorial and commercial interests, military activities have increased.

According to CNN, “One of the coldest places on Earth is heating up as nuclear submarines, Aegis-class frigates, strategic bombers and a new generation of icebreakers are resuming operations there.” CNN said the rush to establish national interests in the area “has brought in its wake a host of naval and military activities that the Arctic hasn’t seen since the end of the Cold War.”

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NASA used satellite data in 2003 to document the shrinking ice pack, saying “sea ice in the Arctic is declining at a rate of nine percent per decade.” A just released NASA study found the rate of sea ice melt much higher at 17.2% per decade. Some scientists now suggest the entire polar ice cap may be gone by 2040.

Shell is the current kingpin among Arctic oil companies. It has development projects with Canada, Russia, Norway, and Greenland as well as the USA. Exxon just joined the hunt, signing a major exploratory deal with Russia.

Geologists say oil and gas reserves in the Arctic region are huge. Which countries own what rights to what areas will put in play a whole new set of international tensions in an area known for longstanding territorial disputes.

Russia is the dominant player with the most coastline, four million residents, numerous military bases, a huge fleet of icebreakers, and vast commercial activities. Russia has asserted huge continental shelf claims and is growing its military presence.

Canada is the next dominant player and is also asserting continental shelf claims. In 2007, Canada noted climate change impacts on its northern ways of life, infrastructure, and economic activities and adopted plans in response. Calling sovereignty over northern regions a “non-negotiable priority,” Canada’s prime minister began re-equipping Arctic forces and increased military operations.

Norway’s prime minister in 2010 said, “The Arctic is now experiencing some of the most rapid and severe climate changes on earth, and even greater changes are projected,” adding that “High North issues” are at the top of Norway’s foreign policy agenda. Norway has held joint military operations with Russia, re-equipped its Arctic forces, and recently moved its military headquarters into the Arctic region.

Secretary of State Hilary Clinton recently toured countries in the region, ostensibly to assert U.S. interests. The U.S. largely withdrew most of its forces from the region in the aftermath of the Cold War.

Iceland, Denmark, Greenland, Sweden, and Finland are other Arctic countries with China and Germany reaching out to them to secure access.

A new cold war over oil? Get ready.

(Bill Crawford ( is a syndicated columnist from Meridian.)