Russia-US Conflict Arctic Escalation Scenario

Russia-US Conflict Arctic Escalation Scenario

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As each side seeks control of resources and navigation in the Arctic, the risks of conflict are increasing

Henry Holloway, 2018, January 9, The Daily Star, // Coldest war EVER? US arming icebreakers with MISSILES for Arctic showdown with Russia

Moscow and Washington are both seeking to steal a march on the other and seek control in the frozen waters of at the Arctic ocean.

The region is believed to hold more than $22 trillion worth of resources hidden beneath the ice – with 90 billion barrels of oil and 1,670 cubic feet of natural gas. US Coast Guard officials have confirmed they are looking to “weaponised” their icebreaker ships, which are used to smash and clear paths through the frozen seas. Fears of a new and very real cold war loom over the move, while Russia also bolster its forces in the Arctic. Icecaps thawing has opened sea lanes which have long though to be impassable, sparking fears of a new war in the North Pole. A Russian infantry brigade learn to ride reindeer sleds A Russian infantry brigade learn to ride reindeer sleds Russia’s Northern Fleet’s Arctic mechanised infantry brigade ride snowmobiles during military exercises A Russian naval infantryman descends on a rope at the newly-opened mountain warfare training range Russian naval infantry take part in an exercise at a mountain warfare training range Russia’s Arctic Mechanised Infantry Unit hold military drills in Murmansk Region, Northwest Russia Russian reconnaissance and special forces units training in 2017 Molnia spacecraft, carrying a military spy satelite, prepares to launch from the Artic cosmodrome in Plesetsk “The fact remains the riches of the Arctic are drawing nations like miners to a gold rush” US Army Captain Douglas Cohn Coast Guard Commandant Paul Zukunft said the service are looking at equipping their icebreakers with weapons. He said: “We’ve been able to find offsets to drive the cost down and reserve the space weight and power necessary to fully weaponise these. “We need to make these a capable platform offensively in the event this world changes in the next five, 10, even 15 years from now.” Nuclear icebreakerGETTY RUSSIA: Putin already has nuclear powered icebreakers smashing through the Arctic Vladimir PutinGETTY VLADIMIR PUTIN: Russia is expanding its military presence into the Arctic The US has just three icebreakers, while Russia have up to 40 as they patrol the largest Arctic coastline in the world. And Russian leader Vladimir Putin is said to be launching the largest expansion programme into the Arctic since the fall of the Soviet Union. Up to 22% of the world’s undiscovered oil and gas is thought to be beneath the Arctic, and this treasure trove is viewed as key by Russia. Russia war rehearsals: Vlad’s Baltic Fleet holds MASSIVE military drill The war games will help Russia prepare for battle 1 / 22 Flares fill the air with thick smoke during the military exerciseVITALY NEVAR/TASS Flares fill the air with thick smoke during the military exercise Flares fill the air with thick smoke during the military exercise A controlled explosion sends debris flying during the drills A serviceman inside a UR-77 Meteorit mine clearing syste A sapper uses a mine detector A UR-77 Meteorit mine clearing system Engineer and sapper units of the Russian Navy’s Baltic Fleet hold a drill Soldiers advance under cover provided by thick smoke from flares US Army Captain Douglas Cohn wrote in his book WW4: “Despite all the diplomacy and talk of goodwill, rule of law and rational behaviour, the fact remains the riches of the Arctic are drawing nations like miners to a gold rush.” He added: “In the end, the natural resources of the region will simply be too alluring for Russia to back down. “The Russian economy has been built on natural resources, especially oil and gas, and the NATO nations, not fully comprehending the extent of such dependence, will likely downplay the Russian threat until it is too late.” Russian submarineGETTY DEEP FREEZE: Russia sent a submarine beneath the ice to lay claim to the Arctic On the brink of APOCALYPSE: Chilling images from the Cold War Will North Korea tensions set the next Cold War between China and America? 1 / 28 Gorbachev (L) and Reagan (R) prepare to sign a 1987 nuclear treatyGETTY IMAGES Gorbachev (L) and Reagan (R) prepare to sign the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty Gorbachev (L) and Reagan (R) prepare to sign a 1987 nuclear treaty Chemical weapons stored near the Russian city of Shchuchye during the height of the Cold War Brooklyn students have a ‘duck and cover’ drill in preparation for a nuclear attack Quantities of missiles are displayed in Red Square KGB spying materials included this method of hiding a gun The US Ambassador to the United Nations reads a newspaper’s explosive headline in 1949 A SS4 Sandal missile is pulled past the Kremlin in 1960 RELATED VIDEOS Ship remains believed to be Russian GHOST vessel Russia activates missile defence systems on North Korea border American jet targets Russian fighter plane Russia is believed to be building two revolutionary warships called “icebreaker corvettes” – which will be armed with missiles. US Secretary of Defense James “Mad Dog” Mattis has described Russia as taking “aggressive steps” towards the Arctic. Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump has talked up the claiming the US’s global dominance over oil and gas.

