An interfaced geopolitical approach to ”The Age of the Arctic”

An interfaced geopolitical approach to ”The Age of the Arctic”

arctic-ocean-mapThe following paper discuss the importance of the Artic region as an emergent subject in geopolitical matters. One cannot assess the full impact and stakes of these topic, until he dwells with  the understanding of past interactions and present trends. The future projection remains hard to predict even for experts.

                Nationhood, Foreign Policy and international development witnesses a new reshaping in world tendencies. The meaning of The Artic Age brings to our attention an emerging hot subject, which stems far back in the shrouds of history.

                Thus the history of the human exploration of the Far North is above all an account of heroic deeds pushed forward by an unsettled sense of exploration which for centuries fostered the determination to strive. Indeed those heroic voyages driven first hand by the singlessness of purpuose, left mankind considerable geographical discoveries accompanied by myths. First accounts of High North reaching are attributed to vikings, which believed the area beyond their home waters as the realm of death gods and their kingdom, everlasting polar nights and unhospitable living grounds.

                 It has been long valued by travelers, explorers and traders. As the ice cap gradually melts, it reveals the true prize and potential. Formerly block by the kingdom of ice, new offshore oil fields and shipping routes are awaiting an expansion standing ready for grasping, but the persistent issue is who is entitled with the sovereign right to possess and exploit them. hese legacy weighs heavier as stakes are nowadays rising.

                The Arctic circle a unnatural border encompassing a huge surface of the Earth beyond the nordic latitudine of 66 degrees and 33 minutes and is home to a vast quantity of resources. Recent estimated shows that the Arctic basin quarters around 22% of untapped energy reserves.

                When talking about this subject, one keeps in mind the nuclear powered ice breakers or the specialized arctic patrol vessels, the annual flow of goods shipped and the striking features such as plumeting temperatures and harsh weather conditions

                An outstanding episode which in everybody’s perception arose questions, remains the day of 2nd  August 2007 when two russian submarines planted a titanium flag on the north pole seabed, simbolicaly claiming the Arctic for Russia. It triggered immediately the criticism, attention of the other major polar states and the international community, as why so emphasized  interest for the peripherical area.

                The geopolitics of the Arctic are being characterise by the issues at stake: clashes of claims or cooperation acts can take place simultaneously, regardless that it is binding allies or rivals. Likewise, in the contest of asserting specified claims, all actors have undertaken serious approaches, either emerging states or developed economies,  both large and small circumpolar countries, partly or entirely situated in the arctic circle.

                Shortly put, the Arctic which borders 8 states, is emerging on the global set as a defined hot spot, compared to the well known unexplored and frigid desert from the past, just before the begining of the Cold War. So, in the virtue of the arising issues and transfigurative properties the reality is displaying, the Artic is manifesting itself as a regional entity with a never more emphasized identity as never. Nevertheless, the extent to which this identity will reach, remains  a question for the time being.

                Historically the Arctic was not subject to violent territorial conquest. Until the modern period, it was a playing ground for fishing and exploring ships, tracing back from the sailing age.  It’s significance remains well portrayed during the Cold War and delimited as a buffer zone or no man’s land  in the hegemonic conflict and containment strategies between the two superpowers of that period. It served as a strategic arena for developing military activities, and from this point of view, is a turning point in history, when the role of the artic switches from a frozen wasteland to a secondary operation’s theatre. Given it’s strategic location the vastness of the Artic triggered a military competition, regarding the  fact that the High North divided Nato adn the Warsaw Treaty Organization.

                Thus constant surveillance and deployment was ensured by submarine missions, patrolling and foreseeing a naval warfare. Moreover, USSR militarization of the Barents Sea dictated the rithm of issue handling for Nato serving as a  base for early warnings against threats. Long ranged balistics were developed, as well as long range bombers backed up by improved radar systems. The Russian Northern Fleet, located in Murmansk, approximately 100 miles from a Natto ally offered the prerequisites to be regarded as at least an auxiliary region, through which rivals can train one over the other the more advanced military capabilities.

