Russian-American Arctic War

Terry Macalister
UK Guardian
July 6, 2011

Heavy-hitting US politicians enter debate about the future of the far north, fuelling concerns about a new cold war.

The seventh ministerial meeting of the Arctic Council in May looked like it would be a mundane affair with its focus on signing a new search-and-rescue agreement and handover of the chairmanship to Sweden.

But the atmosphere in Nuuk, Greenland, was electrified by the first appearance at such a forum of the United States courtesy of secretary of state Hillary Clinton, secretary of the interior, Ken Salazar, and a host of other heavy-hitting politicians.

The message was loud and clear. The US is putting itself at the centre of a debate about the future of the far north at a time when a new oil and mineral “cold rush” is under way as global warming makes extraction more easy.

And being the US, the soft diplomacy was backed up with a bit of symbolic hardware. A few weeks earlier two nuclear-powered submarines were sent to patrol 150 miles north of Prudhoe Bay, Alaska.

Meanwhile the Russians – also part of the eight-nation Arctic Council – were happy to push off the agenda any look at whether countries such as China could gain observer status.

The appearance of the US navy comes as the Russians are said to have increased missile testing in the region and its neighbour Norway has moved its main military base to the far north.

Meanwhile China has started to make political and commercial overtures to countries such as Greenland which are rich in rare Earth minerals needed for mobile phones and other hi-tech equipment.

The competing commercial and other opportunities on the Arctic continental shelf are complicated by the lack of a comprehensive agreement on who owns what. Many countries are in the middle of submitting competing land claims to the United Nations as part of its Law of the Sea Convention – a treaty as yet unsigned by America.

Canada and others were also disturbed when Artur Chilingarov, a veteran Russian polar explorer, placed a flag on the Arctic seabed in 2007.

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