Tag Archives: Arctic

Russia’s Evolving Arctic Capabilities

By Steve Micallef

Far from the battlegrounds of East Ukraine and Syria another confrontation with Russia is brewing. As the Arctic ice retreats countries with claims in the Arctic are more willing to extract the resources found in this inhospitable location. The U.S. estimates the Arctic seabed is home to about 15 percent of the world’s remaining oil, up to 30 percent of its natural gas deposits, and about 20 percent of its liquefied natural gas. Like the U.S., Canada, Denmark and Norway, Russia has its own claim on a section of the Arctic which it is now looking to defend and expand. Today we are witnessing a resurgent Russia in the Arctic, deploying more troops and equipment to the Arctic in support of its claims.

The Cold History

There is a long history of territorial claims around the North Pole; Canada was the first to claim sovereignty over vast areas of the arctic in 1925. This was followed by the Soviet Union in 1926 which claimed an area stretching from Murmansk, east to the Chukchi Peninsula and north, towards the North Pole including both the Mendeleev and Lomonosov Ridges. This was followed by claims from the U.S., Norway, and Demark that where never internationally recognized until 1999 and the adoption of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). UNCLOS, the melting ice caps, and the vast amounts of natural resources on the sea floor are the root causes of current Arctic confrontations.

Overlapping Arctic claims and resources. (TheTimes.co.UK)

Under the provisions of UNCLOS, states have ten years after treaty ratification to claim and extend territorial limits beyond the 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone provided by the convention. Russia ratified UNCLOS in 1997 and had until 2007 to apply for a concession. Whilst Russia has always looked at the Arctic as an integral part of Russian identity (indeed until the collapse of the Soviet Union, Moscow maintained a large presence in the Arctic), it was Vladimir Putin who revived Russian ambitions in the Arctic. In December 2001, Russia applied for an extension of territory, claiming that the Lomonosov Ridge is an extension of the Siberian continental shelf and therefore entitles Russia to a bigger claim in the Arctic. However, this was inconclusive and the UN commission neither rejected nor accepted Russia’s proposal, citing a need for more research.

In the face of the melting icepack the Russian administration has declared the Arctic a region of strategic importance for Russia; due to both the potential Northern Sea Route as well as the energy and rare earth element reserves under the ice. Since 2002, Russia has sent expeditions in support of it claims over Lomonosov Ridge, including a 2007 expedition that planted a Russian flag on the seabed. Vladimir Putin has also taken the bold step of increasing Russian military presence in the inhospitable north.

Icebreaker Development

Icebreakers are the cornerstone of any capability in the Arctic. Icebreakers have multiple uses from resupplying far-flung communities and outposts to scientific exploration, search and rescue, and ensuring that sea lines remain ice-free for shipping. They are the backbone of any presence in the Arctic, both military and civilian. In this department Russian Arctic capabilities are significant, especially when compared to those of other Western claimants.

Russian President Putin views a model of Project 21900 icebreaker ST PETERSBURG (Getty Images)

Russia has as many as 40 icebreakers, both nuclear powered and conventional (see table below). Although some of these vessels are relatively old, with many of them built during the Soviet era, Russia also has various new designs under construction. In total, there are currently some 14 icebreakers of various types being built in Russia.

Class Displacement in Tons Build Qty Comments
Nuclear Powered Vessels

(Project 22220)

33,540 3 New class of nuclear powered vessels; will be the world’s largest icebreakers.

(Project 10520)

23,000 6 Soviet era nuclear vessels- 4 remain in service.
Conventionally Powered Vessels
Project 21900 & 21900M 10,000 2 & 3 2x 21900s are in service along with 2x upgraded 21900Ms (1 additional under construction)
Ilya Muromets Project 21180 6,000 4 First one expected to be delivered in 2017.
Project 22600
22,000 1 Largest diesel-powered icebreaker in the world; may be delivered in 2018 after several years’ delays.
Project 70202 3,8000 1 Oil spill response, fire extinguishing, and ecological monitoring vessel. Constructed by Finnish Aker Arctic Technology. A unique hull shape allows the vessel to operate efficiently sideways and backwards.
Aker Arc 130/A


8,699 2 Constructed for Gazprom Neft for use as support ships in Arctic oilfields. Constructed by Aker Arctic.
Arc7 ice-classed LNG carriers 80,200 14 First delivered in 2016, others are under construction in Geoje, South Korea for service in the Arctic. Able to break through 2.1m of ice.

