All’s quiet on the Arctic front

Amidst the forecasted chaos between countries claiming their rights in the region, experts say “the Arctic has proven to be politically stable”

(Photo: Mikkel Vedby Rasmussen)

Lesley Price

Many have predicted that recent developments in the Arctic herald the beginning of a “new cold war”. A warming Arctic has prompted new territorial claims, opened up new trade routes and increased competition for resources. Most recently, further tension has been implied, as Russia announced a military buildup in the north and the US issuing its first Arctic plan.

However, despite what has been reported in the media, Arctic countries are “keeping their cool” in the face of a rapidly changing area rich in potential.

A May 2013 report prepared by the Centre for Military Studies at the University of Copenhagen concluded that the Arctic is a “newly opened region which is rich in resources but not rich in conflict potential” despite what history has shown for resource rich areas. The report confirmed that military conflict in the Arctic seems highly unlikely as it is against the interest of all in the region.

Mikkel Vedby Rasmussen, the head of the Centre for Military Studies, said the changing geopolitical conditions in the Arctic pose only a mild risk of conflict but stressed that it is still important for coastal states to work cooperatively.

“If the Arctic countries don’t keep their cool they might provoke a reaction with each other, and then we might risk a confrontation neither of the parties want or have interest in,” he said.

In response to increased security concerns in the region, Mr Rasmussen says that most of the Arctic countries are increasing their military presence as the growing activity has simply created a need for more surveillance.

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“This reflects the increased volume of traffic, mining interests and other issues which need to be controlled,” he said. “Each of these countries regard their own increase in capability as entirely peaceful, and is equally concerned about the increase in capability from the other states.”

A large amount of tension was anticipated when coastal states were preparing their Arctic seafloor claims, despite numerous reports stating that the vast majority of oil and gas is all allocated without any dispute or contestation.

Mr Rasmussen believes any future disputes will be “very small” but said “there surely will be discussions about where to draw maritime borders in the North Pole area”.

Despite developments going relatively smoothly for most Arctic powers, the region poses some unique challenges for the Kingdom of Denmark, according to the report.

“Greenland faces radical change. Climate change, industrial exploitation of natural resources and potential political tension between the Arctic powers will alter the economic and political context of the region [and] this will inevitability affect the roles and responsibilities of [Denmark]”.

In order to deal with the challenges, Mr Rasmussen proposed the creation of an Arctic Ministry, led by a cabinet member, to “co-ordinate policy between Nuuk and Copenhagen better. A key to this would be to have someone responsible for taking the Arctic perspective in the cabinet”.

Originally published by The Arctic Journal. Re-published with the permission of the author.

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