Increasing military activity in the Arctic as demand for oil and gas rises

The Guardian has reviewed a new report Climate Change and International Security: the Arctic as a Bellwether published by the Centre for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) which warns: "Although the pursuit of co-operation is the stated priority, most of the Arctic states have begun to rebuild and modernise their military capabilities in the region. The new military programs have been geared towards combat capabilities that exceed mere constabulary capacity".

It adds: "States such as Norway and Russia are building new naval units designed to engage in high-intensity conflicts. While this capability may be understood as prudent, the ability of rivals to intimidate or subdue with sophisticated weapons systems could, if collegiality falters, undermine diplomacy and stability in the region".

Russia and Norway have recently signed a boundary agreement in the Barents Sea and undertaken joint military exercises, but the C2ES research paper says Norway "continues to take seriously its preparations for the defence of the High North, as it calls it, hosting five Operation Cold Response exercises since 2006".
 
NATO Watch previewed the movement of major NATO and Partnership for Peace forces into northern Norway in March in preparation for Exercise Cold Response 2012. We suggested that it may have been more than a concerted effort to ‘rehearse high intensity Crisis Response Operations in winter conditions within NATO with a UN mandate’.
 
NATO Watch Director Dr Ian Davis said: “With the militarisation of the Arctic, previous mistakes are being repeated on both sides. Rather than develop the region as a zone for NATO-Russia cooperation, old twentieth century divisions are being re-ignited by provocative military exercises and rearmament”.
 
Russia is modernising its military forces over the next decade, with a particular focus on the renovation of the Northern Fleet to protect Artic sea routes. The US has begun to increase the visibility of its submarines in the Arctic and Canada has unveiled plans for an Arctic training centre in Resolute Bay for its army.
 
Associated Press reports that military leaders are preparing for a new kind of Cold War in the Arctic, anticipating that rising temperatures there will open up a treasure trove of resources, long-dreamed-of sea lanes and a slew of potential conflicts. The region is already buzzing with military activity that experts believe will increase significantly in the years ahead.
 
The US Geological Survey has estimated that about a quarter of the world's oil and gas reserves could lie under the ice cap – potentially encouraging a race for resources. Shell applied for drilling rights in the Arctic off Alaska this summer and is also planning to make boreholes on behalf of other oil companies off Greenland.
 
Former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev told the Seattle Times in 2008 that "our first and main task is to turn the Arctic into Russia's resource base of the 21st century". His successor, Vladimir Putin, has just unveiled plans to give tax breaks to encourage companies to exploit new oil and gas fields, such as the Shtockman field in the Barents Sea.
 
The authors of the Bellwether report argue that a first step towards easing the military pressure would be for states to talk about it. It suggests the Arctic Council, which currently has a prohibition on the discussion of security issues, is the place to start. 
 
AP reports that the military chiefs of the eight main Arctic powers — Canada, the US, Russia, Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland — gathered at a Canadian military base last week to specifically discuss regional security issues.
 
On her trip to the northern Norwegian city of Tromso last week, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged international cooperation to exploit oil, gas and mineral deposits in the Arctic region in an effort to avoid it becoming a new battleground for natural resources.