Of particular interest are the LK-60Ya nuclear ice breakers and Arc-7 LNG carriers. Three LK-60Yas are under construction; the first (the Arktika) was launched in June 2016 and will be commissioned in 2018 with others commissioning in 2019 and 2020. These vessels are intended for use in the Northern Sea Route along Russia’s Arctic coast and are capable of breaking through ice over nine feet thick.

SCF Yamal/ Christophe de Margerie, the first Arc-7 Ice Classed LNG carrier. (IHS)

The development of LNG and oil carrying ice-capable tankers is an area of particular economic interest for Russia. In this area, Russia is collaborating with Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering in South Korea and an international consortium for the construction of the first Arc 7 ice-classed LNG carriers. The aim is to reliably deliver the LNG produced from the Yamal LNG project in the Yamal Peninsula.

Military Development

Icebreakers are not the only things Russia is constructing to help it control the Arctic. All along its northern frontier Russia has begun rebuilding and reoccupying its military bases, some of which have not been used since the end of the Cold War. Russia is upgrading its docking facilities in Murmansk, one of the few ports which is ice free year round and home to Russia’s nuclear icebreaker fleet, to provide more space for the larger nuclear icebreaker and submarine fleets.

Aerial facilities are also being upgraded to improve coverage over the Arctic. Since 2015 Russia has equipped six new bases in the region, both on the mainland and on islands. These have included airbases on the islands of Franz Josef Land, Severnaya Zemlya, Wrangel Island, Kotelny Island and Novaya Zemlya. On the mainland, the facilities at Mys Shmidta, including the port and the airport, are also being upgraded.

Russian military installations proximate to the arctic.

Moreover, the Russian Navy has stepped up its presence in the Arctic with a permanent base on Kotelny Island and in 2016 when it started using new facilities on Alexandra Land. Beyond the ability to conduct search and rescue operations and support other Russian forces operating in the Arctic (mainly through the use of submarine forces), the Navy is also looking to stop infiltration by other powers into sovereign Russian territory.

Weapons-wise, Moscow has deployed two long range S-400 regiments to Novaya Zemlya and the port of Tiksi alongside short range surface-to-air Pantsir-S1 systems to protect them. Arctic bases have also been reinforced with P-800 Oniks supersonic anti-ship missiles, although the number of these systems present in the Arctic remains unclear.

Ground forces are being deployed to the region as well. The 99th Arctic Tactical Group has been permanently deployed to Kotelny Island to protect and aid in the construction of the airfield and piers there. Two other formations, the 200th Independent Motor Rifle Brigade and the 80th Independent Motor Rifle Brigade, have been converted into Arctic Brigades. Both formations appear stationed in the Murmansk Oblast and seem to be equipped with two-tiered tractors, snowmobiles and other vehicles, including the DT-30P Vityaz articulated track vehicle. Allegedly, these troops receive reconnaissance, airborne, and mountain training.

All these elements are under the command of Russia’s Arctic Joint Strategic Command, recently formed in December 2014. This command is responsible for the training and operational employment of Russian assets in the region; including all combat units, radar stations, airfields and support units. Northern Fleet units based at Kotelny Island also fall under the authority of this command.

A Russian Northern Fleet warship transits Arctic waters with icebreaker escort in 2013. (RT)

Russian will continue to build new facilities in the future. A large year-round airbase is being built on the New Siberian Islands Archipelago, which will enable the deployment of Tu-95MS and Tu-160 bomber and the stealth PAK DA bomber in the future. A network of 10 Arctic Search and rescue stations, 16 deep-water ports, 12 new airfields and 10 air-defense radar stations is planned. The Russian Defense Ministry also recently announced it will build over 100 infrastructure facilities in the Arctic by the end of 2017. Together, these units and facilities will allow Russia to maintain a watchful eye over the Arctic, its oil reserves and, in the future, maritime shipping.


Russia has developed its Arctic capabilities to a level that was inconceivable a couple of years ago – one that has not been seen since the end of the Soviet Union. Nor is there is any sign that Russia will stop here – in November 2016 Putin called for accelerating development of the Arctic region. Whatever the outcome, these huge investments in the Arctic leave Russia in a much better position to exploit the benefits brought by the melting ice fields.

