“Rushing for the Arctic’s Riches”: NYTimes on the Arctic Race

The Arctic has become one of the more recently “hot” topics in Canada-U.S. relations.

Whether over Arctic territorial lines, or the race to exploit the Arctic’s natural resources, or climate change’s impact on the region, Arctic geo-politics is heating up.  (For more on Canada’s Arctic strategy you can check this out.)

Earlier this month, the NYTimes published Michael T. Klare’s “Rush for the Arctic Riches,” which offers a good introduction to the Arctic’s growing significance in various international relationships, particularly the Canada-U.S. bilateral relationship.

From the article:

While many existing oil and gas reserves in other parts of the world are facing steep decline, the Arctic is thought to possess vast untapped reservoirs.  Approximately 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil deposits and 30 percent of its natural gas reserves are above the Arctic Circle, according to the United States Geological Survey. Eager to tap into this largess, Russia and its Arctic neighbors — Canada, Norway, the United States, Iceland and Denmark (by virtue of its authority over Greenland) — have encouraged energy companies to drill in the region.

The risk of conflict over the ownership of contested territories is likely to grow.  Five of the Arctic states have asserted exclusive drilling rights to boundary areas also claimed by one of the others, and control over the polar region itself remains contentious.  In an area with the “potential for tapping what may be as much as a quarter of the planet’s undiscovered oil and gas,” Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel warned recently, “a flood of interest in energy exploration has the potential to heighten tensions over other issues.”

So far, not one of these disputes has provoked a military response, and the Arctic states have pledged to refrain from such action.  However, most of the Arctic states have also asserted their right to defend their offshore territories with force and have taken steps to enhance their ability to fight in these areas.  Russia, for example, recently announced plans to establish what it calls a “cutting-edge military infrastructure” in the Arctic.

It also offers this illuminating map of Arctic ownership (click image to go to full-sized image):



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