Risks miscalculated war in the Arctic is increasing, triggering a large military conflict between Russia and the West

Mathieu Boulègue, Research Fellow, Russia and Eurasia Programme, July 2, 2018, NATO Needs a strategy for countering Russia in the Arctic and the Black Sea, //

As NATO does not have a clear, united strategy for the Arctic or the Black Sea, both regions will face heightened risks as the Kremlin further builds up its military capabilities. These risks include restricted freedom of access and operation in this contested environment due to Russia’s strengthened air defence and interdiction capabilities. The risk of miscalculation and tactical errors is also present. An unintended incident could spark disastrous military escalation between Moscow and the alliance.

Such conflict escalation could trigger the end of life on earth

Barrett 13 (Anthony Barrett 13, PhD in Engineering and Public Policy from Carnegie Mellon, Director of Research at the Global Catastrophic Risk Institute, “Analyzing and Reducing the Risks of Inadvertent Nuclear War Between the United States and Russia,” Science and Global Security Volume 21 Issue 2: 106-133)

War involving significant fractions of the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals, which are by far the largest of any nations, could have globally catastrophic effects such as severely reducing food production for years, 1,2,3,4,5,6 potentially leading to collapse of modern civilization worldwide and even the extinction of humanity. 7,8,9,10 Nuclear war between the US and Russia could occur by various routes, including accidental or unauthorized launch; deliberate first attack by one nation; and inadvertent attack. In an accidental or unauthorized launch or detonation, system safeguards or procedures to maintain control over nuclear weapons fail in such a way that a nuclear weapon or missile launches or explodes without direction from leaders. In a deliberate first attack, the attacking nation decides to attack based on accurate information about the state of affairs. In an inadvertent attack, the attacking nation mistakenly concludes that it is under attack and launches nuclear weapons in what it believes is a counterattack. 11,12 (Brinkmanship strategies incorporate elements of all of the above, in that they involve deliberate manipulation of the risk of otherwise unauthorized or inadvertent attack as part of coercive threats that “leave something to chance,” i.e., “taking steps that raise the risk that the crisis will go out of control and end in a general nuclear exchange.” 13,14 ) Over the years, nuclear strategy was aimed primarily at minimizing risks of intentional attack through development of deterrence capabilities, though numerous measures were also taken to reduce probabilities of accidents, unauthorized attack, and inadvertent war. 15,16,17 For purposes of deterrence, both U.S. and Soviet/Russian forces have maintained significant capabilities to have some forces survive a first attack by the other side and to launch a subsequent counter-attack. However, concerns about the extreme disruptions that a first attack would cause in the other side’s forces and command-and-control capabilities led to both sides’development of capabilities to detect a first attack and launch a counter-attack before suffering damage from the first attack. 18,19,20 Many people believe that with the end of the Cold War and with improved relations between the United States and Russia, the risk of East-West nuclear war was significantly reduced. 21,22 However, it has also been argued that inadvertent nuclear war between the United States and Russia has continued to present a substantial risk. 23,24,25,26,27,28,29,30,31,32,33 While the United States and Russia are not actively threatening each other with war, they have remained ready to launch nuclear missiles in response to indications of attack. 34,35,36,37,38 False indicators of nuclear attack could be caused in several ways. First, a wide range of events have already been mistakenly interpreted as indicators of attack, including weather phenomena, a faulty computer chip, wild animal activity, and control-room training tapes loaded at the wrong time. 39 Second, terrorist groups or other actors might cause attacks on either the United States or Russia that resemble some kind of nuclear attack by the other nation by actions such as exploding a stolen or improvised nuclear bomb, 40,41,42 especially if such an event occurs during a crisis between the United States and Russia. 43 A variety of nuclear terrorism scenarios are possible. 44 Al Qaeda has sought to obtain or construct nuclear weapons and to use them against the United States. 45,46,47 Other methods could involve attempts to circumvent nuclear weapon launch control safeguards or exploit holes in their security. 48,49 It has long been argued that the probability of inadvertent nuclear war is significantly higher during U.S.-Russian crisis conditions, 50,51,52,53 with the Cuban Missile Crisis being a prime historical example of such a crisis. 54,55,56,57,58 It is possible that U.S.-Russian relations will significantly deteriorate in the future, increasing nuclear tensions. 59 There are a variety of ways for a third party to raise tensions between the United States and Russia, making one or both nations more likely to misinterpret events as attacks. 60,61,62,63