Steve Micallef graduated from the University of Malta with a B.A. (Honors) in International Relations in 2015. He also holds an MSc in Strategic Studies from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. He currently works at Bugeja Geopolitical Consulting, Malta.

Featured Image: Russian arctic troops (Sputnik/ Valeriy Melnikov)

Future Roles For The Arctic Council

From author Ian Birdwell comes The Changing Arctic, a column focusing on the unique security challenges presented by the increasingly permissive environment in the High North. The Changing Arctic examines legal precedents, rival claimants, and possible resolutions for disputes among the Arctic nations, as well as the economic implications of accessing the region’s plentiful resources.

By Ian Birdwell

The Arctic Council logo.
The Arctic Council logo.

Founded in 1996 as a regional forum and tool to coordinate scientific research by nations within the Arctic Circle, the Arctic Council has grown in prominence over the past six years as global temperatures have risen. The Council is looked to as a means for facilitating research of the Arctic’s changing climate, and could potentially become the forum for resolving disputes in the high north. Unfortunately, the Council’s focus is narrowly defined to scientific diplomacy and promoting unity in scientific endeavors to enhance trust between its member states. In addition, the council may only make recommendations and is not a legal body.1 With the Arctic predicted to have the lowest amount of sea ice on record2 and grim predictions for the future, it becomes important to understand the Arctic Council and the impact its focus on scientific diplomacy will have on the Arctic in two key areas: military development and trade route controls.

While the Arctic Council has brought its member states closer through cooperative research, when it comes to military matters the Council has remained almost completely silent. In practice, the Council helps to coordinate the climate research from its members and develop specific trade guidelines, though there is some appetite to extend the Council’s role into other regional concerns, such as territorial disputes.3 The warming waters are seeing an increase of military activity from every major Arctic player with Russia,4 Denmark,5 Norway,6 Canada,7 and the U.S.8 all training and equipping their militaries for Arctic action. For example, over the past few years the United States has maneuvered to increase the presence of the U.S. military above the Arctic circle, yet recently appointed Arctic Ambassador, Mark Brzezinski, remains adamant about keeping the Council free of discussions of military matters.9 The Ambassador isn’t alone; the Arctic Council has stood resolute by mandates laid out in the Ottawa Declaration of 199610 strictly prohibiting the discussion of security matters by the council. With NASA predicting 2016 to have been the hottest year on record,11 it is becoming readily apparent the climate is not the only thing changing in the Arctic and it seems scientific diplomacy may not be enough to avert the course of arctic militarization forcing each nation to seek their own route to peace in the Arctic.

US Secretary of State John Kerry welcomed delegates to the SAO Plenary meeting which began on Wednesday October 5. Photos are available for use according to the creative commons license CC BY-NC-ND. Photo credit: Arctic Council Secretariat / Linnea Nordström
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry welcomed delegates to theArctic Council SAO Plenary meeting  in Portland, Maine, which began on Wednesday October 5, 2016. (Arctic Council Secretariat / Linnea Nordström)

One of the caveats for obtaining Observer status on the Arctic Council is acknowledging of the primacy of UNCLOS regarding territory control, though the Arctic Council seems poorly poised to assisting in developing economic policies for exclusive economic zones. The Arctic Council formed the Arctic Economic Council in 201412 to begin to address economic concerns as ice sheets retreat. Since then, the Arctic Economic Council has done little of note other than work on expanding telecommunications access to the Northern reaches of North America. In the midst of these changes, the Arctic Council is putting itself behind the curve of climate change and making it more difficult for regulations to adjust to a changing economic climate.

A shorter trade route between Europe and East Asia would be a massive boon to the states and companies willing and able to adapt to the change as quickly as possible. Several observer states on the Arctic Council sought those positions in order to be close to Arctic nations for trade considerations on a future Arctic trade hub, which has led nations like South Korea to develop the infrastructure to become a refueling point for future Arctic shipping companies.13 The Arctic Council’s scientific diplomacy makes for great short-term policy to assuage fears of a warming Arctic by studying the changing climate, yet some believe the goals to partially reverse or stabilize global warming may be for naught in an already dramatically changing Arctic.14 Thus, scientific diplomacy may make it difficult for the Council to develop a role as a forum to address or mediate the concerns of Arctic nations especially in trade, and having the Arctic Economic Council’s most recent meeting focus on telecommunications sets both institutions behind the curve.15 In the midst of this action, investors are positioning themselves to make millions via the trade routes of the Arctic Ocean regardless of which nation legally controls those routes.

