11 November 2011, 11:48

Western militarization of the Arctic. Part II

Western militarization of the Arctic. Part II

Nobody regards the Arctic as a dead zone anymore. Its vast ice caps hide 7% of the world’s oil and 33% of its gas reserves, together with gold, diamonds and other minerals. Global warming and the melting of the Arctic permafrost will soon unlock the Arctic Ocean treasures.

Nobody regards the Arctic as a dead zone anymore. Its vast ice caps hide 7% of the world’s oil and 33% of its gas reserves, together with gold, diamonds and other minerals. Global warming and the melting of the Arctic permafrost will soon unlock the Arctic Ocean treasures.

This prospective change has caused the Arctic to now be wrangled over by the Arctic Five – Russia, Canada, the US, Denmark and Norway, of which only Russia, it must be noted, is not a NATO member. The alliance clearly specified its interest in the Arctic at the November 2010 Lisbon summit. The situation gets more complicated due to internal bickering over territorial claims amongst the Five. The US and Canada can not reach agreement on the Beaufort Sea (a marginal sea of the Arctic Ocean) while Canada is also battling over Hans Island with Denmark.   

Even China that lies far away from the Arctic wants a stake in the region. Its Snow Dragon icebreaker has entered the Arctic waters twice. S. Korea is also getting  icebreakers ready.

The head of the Russian Center for Analysis of the World Arms Trade, Igor Korotchenko, says that a report for the US Navy says that America urgently needs to build up its military potential in the Arctic. It proposes that the Navy begin intensive Arctic training, acquire new Arctic-class vessels and icebreakers and set up ground and undersea surveillance and monitoring stations. US multipurpose nuclear subs are constantly patrolling the Arctic Ocean and their goals are far from being scientific he stated in an interview for the Voice of Russia

The Pentagon has a permanent rapid response missile groups at high latitudes including 3-4 cruisers and 4-6 destroyers. It has 11 Air Force fighters deployed in Alaska while US Air Forces and subs patrol the Arctic Ocean area and are equipped with high-precision weapons. The US Defense Department is also training ground forces for operations in the Arctic and plans to construct two Naval bases in Alaska.

Canada allocated money to build a deep water port and a Navy base in the abandoned town of Nanisivik and the launched the renovation and the expansion of a military training base in Resolute Bay and ordered the construction of new Arctic patrol ships. The country’s Arctic military contingent has also been increased tenfold. Even though Canada has no constant military presence in the Arctic it has been carrying out annual drills called Operation Nanook to train for emergencies and disasters and since 2007 it has been conducting sovereignty patrols in the Arctic.

In 2010 the Canadian war games, for the first time, featured troops from the US and Denmark which gave Canada official status as a NATO observer in the Arctic. In summer 2011 the exercises were joined by the US and NATO Air Forces and included jet fighters, spy planes and cargo aircraft.

Norway, for its part, opened a new hi-tech Arctic Circle Centre north of Mo i Rana near the Arctic Circle. The country also moved its main military base to the location and used it as the venue for the Cold Response drills in the summer of 2011 which featured 10,000 NATO and Norwegian troops.

Russia, 1/5 of which is located in the Arctic has to respond to the region’s militarization. It intends to create a separate Arctic division to provide for the safety of its Arctic territories in a changing military and political environment. Russia also has an Arctic strategy worked out by the country’s Security Council that envisages moving the region under the Federal Security Service’s jurisdiction and making it Russia’s leading resource base by 2016.

In the spring of 2011 Russia’s Minister of Defense stated that an Arctic motorized infantry unit had been created on the Kola Peninsula. The troops will be specially equipped for operating in the region. A Russian expert on the subject Igor Korotchenko told the VOR Russia’s military equipment complies with the specific standards required and is resistant to high and low temperatures. Ground troops will be supported by ice breaking warships that are capable of not only escorting vessels but also of carrying out military missions he said.

Unfortunately the Arctic has become a militarized zone and the only way out is for the Arctic countries is to peacefully divide the area into zones of responsibility and to launch peaceful exploration of the region as soon as possible. They must thus not allow non-Arctic states the chance to make claims using military force.

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