LOST ratification enables the US to take advantage of forum that can de-escalate these risks

Andrw Burt, 2012, a former national security reporter, attends Yale Law School, Why the US should ratify the Law of the Sea Treaty, // TheHill, May 12

The second reason the treaty’s importance is increasing is the Arctic.

Last summer saw the lowest total volume of Arctic ice in recorded history, and the U.S. Navy estimates the region will be ice free one month out of the year by 2040. As the ice melts, the Arctic is changing, opening up new shipping routes and new opportunities to reach vast resources on the seabed. So long as the U.S. has not ratified the treaty, it will not have access to the international body created by UNCLOS to delegate rights in these waters – rights that other Arctic countries are already in the process of shoring up. The good news is that, as of last week, the administration appears to have taken up the cause. “Accession to this treaty is absolutely essential,” Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday. “We believe that it is imperative to act now,” said Hillary Clinton. Martin Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, added that the treaty might even help prevent future wars by providing new venues to “stave off conflict with less risk of escalation.”

LOST provides a mechanism to resolve disputes in the Arctic

Council on Foreign Relations 13

(6/19/13, Council on Foreign Relations, “The Global Oceans Regime: Issue Brief” ,, 7/19/14, S.R.)

Arctic ice is melting at unprecedented rates. At this pace, experts estimate that the Arctic could be seasonally ice free as early as 2040, and possibly much earlier. As the ice recedes and exposes valuable new resources, multilateral coordination and observation [PDF] will become even more important among states (and indigenous groups) jockeying for position in the region.¶ The melting ice is opening up potentially lucrative new sea routes and stores of natural resources. Since September 2009, cargo ships have been able to traverse the fabled Northwest and Northeast Passages, which are significantly shorter than traditional routes around the capes or through the canals. Widening sea routes also means that fishing fleets can travel north in search of virgin fishing stock, and that cruise ships can carry tourists chasing a last glimpse of the disappearing ice. At the same time, untapped resources such as oil, natural gas, rare earth minerals, and massive renewable wind, tidal, and geothermal energy hold enormous potential. In a preliminary estimate, the U.S. Geographic Society said that the Arctic Circle may hold 22 percent of the world’s hydrocarbon resources, including 90 billion barrels of oil and 1,670 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Beyond oil and gas, the Arctic may hold valuable commodities such as zinc, nickel, and coal.¶ But new opportunities in the Arctic also portend new competition among states. In August 2007, Russia symbolically planted a flag on the Arctic floor, staking a claim to large chunks of Arctic land. Other Arctic powers, including the United States, Canada, Norway, and Denmark, have also laid claims. The European Union crafted a new Arctic policy, and China sent an icebreaker on three separate Arctic expeditions. Each country stands poised to grab new treasure in this increasingly important geostrategic region.¶ The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is a solid foundation on which to build and coordinate national Arctic policies, especially articles 76 and 234, which govern the limits of the outer continental shelf(OCS) and regulate activities in ice-covered waters, respectively. However, there remains a formidable list of nagging sovereignty disputes that will require creative bilateral and multilateral resolutions. The Arctic Council, a multilateral forum comprising eight Arctic nations, has recently grown in international prominence, signing a legally binding treaty on search and rescue missions in May 2011 and drawing top level policymakers to its meetings. While these are significant first steps, the forum has yet to address other issues such as overlapping OCS claims, contested maritime boundaries, and the legal status of the Northwest Passage and the Northern Sea Route.