Regional state relations could change dramatically as the ice melts. Such a change could prove disastrous as the most prominent organization capable of mediating in the region has focused on a scientific approach to a problem involving the fate of millions of dollars of trade and the armed forces of five nations.

Ian Birdwell holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Government and International Politics from George Mason University.

1. Arctic Council, “The Arctic Council: A backgrounder.” May 23, 2016.

2. Rosen, Yereth, “Persistent Arctic and sub-Arctic warmth expected to continue for months,” Alaska News Dispatch. May 29, 2016. <http://www.adn.com/arctic/2016/05/29/persistent-arctic-and-subarctic-warmth-expected-to-continue-for-months/>

3. Martinson, Erica, “Ambassador to the Arctic:Meet President Obama’s point man for Alaska,” Alaska News Dispatch. January 30, 2016.<http://www.adn.com/politics/article/ambassador-arctic/2016/01/31/>

4. The Arctic, “Russian Defense Ministry to complete Arctic military infrastructure by 2020,” The Arctic With Support from the Russian Geological Survey. August 18, 2016.<http://arctic.ru/infrastructure/20160818/413312.html>

5. Rahaman, Shifa “Denmark maneuvering to increase military foothold in the Arctic,” The Coppenhagen Post. June 23, 2016. <http://cphpost.dk/news/denmark-maneuvering-to-increase-military-foothold-in-the-arctic.html>

6. Nilsen, Thomas,“Norway patrolling Russia’s military activity in Arctic with new intelligence vessel,” Radio Canada International. May 24, 2016. <http://www.rcinet.ca/eye-on-the-arctic/2016/05/24/intelligence-vessel-arctic-russia-norway-military/>

7. Hinchey, Garrett “Canadian, U.S. Troops share knowledge at Arctic military operation” Canadian Broadcasting Corporation <http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/north/how-to-land-a-hercules-operation-nunalivut-1.3530258>

8. Schehl, Matthew L. “Marines hit the Arctic for largest winter exercise since the Cold War.” Military Times. March 2, 2016. <https://www.marinecorpstimes.com/story/military/2016/03/02/marine-hit-arctic-largest-winter-exercise-since-cold-war/81161832/>

9. Martinson, Erica, “Ambassador to the Arctic:Meet President Obama’s point man for Alaska,” Alaska News Dispatch. January 30, 2016. <http://www.adn.com/politics/article/ambassador-arctic/2016/01/31/>

10. Arctic Council “The Arctic Council: A backgrounder” May 23, 2016

11. Milman, Oliver, “Nasa:Earth is warming at a pace ‘unprecedented in 1,000 years,” The Guardian. August 30, 2016. <https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/aug/30/nasa-climate-change-warning-earth-temperature-warming>

12. Arctic Economic Council, “Arctic Economic Council Backgrounder,” 2016 <http://arcticeconomiccouncil.com/about-us/backgrounder/>

13. Chaturvedi, Ipshita, “Arctic Opportunities” The Indian Express. August 10, 2016. <http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/arctic-region-opportunities-south-korea-india-2964498/>

14. Rosen, Yereth, “Arctic Council uses Fairbanks meeting to think about the future” Alaska News Dispatch. May 31, 2016. <http://www.adn.com/arctic/article/arctic-council-uses-fairbanks-meeting-take-long-term-view/2016/03/19/>

15. Northam, Jackie “U.S.-Russia relations are frosty but they’re toasty on the Arctic Council” National Public Radio. June 16, 2016. <http://www.npr.org/2016/06/16/482279767/u-s-russia-relations-are-frosty-but-theyre-toasty-on-the-arctic-council>

Featured Image: The view from the deck of the Nordic Odyssey (with the tugboat the Vengery in the foreground), as the ship sailed from Murmansk, in Russia, to Huanghua, in China, in July 2012. (Davide Monteleone) 

Members’ Roundup: August 2016

By Sam Cohen

Welcome to the August 2016 members’ roundup. Throughout the month of August, CIMSEC members examined several international maritime security issues, including an increasingly contentious undersea environment in the Asia-Pacific, monitoring and enforcing laws relating to maritime crime, the importance of the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) to the future mine countermeasure capability of the U.S. Navy, the upgrades being made to the Philippine Coast Guard with the assistance from Japan, and finally, Vietnam’s decision to deploy mobile rocket launchers to islands in the South China Sea.

