1 – Russia’s sanctions backlash
EU USA Russia Ukraine Canada
BSSB.BE http://geopolitical-info.com 07.04.2015
Internal bureaucracy and relations with Russia threaten America’s ambitious agenda for the Arctic Council, the eight-member forum which promotes international cooperation over the huge, empty but resource-rich region. Another issue facing the council is whether the EU should be allowed to join. Washington faces some difficult decisions over the next two years when it takes over the forum’s chairmanship from Canada in April.
Russia’s sanctions backlash may limit US agenda for the Arctic
THE UNITED States has an opportunity to shape policy in the region commonly referred to as the High North when it takes over the chairmanship of the Arctic Council.
Although there is no land mass covering the North Pole, the region is home to some of the roughest terrain, most dangerous waters and harshest weather on the planet
The council is the primary intergovernmental, multilateral forum regarding the region for all policy issues, but not defence and military matters. It was established in 1996 so that the eight Arctic countries – Canada, Denmark, because of the autonomous constituent countries of Greenland and Faroe Islands, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the US – could work together on mutually important issues in the region.
The Arctic is becoming increasingly important. It encompasses the lands and territorial waters of the eight council members and spreads across three continents.
The region is home to some of the roughest terrain, most dangerous waters and harshest weather found anywhere on the planet. This makes shipping, natural resource exploitation and other economic activity challenging and expensive.
Relative to its size – it contains one-sixth of the world’s land mass – the region represents one of the least populated areas. It has sparse nomadic communities and very few large cities and towns.
Although there are no official population figures, the Nordic Council of Ministers estimates the figure to be four million, approximately half of whom live in Russia.
It is a region rich in minerals, wildlife, fish and other natural resources. According to some estimates, up to 13 per cent of the world’s undiscovered oil reserves and almost one-third of its untapped natural gas reserves are located there.
The Arctic is thought to hold important rare earth minerals used to make items taken for granted in everyday life such as smart phones and computers. There are also large deposits of coal, iron ore, lead, zinc, diamonds, gold, platinum and uranium.
Pollock and cod fisheries in the Arctic Ocean are among the largest on the planet. Greenland is home to an estimated 10 per cent of the world’s fresh water.
The Arctic also has the potential to become an important transit route. Using the Northern Sea Route (NSR) along the Russian coast cuts the distance between Rotterdam and Shanghai by 22 per cent and saves hundreds of thousands of dollars in fuel costs.
Unlike in the Gulf of Aden, there are no pirates currently operating in the Arctic and they are unlikely to be a problem in the future.
But there is still a long way to go before the NSR becomes a viable option. Its use dropped dramatically in 2014 to 53 voyages, with 22 ships sailing only part of the route, against 71 trips in 2013.
The amount of cargo transported dropped by 77 per cent in 2014 compared with 2013 because there was more ice along the route than expected, and economic sanctions had been imposed against Russia.
Delivering results will be very difficult for two main reasons: relations between the West and Russia, and bureaucracy inside the US Government
US participation in the Arctic Council falls under the remit of the Department of State. Hillary Clinton was the first Secretary of State to represent America at the biennial Arctic Council ministerial meeting and her successor, John Kerry, has also done so. Before President Barack Obama took office, the US was represented only by a senior official.
In January 2015 the Obama Administration released an executive order which reiterated US interests in the Arctic as being national defence; sovereign rights and responsibilities; maritime safety; energy and economic benefits; environmental stewardship; promotion of science and research; and preservation of the rights, freedoms and uses of the sea as reflected in international law.
Author: Luke Coffey
Luke Coffey studies and writes on foreign policy and geopolitical matters as the Margaret Thatcher Fellow at The Heritage Foundation in Washington, USA. He focusses in particular on defence and security matters, including the role of Nato and the European Union in Eurasian security.
*This is the first part of the article about a possible conflict in the Artic. More information You can find in the second part of this article.