The US and Russia need to work through an architecture in the Arctic to avoid conflict and support economic development of the region. Russia already supports the Law of the Sea

Parlow, 7-15 18, Anita L. Parlow, Esq.,is a recent Fulbright scholar in Iceland, team lead for the inaugural Woodrow Wilson Polar Code Roundtable Project and advisor for the Harvard-MIT Arctic Fisheries Project. Parlow has advised corporations, NGOs and international agencies on corporate social responsibility and environmental and community risk. Trump, Putin should find common purpose on plan for the Arctic; //

With concerns that an international free-for-all might be emerging during President Donald Trump’s approach to asserting his will with the NATO member states, another issue that requires multilateral agreement and action is unfolding – this time in the Arctic region. Satellite measurements during the past 30 years show a rapid decline in Arctic sea ice. The reduction in year-round and summer ice is creating open water, drawing increasing investments by commercial interests, particularly shipping and its related oil and gas ventures. A seeming rejection or reconsideration by the president of the post-World War II international order comes as a critical moment for new approaches to Arctic policy. During the Cold War, the Arctic region was geopolitically vital to both the Soviet Union and the U.S., as armed bombers and submarines criss-crossed both below the polar ice and in the skies above. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Arctic practically vanished in terms of strategic significance. Now, nearly three decades later, with sea ice in retreat, the Arctic region is opening as a commercial and geostrategic hub with complex challenges for both the U.S. and the Russian Federation. As the Arctic region moves from the periphery closer to the center of international interest, it is imperative that Presidents Trump and Vladimir Putin take time during the Helsinki summit to launch a vital conversation about what an appropriate Arctic security architecture might be – and, what other nations, beyond the Arctic coastal states, should be part of that conversation. Security issues are likely to heighten in the high North as shipping and energy development accelerates along with broader commercial interests. A significant component of the unfolding events is the diminishment of sea-ice in what will become the international waters of the Central Arctic Ocean – a Mediterranean sized – and currently frozen – sea. As one of the planet’s most pristine bodies of water it will require governance, marine environment protection and security as vessels, in due course, traverse the North Pole. Governance of a new ocean, economic stability and preventing mishaps offer several reasons for a collaborative Arctic regional security architecture. First, Russian interests. Russia is the high North nation with jurisdiction and sovereignty over the largest territorial and offshore span, and with the greatest Arctic engagement. Its long-term billion dollar strategic plan for the Arctic, announced in 2013, is unfolding. The Kremlin’s plans includes government support for oil and gas development, an upgrade of ten deep water ports capable of search and rescue operations, spill response and capabilities for destinational and international shipping, enabled by a fleet of some 41 ice breakers and ice-capable support ships. While some Western skeptics view Russia’s 2014 creation of its Arctic-focused Joint Strategic Command based in its Northern Fleet as a “Ukrainization” of the Arctic, the Kremlin’s view of its dual use and military ships, expressed by several academics, is to protect Russia’s growing economic and security interests that “hinges” on the Arctic. Russia’s relationship to the Arctic has long been one of strategy, cooperation and a leading role in creating and adhering to international legal standards, such as the United Nations Law of the Sea where it involves Arctic matters. However, beyond the need to protect its increasingly vulnerable northern border, international tit-for-tat has crept through. Russian aerial training or intentional buzzing of the Alaska Coast along with