Lauren Dickey, John Schaus, and Andrew Metrick, at War on The Rocks, provide an overview of submarine forces and dynamics shaping undersea competition in the Asia-Pacific. Although Russia’s undersea capabilities in the Atlantic have historically been the primary challenge to U.S. technological primacy in the subsurface domain, the authors explain how Chinese, North Korean .and ten other Asian nations are not only increasing their proportion of active submarines in the Pacific, but are also significantly increasing investment in advanced capabilities. According to the authors, the growth of submarine fleets throughout the region combined with technologies that can limit U.S. operational effectiveness in the domain implies that regional states are hedging against a more competitive future security environment.

John Grady, for U.S. Naval Institute News, discusses the importance of awareness in the maritime domain and on land concerning the enforcement of laws pertaining to fisheries, the environment and crime on the oceans and in coastal waters. He references comments on the issue from fellow CIMSEC members Jerry Hendrix, Scott Cheney-Peters, and Claude Berube, who explain that non-governmental organizations, comprehensive security and monitoring networks, and enforcement practices from ports to blue ocean regions is critical for ending illegal fishing and other criminal activities.

Rick Berger and Mackenzie Eaglen, at War on The Rocks, provide analysis on the aircraft carrier shortage in the U.S. Navy and the implications this is having for U.S. presence in certain hot spot regions. The authors argue that politicians are not working creatively enough to get additional carriers into the fleet quickly, which is a vital first step towards addressing the current carrier presence gap. Their analysis focuses on how Congress and Pentagon civilian leadership jointly and cooperatively changed the process with which the Navy tests, procures and fields aircraft carriers, ultimately resulting in the current shortage. The authors recommend that Congress and the Pentagon should allow the Navy to field CVN-78 Ford by 2019, noting that the risk in pushing back full-ship shock trials to a later date does not outweigh the benefit of solving an immediate problem of too few carriers for too many missions.

Steven Wills, for U.S. Naval Institute News, discusses the need for expanded congressional support for the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), highlighting the ships potential to become the most advanced platform with an effective and advanced mine warfare capability in the fleet. He explains that the U.S. Navy’s aging Avenger-class mine countermeasure ships are in need of replacement and that the LCS mine warfare mission module represents the most suitable option already within the acquisition system capable of rapidly improving the fleets mine countermeasure capacity. He recommends that Congress support and fund the LCS mine warfare module program as outlined by the Navy in the FY17 budget.

Dave Majumdar, for The National Interest, highlights the U.S. Navy’s decision to prioritize the improvement of its anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capabilities, noting the reemergence of Russian undersea capabilities and the continued growth of the Chinese submarine fleet as the principal reasons for doing so. Referencing an interview with U.S. Navy’s Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson, he explains that the future fleet’s ASW operations will combine air, sea, and undersea forces, emphasizing the need to ensure that the Navy’s attack submarine (SSN) force remains dominant in the subsurface environment. He also notes that although the Navy currently has about fifty-two attack submarines in its fleet against a requirement for forty-eight boats, the SSN force is set to shrink to forty-one by 2029, implying strategic advantage against adversaries in the North Atlantic and the Pacific is not possible without significant procurement adjustments.

Kyle Mizokami, for Popular Mechanics, reviews the debate centered on the future of the U.S. Navy’s aircraft carrier and the different factors influencing the discussion, including the massive financial investment the U.S. has already put into its next generation of flattops and the increasingly dangerous and real threat anti-access/ area denial strategies will pose to carrier operations in the conflicts of tomorrow. Although U.S. reliance on the aircraft carrier as the country’s primary tool of power projection is a notion that continues to draw contention in security and political circles, he notes that technological advancements in unmanned aerial vehicles, longer-ranged planes, or even altering the size and price tag of the carriers themselves may adapt the platform enough to make them useful for decades to come.

