Washington (UPI) Jun 8, 2009
People around the world understandably anxiously watch the Middle East for fear that new wars may break out in the region for control of its huge oil resources -- still the richest, most high quality and most easily accessible on the planet. Almost nobody pays any attention to the emergence of a similar situation in the Arctic Ocean: Yet international tensions are slowly but remorselessly rising there too, and for the same reason: increasing demand and competition for natural resources, especially oil and gas.
As we have documented in previous reports, Russia has been increasingly involved in diplomatic conflicts with the United States, Russia, Canada, Norway and Denmark over establishing its areas of control in the arctic.
The issue is becoming a pressing one of high strategic importance because global warming is melting the arctic ice cap and allowing the rich resources of oil, natural gas and precious minerals previously under impenetrable layers of miles of ice to become accessible for the first time, especially in the relatively shallow waters of the continental shelf off Russia's northern coast and island coastlines.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev told a September 2008 meeting of the nation's Security Council that the nation's exact areas of control and territory on its northern continental shelf under the Arctic Ocean needed to be carefully delineated as quickly as possible.
Medvedev also described Russia's arctic continental shelf as essential for Russia's energy security and that it would serve as the main resource base for the nation through the 21st century. Medvedev said then that "about 20 percent of Russia's gross domestic product and 22 percent of Russia's exports are produced" in the arctic region, RIA Novosti said.
The report noted that the Kremlin had already sent two arctic expeditions to the Mendeleyev underwater mountain chain in 2005 and to the Lomonosov Ridge in summer 2007 to strengthen its legal arguments for asserting control over the region. The Russian government has announced that it will send supporting documentary evidence to the United Nations about its territorial shelf claims by next year at the latest, the report said.
RIA Novosti said Russian diplomats would also make their case for creating new concentrations of military power in the arctic at a ministerial meeting of the Arctic Council to be held later this month.
"The Arctic Council was established in 1996 to protect the unique nature of the arctic region. The intergovernmental forum comprises Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Canada, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States," the report said.
Obviously, the increasingly willingness of the Russian government to flex its diplomatic muscle over arctic resource issues is a far cry from the cauldron of wars in and around Iraq that started when its reckless, longtime dictator Saddam Hussein invaded neighboring Iran in September 1980. But the underlying causes of Russia's drive to assert its power in the arctic are very similar: The Russian government, more cautiously and far more skillfully than Saddam, is also determined to increase its control over the strategic resources in its region, if necessary at the expense of its neighbors.
In conventional and strategic nuclear terms, the United States remains more than a match for Russia's armed forces. But if the United States were to enter any period of internal crisis, reappraisal or isolationism, its allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization certainly have not maintained sufficient levels of spending on either their armed forces or military procurement programs to take up the slack. And neither U.S. nor Western European political leaders have given serious thought to projecting their own power in the arctic or countering Russia's new efforts to do so.
Next: The demographics of 21st century war
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