U.S. jets scrambled in the international skies offer another reason for a security architecture to avoid potential mishaps or misunderstandings. The region is getting crowded. Calling itself a “near Arctic state,” China’s growing prominence due to its well-financed shipping, science and energy investments, recently announced its Polar Silk Road strategy as a component of its wider economic Belt and Road initiative. China’s Arctic initiative is being defined, in part, by its ice-capable container ships that have transited Russian and Canadian waters from the Pacific to Atlantic. Further, China’s major stake, a billion-dollar investment, in Russia’s Yamal liquefied natural gas project reflects the envisioned scale of its long-term interests. The U.S. is an Arctic nation by virtue of Alaska. However, no significant Congressional or private capital has yet been obligated to build a high north deep-water port to accommodate the traffic that is likely to come. Only one functional icebreaker exists for the U.S. – with recent authorization for a second. Yet, while diminished commercial interest currently plagues Alaska following the earlier drop in the price of oil, this is likely to change as the price of oil increases and oil and gas fields – both on and offshore – are more accessible. The governance and security issues that are emerging in the high North, whether constabulary or military, must improve direct dialogue between the U.S. and Russia, both to minimize military risk and to clarify how the region will be protected as it opens to international shipping and commerce. Cooperation and a degree of interoperability between the U.S. and Russian Coast Guards, particularly across the Bering, has generally been resilient to tensions in other parts of the world. The Department of Defense, in its 2016 Report, noted that it preferred a new yet “small footprint” in the Arctic region as a “wide range of challenges and contingencies” are likely to unfold. The report most notably described the necessity that “alliances and strategic partnerships” are the defining feature of Arctic security. Alaska maintains two large national air bases that houses combat and some 200 long-range maritime patrol aircraft. At a recent stopover, the Associated Press reported Defense Secretary James Mattis said of the region, the U.S. has to “up its game” as shipping lanes increase along with sea ice retreat. Presidents Trump and Putin must start the conversation on an Arctic-wide security architecture. A solid cooperative backdrop to a new regional security arrangement are a combination of Russian- and U.S.-backed Arctic treaties for search and rescue, spill response, illegal and unregulated fishing and the Arctic regional Coast Guard agreements. Further, the recent approval by the International Maritime Organization of a joint U.S.-Russia agreement on forthcoming rules for Bering Strait shipping lanes set the stage for a larger region-wide security architecture. A new security architecture would offer the stability necessary to support the investments, shipping and sustained and sustainable commerce that is likely to continue to emerge. Tero Vauraste is the CEO of the Finnish icebreaker-building company Arctia and current Chair of the Arctic Economic Council, that is linked to the eight-Arctic nation collaborative Arctic Council. He offered a view that might help give shape to the summit. Vauraste said a discussion between the two presidents should include a cooperative and more efficient use of existing resources, including icebreakers for governance, monitoring and safety that the CEO says “could be up and running within weeks.” Such a rethinking could help focus a regional security agenda, prevent spillover from other global concerns, and just maybe, encourage voices from what has long been called the “zone of peace” to give shape to a sorely needed policy discussion. It’s worth a try by the president of the world’s largest economy and the president of the world’s largest Arctic nation. Given the interests at stake, it just might work. The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email Send submissions shorter than 200 words to or click here to submit via any web browser.