CIMSEC members were active elsewhere during the month of August:

At CIMSEC we encourage members to continue writing either here on CIMSEC or through other means. You can assist us by emailing your works to dmp@cimsec.org.

Sam Cohen is currently studying Honors Specialization Political Science at Western University in Canada. His interests are in the fields of strategic studies, international law and defense policy.

Featured image: A Chinese nuclear submarine on the ocean surface (credit: AsiaNews)

The Changing Arctic

From author Ian Birdwell comes The Changing Arctic, a new column that will focus on the unique security challenges presented by the increasingly permissive environment in the High North. The Changing Arctic will examine legal precedents, rival claimants, and possible resolutions for disputes among the Arctic nations, as well as the economic implications of accessing the region’s plentiful resources.

By Ian Birdwell

The Northwest Passage was once a mythic trade route that claimed dozens of Europe’s foremost explorers. Today, travelers can traverse the passage once sought by the likes of Cabot, Drake, and Franklin on the world’s first cruise line1 from New York to Anchorage; the trip lasts only about a month. This shift in accessibility to the Arctic is a direct result of the planet’s warming climate. While increased access to the Arctic offers advantages in terms of commerce and tourism, it has also ushered in a new era of maritime security issues for Arctic nations. Specifically, as the Arctic Ocean warms and northern ice sheets recede, the United States, Russia, Canada, Norway, and Denmark will confront new aspects of maritime security, potentially causing rifts in long-established relationships. As such, it will prove increasingly important to examine the history of these states’ interactions with an eye to the Arctic Ocean’s commercial future.

The Arctic has always been a place of contention for the nations surrounding it. As receding sea ice opens new sea routes, however, a comprehensive understanding of historical territorial disputes in the Arctic and the influence of the UN Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS) will be necessary. Canada was the first nation to claim vast swaths of territory in the Arctic Ocean in 1925. Not long after the Soviet Union followed suit, laying down their own claim in 1937.2 Though not yet passable by sea, control of Arctic territories was viewed as beneficial as it provided access to and providence over air routes. While moderately contested, Arctic territorial disputes would only become a marquee issue during the Cold War, when the region gained strategic significance as an area to base submarine-launched nuclear weapons.

A map of overlapping territorial claims in the Arctic. (Encyclopedia Britannica Inc)
A map of overlapping territorial claims in the Arctic. (Encyclopedia Britannica Inc)

Arctic nations’ ratification of UNCLOS and the end of the Cold War were catalysts for tension. Notably, the provisions of UNCLOS did not affect Arctic relations until climate change began in earnest because the majority of exclusive economic zones provided within it were practically inaccessible. However, as the ice has melted, the tenants of the Convention have failed to alleviate emerging territorial concerns. Four of the five Arctic Nations have only recently ratified the UN Convention on the Law of the Seas3; the United States has still yet to do so.

As the waters warm, the Convention has been used as a tool to entrench territorial claims4 through UN appeals and report submissions to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf UN Subcommittee (CLCS). In short, the interested parties are attempting to exploit the convention as a way to extend legitimate Arctic claims beyond the 200 nautical mile mark, as in Norway’s Submission to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS). While Norway’s submission is noted by the UN is based on independent negotiations with other Arctic states to extend5 beyond the 200 nautical mile mark6, the most recent Canadian7, Russian, and Danish8 submissions to the CLCS have been partial submissions, allowing states to make arguments for territorial extensions in the Arctic beyond the CLCS time limit of ten years following ratification of UNCLOS, as outlined in article four9 of Annex II of the Commission of the Limits of the Continental Shelf section of UNCLOS. This, coupled with the geography of the Arctic Ocean, makes Arctic relations more difficult as it pushes territorial disputes into the realm of global bureaucracy under a convention poorly designed for use at the top of the world.

Every square kilometer of ice that disappears raises the stakes in the Arctic region due to its large untapped commercial potential and as the world’s next trade route. Ice previously made oil exploration infeasible. Now, a shrinking ice sheet makes it easier to maintain oil rigs while offering opportunities for expansion. Russia has been pushing the most for this kind of expansion10 due to their expansive arctic coastline. The Russian Federation stands to gain the most commercially. However, the opportunity to control vast amounts of petroleum resources has the United States, Canada, and Denmark excited for drilling opportunities as well. While the recent drop in oil prices11 has tempered this excitement somewhat, time will tell if market shifts and changes in government regulation spark an oil rush in the Arctic. This throws not just national oil giants like Gazprom into the Arctic, but potentially any private oil company capable of negotiating the use of ocean territory into the mix, further complicating territorial disputes and international agreements. Thus, it becomes vital for nations on the Arctic Ocean to solidify their territorial claims either in international courts, diplomatic agreements, or through deterring their rivals from contesting their claims with force.