                Another historicall moment remains Gorbachev’s speech in Murmansk in October 1987. The speech consequently led to the establishment of the Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy (AEPS) in 1991 and also was a foothhold in binding regional cooperation. Gorbachev called for cutting the volume of military activities and creating a nuclear-free zone in Northern Europe, coordonation and building lucrative ways of exploiting the arctic in economic, enviromental and scientific manners, and to grant access to foreing vessels to use the Northern passage.

                A Cold War scenario has few chances to reappear in the present time. Another sillent war-prospective enterprises, done by submerged submarines and threatening long rage ballistics conveying military strategies, was replaced nowadays with skillful diplomatic initiatives coupled with scientific endeavours to prove that the continental shelf is an extension of their country.

                 As foreign policies matured and evolved,circumpolar countries began to aim for more intensified implications for the future. The fundamental issue remains the sovereinghty claims.

                 As revealed by the Cold War, threats and security issues were considered only the ones with a military background, orbiting around the supremacy of nuclear capabilities . It marked an exclusive bipolar zone. The concept of security, broadened itself with the collapse of the soviet union.

                 The international system rappidly emerged towards a unilateral system in which USA has clearly shaped the landscape of geopolitical matters. Shortly after, not until the triggering of the world economic crisis, the international system is experiencing a new transition period. Corelated with the age of globalisation a multipolar system is emerging, which may in the future fragment the international system to an extent, that it may become a non polar system with it’s own set of insecurity and risks.

                Nowadays security is reshaping itself, and has to do more with economical aspects, rather than military ones. Both developing and developed countries, engaged in the most expressing economic affairs such as industrial output and commercial exchange.  It approaches the engine of this value chain, mainly the energy resources needed in order to   sustain oneself. As the volume of energy resources decrease, the main reseves are becoming either exchange coins for some or coercitive tools for others.

                A rush for an Arctic conquest spurs before all a set of sovereingty claims regardings its head actors. The main drivers would surely be the economical and political factors. In triggering such deeds of development, it would be done so by transnational companies backed up by governments. The ongoing energy mix on the market portrays the increasing demand of fuel consumption. Symply stated power and security coeficint are assessed by availability of energy supplies.

                Energy companies prospective are looking to invest in exploration and exploitation in high latitude regions as a reaction to a volatile enviroment in the gas and oil market. Middle East suppliers on the other hand, are becoming more instable.

                Such matters are always reflecting different reasons. Circumpolar countries are  also aiming to secure social policies in their remote artic provinces. Intra-Artic shipping and extraction will intensify itself as the premise of economical development and market demands, more likely in North American zone where it share a common coast with the Arctic. Security management will be highly regarded as priorty, as an effort to address the issue in remote and hard climate terrain.

                Taken into consideration the above mentioned, the geopolitics of the arctic are compiled from a complex mosaic of interactions and issues of vast arrays.  Some preliminary remarks derives:

                 Russia, Norway, USA, Canada and Denmark are the five rim states which have the Artic region as top priority on their security agenda.

                Russia is geographically the biggest stake holder in the region. Despite the 2007 act of flag planting on the north pole seabed, the border agreement with norway suggests that russia sought a peacefully resolution with its arctic neighbour.

                Norway’s interests in the Arctic and so far the country’s involvment in these matters, points out the traditional approach and the old and close ties with the region as part of the cultural norvegian life. Norway has proved a resilient agent and a gateway in fostering bilateral relations between NATO or the West and Russia on the other side, treasuring the full advantage and the premise of  promoting national interests amids clashes of global entities.

                For centruries the concept of terra nullius prevailled when acquiering new territories.  In meant that, the respective claimer could become the entitled owner when exerciting full control and jurisdiction of the land after the initial discovery, either inhabited or not and without any other previous occupation by another european monarchy.

                Around the turn of the 20th century, the Arctic began to be subject of political division. A historical reference in the implementation of a legal framework as a subject of the international law is the Spitzbergen Treaty from 1920, which in the aftermath of the agreements, Norway had been granted the sovereignty of the archipelago with  special regime, yielding in a  demilitarization and neutralization of the zone towards a peaceful cooperation and free usage of surrounding water in scientific or commercial reasons.