Although Russia is aggressively pursuing Arctic development but willing to resolve territorial disputes through the Law of the Sea

Kristan Spohr, The New Statesman,, March 12, 2018, The scramble for the Arctic, //

Russia has played it both ways – engaging in co-operative diplomacy in the Arctic Council and over territorial questions via the UN Law of the Seas, while constantly seeking to assert itself on the world stage. Putin’s long-term strategy has been to rebuild Russia’s international position since its humiliating crash at the end of the Cold War. Over the past decade, having restored political and economic stability at home, Putin has been testing the West – exploiting opportunities in Crimea, Ukraine and Syria. In 2009, the government’s national security strategy until 2020 was proclaimed simply as “transforming Russia into a world power”. The Arctic is a keystone of that policy, because only here – as Putin said last December – is there real scope for territorial expansion and resource acquisition. This builds on and deepens the main asset of Russia’s unbalanced economy – its continued heavy reliance on the extraction and export of raw materials, especially oil and gas – which no modern leader of the country has been able to change. The natural resources in Russia’s Arctic region already account for a fifth of the country’s GDP. The oil and gas under the North Pole opens up the prospect of huge additional wealth but it will take time, money and technology to exploit, not to mention much international haggling. Somewhat easier pickings are opening up on the thawing northern rim of Siberia – 14,000 miles of coastline from Murmansk to the Bering Strait – both on land and in Russia’s territorial waters. De-icing opens up new opportunities for mining some of the world’s most valuable minerals, including gold, silver, graphite, nickel, titanium and uranium, as well as oil and gas. The thawing Northern Sea Route along Russia’s shores also creates a lucrative shipping lane, which the Kremlin will be in a strong position to control. In November, Putin made a point of stating that only vessels under the Russian flag could use this trade route. *** Complementing this economic scenario, Russia has developed a security policy for the Arctic, involving bases and ice-breakers. In December 2014, Russia announced that Moscow intended to station military units all along its Arctic coast, and began pouring money into airfields, ports, radar stations and barracks. The new infrastructure includes two huge complexes: the Northern Shamrock on Kotelny Island and the Arctic Trefoil on Franz Josef Land – a mere 620 miles from the North Pole. Taken together, Russia’s six biggest Arctic bases in the High North will be home to about a thousand soldiers serving there for up to 18 months at a time in constant snow, permanently sub-zero temperatures from October until June, and no daylight for nearly half the year. Moscow is now concentrating on making airfields accessible year-round. Under Gorbachev and Yeltsin, “our Arctic border areas were stripped bare”, Professor Pavel Makarevich, a member of the Russian Geographical Society, said last year. “Now they are being restored.” No other country has militarised its Arctic North to anything like this extent. And none can match Russia’s 40-strong ice-breaker fleet, which is used to clear channels for military and civilian use. Three nuclear-powered ice-breakers, including the world’s largest, are now under construction to complement the six already in operation. Russia is also giving its naval warships an ice-breaking capacity. By 2020 the Northern Fleet, based near Murmansk, is due to get two ice-capable corvettes, armed with cruise missiles. To be clear about the scale of Russia’s endeavour: next on the ice-breaker list are Finland (eight vessels), Canada (seven), Sweden (four), China (three) and then America (two). The US response is spearheaded by the US Coast Guard, whose two vessels are several decades old, primarily intended for scientific research and have to operate in both the Arctic and Antarctic. “A new robust Western response to the Russian military buildup in the Arctic is necessary,” declared Admiral Paul Zukunft, commandant of the US Coast Guard, last December. Asking whether the Russian goal was “to create chaos in the Arctic” and to “make this an area that the United States would be denied access”, he said they had to assume the answer was “yes”.

There is a growing risk of war in the Arctic and cooperation is critical to avoid it

