Prof. ST Hsieh
Director, US-China Energy Industry Forum
December 18, 2022
Global warming is a major threat to human beings, except it will present a rare new global frontier: the thawing Arctic. Arctic regions have potential that benefit the world including huge amounts of minerals and new commercial navigation routes that save energy and time. But most of the Arctic regions belong to the entire world, except the territorial waters of the few adjacent nations. Currently, the Arctic Council is a monopoly consisted of Finland, Sweden Denmark, Norway, Iceland, Canada, Russia, and the US: it will be seven NATO nations vs Russia.
The world is already suffering from the war in Ukraine which is essentially a war NATO vs Russia. But the Ukraine war will have to be concluded one way or the other soon. However, ending the war does not mean peace or stability. The geopolitical ramification of the Ukraine war will take generations to resolve.
It is a dangerous proposition if the Arctic Region becomes militarized because it will mean that the thawing of the Artic Region will not be managed responsibly by any one nation. The unknown risks (such as flooding of vulnerable low-lying areas around the world) of global warming will not be checked.
So, we advocate that the Arctic Region be de-militarized with assured open access to the world. It will allow the access of global resources for fully developing the Arctic Region peacefully with benefits fully enjoyed by the world.
NATO On Edge As Russia Ramps Up Military Activity In The Arctic
Sun, December 18, 2022 at 8:00 AM PST
The Russian government has taken notice of environmental changes that have steadily opened the Arctic coastlines of countries in the northern hemisphere to increased maritime traffic, with the Kremlin recently announcing its intention to expand maritime cargo transportation along the Northern Sea Route (NSR) in 2023. Speaking at the “Transport of Russia” forum last month, Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin announced that, since the beginning of this year, 25 million tons of cargo traversed the NSR. Mishustin called the development of the NSR one of the Russian government’s “key priorities,” projecting a need to achieve a transportation target of 80 million tons of cargo by 2024 (Vedomosti, November 16).
The NSR stretches for 3,479 miles (5,600 kilometers) from Murmansk to Vladivostok along Russia’s Arctic and Pacific coastlines. Severe climactic conditions frequently complicate use of the route; navigation in the NSR’s eastern sector from Taymyr to the Bering Strait is impossible during winter without icebreaker escorts, as the thickness of the ice there can reach 9.8 feet (3 meters). Cargo traffic on the NSR in 2021, before Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his all-out war against Ukraine, totaled 34.9 million tons (Atomic-energy.ru, January 13). A major strategic commercial advantage of the NSR for Russian merchants is that it runs entirely through Russian internal waters, which are free from foreign interference, unlike Russia’s other outlets to the world’s oceans, such as the Turkish straits, where commercial traffic has suffered from the conflict around the Black Sea.
Well aware of the potential benefits of developing the route despite the difficulties involved, in August 2022, the Russian government approved a strategic document for developing the NSR through 2035, at a projected cost of nearly $28.75 billion, or 1.8 trillion rubles (RIA Novosti, August 4). Interestingly, the document made no mention of where funding for this development will come from.
Interestingly, use of the NSR will not be restricted solely to Russian commercial and naval shipping. On November 30, the Russian Federation Council approved amendments to the law allowing foreign ships to use the NSR. The amendments note that foreign commercial and naval vessels need to request permission 90 days before their intended use of the route (Portnews.ru, November 30). However, Putin’s ill-advised military assault on Ukraine has complicated international trade for multinational logistics companies and brokers, as anything that passes through Russia is now potentially liable to secondary sanctions. Chinese companies, which earlier had been increasing their usage of the NSR, are growing concerned about the potential economic damage from the collateral blowback of secondary sanctions; unlike previous years, at the beginning of July 2022, China’s COSCO Shipping Corporation had yet to file any requests for navigation in the NSR’s waters (Korabel.ru, September 19). As COSCO is the number-one shipping firm in the world, operating 1,413 vessels with a capacity of 113.47 million deadweight tons, the Chinese entity’s caution deprives the NSR of significant current and future revenue (Coscoshipping.com, accessed December 13).
Not surprisingly, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has become increasingly concerned about Russia’s accelerating Arctic activity. Beyond Moscow’s growing interest in the region’s commercial potential, since 2005, Russia has reopened dozens of Soviet-era military bases in the Arctic and modernized its navy while developing new hypersonic missiles. Since Putin began his “special military operation” against Ukraine, one consequence for Russia has been that the geopolitical and military situation in the Arctic is changing, as once Sweden and Finland join NATO, seven of the eight members of the Arctic Council will be NATO members (the others being Denmark, Norway, Iceland, Canada and the US). Broadening its concern beyond the current Russian-Ukrainian conflict, NATO noted in this context that, on July 31, Putin signed the “On the Approval of the Naval Doctrine of the Russian Federation” decree, with the new naval strategy pledging to protect Arctic waters “by all means” (Kremlin.ru, July 31). Bolstering NATO concerns, in September 2022, Chinese and Russian warships conducted a joint exercise in the Bering Sea (Federalnews24.ru, September 27).
The convergence of all these elements are casting the Arctic as a new front in the ongoing major geopolitical upheavals in Eurasia. As Putin squanders his country’s military personnel and logistics to continue tormenting Ukraine, the conflict is also depleting NATO’s weapons stocks, a sobering thought for those contemplating a possible new operational front in an inhospitable Arctic environment. Ultimately, NATO would do well to build on its revitalization stemming from Russia’s war against Ukraine and develop a strong, more unified approach to countering Russian activity in the Arctic.
By the Jamestown Foundation
A Battle for the Arctic Is Underway. And the U.S. Is Already Behind.
Kenneth R. Rosen
Sat, December 17, 2022 at 6:16 AM PST
SVALBARD, Norway — In January, when an undersea telecommunications cable connecting this far-flung Arctic archipelago to mainland Norway and the rest of Europe was damaged, Norwegian officials called to port the only fishing vessel for miles, a Russian trawler. Police in the northern city of Tromsø interviewed the crew and carried out an investigation into the incident, which was seen as a major threat to the security of Norway and other nations, including the United States. Had there not been a back-up cable, the damage would have severed internet to the world’s largest satellite relay, one that connects the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), NASA and other government agencies from around the world to real-time space surveillance.