                In the wake of the sharp concept of  international waters, raised awareness of the offshore resources has layed claim to numerous seabed territorial requests, which in turn impelled the need of a adecquate legal framework to prevent conflicts. As a resut the third UN conference from 1973  UNCLOS brought to an end in 1982,  is the most appealing constitution of the seas so far and reaches the most sensitive aspects, which the international community tried to regulate and hence deals with the interfaced sea exploitation like: navigational rights and passage through straits, territorial sea limits, management and status of seabed resources, conservation and protection of maritime enviroment. UNCLOS also stands as the current legal frame for the Arctic region.

                In 1996, a Canadian propelled  intergovernmental platform was promoted as the main body for cooperation and issue solving discussions. Altough not having a regulatiory role, it involves maintaning a cooperative approach to the area development in matters such as environmental economical and social. The main merit is that it has managed to ensure a transparent and friendly display of  claims and also cooperation actions such as joint-enterprises  and morevore to promote the Arctic on the global stage.

                In this respect we can consider that UN resolutions regarding the High North were not able to cover the necessities and to handle claims toa full extent. Regardless the outcome, the region has the potential of  becoming a win-win situation for all stakeholders.

                In the course of the raised profile of the Arctic, we can bring to attention some of the risen territorial disputes:

a). First case is between Russia and Norway, which after a 40 years spanned boundary dispute in a demarked Exclusive economic zone  between Spittzbergen(Svalbard) and the russian islands of Novaya Zemlya and Franz Josef had ended with a mutual advantage for both parties.

b). Another major case would be the Maritime Boundry Agreement signed between Russian and USA in 1990, regarding their borders in the Bering Sea, Arctic Ocean and Pacific Ocean over a disputed area.

c). The Beaufort Sea and Northwest Passage issues between Canada and USA-due to hidrocarbur pockets, respecttively shipping right reasons, in which  the US questions the fairness of the canadian territorial claims

                Arctic governance has become a subject, on which the international system is paying more attention. Other non Arctic states or entities are seeking closer ties with the Council in order to become permanent observers and to exert a fair amount of influence in the arhitecture of Arctic governance. By far the most important would be the European Union and China. The EU has established links and shares a significant amount of interest by providing support in scientific research over the region. More than two thirds from the Norvegian Oil and Gas Output targets the EU, and about the same ponder of the fishing industry catch done by Norway and Iceland is being absorbed into the common european market. The acceptance of the EU application was spotlighted at the last Ministerial Meeting of the Arctic Council in Sweden on May 2013.

                Several researcher are maintaining that ”the riches of the Arctic will not feature in China’s future economic calculations”, or at least not to a great extent. The real reason might be related to geopolitical conceptions. Entitled to be considered a future word super-power, China was involved in several games along South America, Africa and Europe, where it wants to secure it’s economic interests and built the capacity as an immovable challenger for the US in all aspects. Strategic partnerships in these areas consists as the driving force in chinese foreign affairs.

                The Pacific, Indian and Arctic are on the agenda of Chinese expansion. China’s last five-year plan focus  on the perspective of interaction regarding marine surveying and mapping, along with arctic research. Noteworthy to keep in mind that along with other BRIC members, it is one of the most biggest consuming energy and mineral markets in the global supply chain.

                Another veritable reason for Chinese active implication in Arctic geopolitics will also be the potential shipping routes, which approaches China to the point, that it would dilate and ameliorate the Mallaca Strait issue, offering an appealing and a feasable alternative to the maritime traffic security which it maintains in commercial activities with EU.  Above all it will shortern the distance and reduce the costs of time and fuel, and also will tackle the risks poses by piracy and moreover rivalry with US and India in Pacific and Indian Ocean, which already established economic and military strongholds, as a possible containment strategy, adding more presion in the geopolitical game of China and US.

                In conclusion the gradual amassment of issues, facing claims and disputes solving  provides the clear fact, that a  new framework needs designed through the improvement of the previous one. The speed to which the arctic ice is melting, rushes the questin to whom belongs to right to claim the resuources and to master this strategic ”link” between Eurasia and America .

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