Paul Watson May 12, 2017, Time, A Melting Arctic Could Spark a New Cold War, //

In a land as unforgiving as the Arctic, cooperation is critical to survival. That simple principle, called Piliriqatigiingniq, is a pillar of an ancient social code that has guided Inuit through centuries of hardship, to sustain life and community in one of Earth’s most lethal environments. Since the end of the Cold War, the U.S., Russia and six other circumpolar neighbors have quietly worked together in the Arctic Council, a sort of United Nations of the North, even when frictions created heated disputes farther south. Now, as ancient Arctic ice barriers melt to nothing, the rush to exploit oil, natural gas and other resources has quickened, threatening to destabilize the region. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson raised hopes Thursday that Arctic cooperation might continue to trump rising tensions elsewhere in the world while handing over the rotating chairmanship of the Arctic Council to Finland. Despite an intense debate in the White House over whether to pull out of the 2015 Paris Agreement to fight climate change, Tillerson joined the Council’s seven other permanent members in signing a fresh commitment to the accord. But he cautioned that U.S. interests, not the views of other countries, will guide Washington’s decision on whether to remain in the climate action agreement. President Donald Trump’s recent decision to overturn President Barack Obama’s 2016 ban on offshore Arctic drilling pushes the frontiers of fossil fuel extraction further north, right when the world is supposed to be sharply cutting back its carbon output. A dangerous Arctic paradox has opened: shrinking ice creates more space to compete over, which increases the pace of the onrush. Forces could be unleashed that endanger more than the spirit of polar cooperation. The health of the planet is at risk. The Secrets Of Your Smile A simple smile contains more hidden meanings than you could ever imagine. A sociologist explains how your smile is both wholly unique and one of the most important ways we communicate as human beings. From Arm & Hammer The Arctic is warming at least twice as fast as anywhere else on Earth. Making it easier to drill massive new fields of oil and natural gas would help fuel a climate catastrophe. Up to a quarter of the world’s undiscovered fossil fuel reserves are concealed north of the Arctic Circle. More than 80% of that lies beneath the sea, according to a U.S. Geological Survey estimate. When Tillerson was Exxon’s CEO, he signed a $500 billion deal with Rosneft, Russia’s state-owned oil company, to find and tap Arctic reserves. That stalled under economic sanctions following Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Exxon has asked the Treasury Department for an exemption in the Black Sea, a request that was rejected. If broader sanctions eventually do melt away with the Arctic ice, more cracks will undermine the 175-nation Paris Agreement to wean the world off fossil fuels. Scientists warn the Far North may be near, or already past, a climate tipping point. Caught in a calamitous feedback loop, the planet’s natural air conditioner may be breaking down. Sea ice receded to a new record low at both poles this winter. At least three times, temperatures soared as high as 50 degrees Fahrenheit above normal. Ominous signs suggest the Greenland ice sheet may be headed for complete meltdown. That would raise sea levels by 24 feet, according to a recent study. The U.S. military warns that rising seas already threaten coastal bases and “will present serious risks to military readiness, operations and strategy,” an expert panel reported last fall. Oil refineries along the Gulf Coast are increasingly vulnerable to storm surges. Around the world, millions of people living near oceans and river deltas may become refugees as homes and farms, factories and offices, end up under water. For centuries, ice barriers have protected the High Arctic from the bloody competition for resources that has scarred other parts of the planet. They are collapsing. This opens new perils for international security. Russia is expanding on its substantial, Soviet-era lead in Arctic military power and civilian infrastructure. The Trump Administration is committed to responding to what it calls Russian aggression. As the Arctic rapidly warms, and the sea ice barrier recedes, cooperation that has been the hallmark of circumpolar politics since the end of the Cold War is fracturing. “The Arctic is key strategic terrain,” Secretary of Defense James Mattis told Congress during his confirmation hearings. “Russia is taking aggressive steps to increase its presence there. I will prioritize the development of an integrated strategy for the Arctic.” Russian President Vladimir Putin‘s military buildup has included moving two brigades to the Far North, reopening several airstrips, and starting construction of a new base in the Laptev Sea. Mattis also told Congress “climate change is impacting stability in areas of the world where our troops are operating today” and combat planners need to take a warming planet into account. That’s especially true in the Arctic, where Russia has long been the dominant power. Russia has more icebreakers than the rest of the world combined, with plans for at least 11 more, including nuclear-powered vessels strong enough to penetrate ice several yards thick. The U.S. Coast Guard has two seaworthy conventional icebreakers, the medium-class USCGC Healy and the much older USCGC Polar Star, a heavy icebreaker commissioned in 1976. The Coast Guard, which needs a fleet of six icebreakers according to a Department of Homeland Security assessment, has only one in the design stage. If built, it could cost $1 billion. At a recent conference on the Arctic in Archangelsk, Putin tried to calm security concerns by stressing a desire to “maintain the Arctic as a space of peace, stability and mutual cooperation.” But Russia’s Arctic neighbors remain suspicious. Sweden brought back the military draft in March and, along with Finland, is debating whether to join NATO, which could spur Russia to further strengthen its Arctic forces.

Strengthening US-Russian cooperation in the Arctic will spill over to improve the wider relationship

Sfraga & Bringham, 7-19, 18, Mike Sfraga is director of the Polar Initiative at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C. Lawson Brigham is a distinguished fellow and faculty at the University of Alaska Fairbanks International Arctic Research Center and a fellow at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy’s Center for Arctic Study and Policy The Hill, // US, Russia can look north to the Arctic to find common ground

When Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin met face-to-face on Monday, Russia’s election interference, its annexation of Crimea and the implications of Cold War-style espionage in the United Kingdom provided most of the backdrop. It’s likely that few, if any, of either president’s advisors, let alone commentators, are looking to the Arctic — yes, the Arctic — as a starting point for common ground and improving relations going forward. There is no doubt these two leaders have a full range of vexing global issues, disagreements, challenges and controversies to address. Our differences are real. We even remain on guard in the Arctic where Russia has expanded and enhanced its military assets and, reminiscent of the Soviet Era, perhaps even returned to the great game played under the Arctic ice cap with submarines. Yet, other than the International Space Station, the Far North is perhaps the only setting in which the United States and the Russian Federation cooperate today on a wide variety of issues. These two practical examples of cooperation might provide a foundation upon which both sides can regain some trust and positive momentum in their bilateral relationship (that is, if there is will on both sides to do so). If such momentum could be sustained over any meaningful period of time, it may create a more functional context to address other pressing and multilateral issues of global importance. In a time when we are experiencing the daily acidification of both domestic and international politics, the U.S. and Russia have worked together with the six other Arctic nations to negotiate and sign a binding research agreement to facilitate the conduct of research in the Arctic. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) recently approved a joint U.S.-Russian proposal for ship-routing measures in the Bering Strait, a shared, international waterway with increased marine activity that divides the two maritime states. The recently established Arctic Coast Guard Forum has brought all eight Arctic states closer together to address their shared challenge in search and rescue operations in the region. The two nations signed an international agreement banning fishing in the Central Arctic Ocean until researchers have a clearer picture of what lies beneath the ever-shrinking icecap. At the Arctic Council, an intergovernmental forum of the Arctic states now chaired by Finland, the U.S. and Russia cooperate on initiatives related to environmental protection and sustainable development. Perhaps this short list of cooperative efforts is not sexy, and therefore, not as newsworthy as other matters. But, in today’s reality, it is a positive record of common ground, common interests, consistent communication and engaged dialogue in what is now a globalized Arctic. What we have here is a base to build on our troubled relationship. Both nations have stated the Arctic should remain a region of peace, shared importance and cooperation. Although other regional tensions dwarf the actions and dialogues that make these partnerships a reality, they should serve as a call to action. President Trump and President Putin should embrace the call of their Finnish counterpart, President Sauli Niinistö, to include the Arctic when formulating diplomatic strategies following their private talks. In fact, Presidents Trump and Putin should go one step further and reaffirm their shared commitment to the Arctic and direct their applicable agencies to advance other, practical initiatives in both bilateral and multilateral arrangements. Build on Arctic cooperation and shared interests. For example, we know global commodity prices drive much of the economic activity in the Arctic, along with related infrastructure development and shipping activity. The wise and measured development of such resources is in everyone’s interest. With nearly 20 percent of Russia’s GDP derived from its Arctic resource base, their Arctic strategy of development, investment and related security efforts along the Northern Sea Route, for instance, is clearly linked to Russia’s future economy. Similarly, Alaska, America’s Arctic, plays an important role in the nation’s energy equation and national security. Both administrations have signaled, in their own way, a vision for the Arctic that includes development. Here we may find commonalities that enhance other related agendas. So how can the U.S.-Russia relationship move forward with enhanced cooperation in Arctic affairs? What opportunities can be jointly pursued and what fruitful strategies might Presidents Trump and Putin entertain after the Helsinki Summit? Clearly the recent agreements on Central Arctic Ocean fishing and research provide pathways for cooperation. Perhaps a joint Arctic marine expedition in the remote Central Arctic Ocean in support of the new fisheries agreement could be proposed? The U.S. and Russia could take the lead in the Arctic Coast Guard Forum (now chaired by Finland) in exploring enforcement issues with the new IMO International Code for Ships Operating in Polar Waters. Renewed military-to-military cooperation could be feasible if the joint meetings were to focus on Arctic emergency operations, something more likely as shipping and development activities increase. Presidents Trump and Putin could support renewed friendship flights and cultural exchanges between the indigenous communities that border our shared Bering and Chukchi Seas. Coming out of the Helsinki Summit, most observers and analysts will be talking about U.S.-Russian relations in the Arctic about as much as they did on the eve of the meeting: hardly at all. But amid all the concerns and scandal — and perhaps even more so because of them — we shouldn’t forget an area of ongoing positive and productive relations between our two nations. Addressing practical Arctic maritime issues, enhancing collaborative research and linking our two nations to the economic opportunities in the region have merit. The overarching goal is to maintain the Arctic as a peaceful region exemplified

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