Passage through the Arctic region12 is likely to become incredibly important as ice levels stabilize and charts improve, yet there are several rising complications for passage that are not environmental. While most routes pass through either Canadian or Russian territorial waters, the entrances to those routes can be militarily contested by Denmark, the United States, and Norway, regardless of which nation’s territorial claims include those waters. This in and of itself poses a problem, because some form of stability and control is needed to ensure shipping routes can be used. While it is unlikely for routes to be blockaded or military conflict to arise, the fact passage control could be contested by any of these nations forces them to develop Arctic-capable assets.13

As climate change alters the Arctic Ocean, the transformation of the world’s highest seas will push the nations surrounding it into an area of unresolved territorial disputes and increasingly higher financial stakes. To provide for more detailed analysis on these nations, the consecutive articles in this series will take an in-depth look at each nation’s goals, limitations, and security concerns as the ice sheets recede.

Ian Birdwell holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Government and International Politics from George Mason University.

1. Paris, Costas “Luxury Cruise to Conquer Northwest Passage” Wall Street Journal. May 10, 2016  <http://www.wsj.com/articles/luxury-cruise-to-conquer-northwest-passage-1462872605 >

2. McKItterick, T.E.M. “The Validity of Territorial and Other Claims in polar Regions” Journal of Comparative legislation and International Law, Vol. 21, No. 1 (1939)

3. United Nations “Declarations and Statements” Oceans and Law of the Sea. Accessed June 3, 2016 <http://www.un.org/Depts/los/convention_agreements/convention_declarations.htm#Denmark Upon ratification>

4. Associated Press in Toronto “Canada to Claim North Pole as its own” The Guardian. December 9, 2013 <http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/dec/10/canada-north-pole-claim>

5. Russian Federation “Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf Outer limits of the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles from the baselines” United Nations Oceans and Law of the Sea Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea. Updates June 30, 2009 <http://www.un.org/depts/los/clcs_new/submissions_files/submission_rus.htm>

6. Kingdom of Norway “Commission on the limits of the Continental Shelf Outer Limits of the contiental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles from the baselines” United Nations Oceans and Law of the Sea Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea. Updated August 20, 2009 <http://www.un.org/depts/los/clcs_new/submissions_files/submission_nor.htm>

7. Canada “Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf Outer limits of the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles from the baselines” United Nations Oceans and Law of the Sea Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea. Updated December 29, 2014 <http://www.un.org/depts/los/clcs_new/submissions_files/submission_can_70_2013.htm>

8. Kingdom of Denmark “ Commission on the limits of the continental shelf outer limits of the conteitnal shelf beyond 200 nautical miles from the baselines” United Nations Oceans and Law of the Sea Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea. Updated May 21, 2014 <http://www.un.org/depts/los/clcs_new/submissions_files/submission_dnk_68_2013.htm>

9. United Nations “United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea Annex II” <http://www.un.org/depts/los/clcs_new/documents/annex2.htm>

10. Gurzu, Anca “Economic pain pushes Russia to drill in high Arctic” Politico April 24, 2016 <http://www.politico.eu/article/economic-pain-pushes-russia-to-drill-in-high-arctic-oil-energy-natural-gas/>

11. Krauss, C. and Stanley Reed “Shell Exits Arctic as slump in oil prices forces industry to retrench” New York Times. September 28, 2015 <http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/29/business/international/royal-dutch-shell-alaska-oil-exploration-halt.html>

12. Stephens, Hugh “Northwest Passage a Key to Canada’s relationship with Asia” The Globe and Mail.May 19, 2016 <http://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/northwest-passage-a-key-to-canadas-relationship-with-asia/article30091202/>

13. Weber, Bob “Denmark joins Arctic arms race” The Toronto Star. July 26, 2009

Featured Image: Arctic waters (Incredible Arctic / Shutterstock)