In the midst of protests against police brutality and an omnipresent global pandemic, it can be easy to forget anything else exists. A region so distant and cold as the Arctic can be easily ignored, but it really shouldn’t be forgotten. Why? Because no one else has.
In-short: In the past few months, the High North has been awash with activity, and we need to take note.
The Arctic Frontier Contextualized: The Great White North has become an important geopolitical feature.
Climate change has:
- Caused the High North to melt at a rapid rate,
- Created shipping lanes through both the North West Passage and the Northern Sea Route, and
- Made deposits of oil and natural gases accessible for exploitation.
This has caused tension in the Arctic region, with countries scrambling to assert their own claims to the North.
- Russia and Norway have both been militarizing in order to defend their claims in the north.
- The United States and Canada are at a deadlock on issues such as the Northwest Passage and the Beaufort Sea.
- Indigenous populations across all Arctic states are fighting to make their voice heard, as they are the closest to the issues at hand.
- All the while, non-Arctic states such as China and Japan have invested heavily into Arctic resources in one way or another.
There have been several particularly active countries:
- May 21st – Chinese mining company Shandong Gold Mining is in position to buy out TMAC Resources, which own a gold mine in Nunavut. This would add Shandong Gold Mining to the list of Chinese corporations that own Canadian mines in the north.
- June 13th – China’s first polar icebreaker, Xuelong 2, embarks on sea trials.
- April 27th – Russian airborne conducts first ever parachute jump in the Arctic from a height of 10,000 meters.
- May 19th – Russia refutes the implication by US Assistant Secretary of State Murphy that Russia has militarized extensively in the Arctic. This is shortly after Murphy accused Russia of creating new Arctic military divisions and deploying missile defence systems.
- June 9th – Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Ryabkov states that Russia will respond if someone threatens Russian interests in the Arctic.
- June 12th – Putin declares a state of emergency two weeks after a 20,000 ton oil spill by Norilsk. Current estimated cleanup costs: 150 million USD.
- June 15th – Russian Arctic scientist and former Navy captain Valery Mitko accused of high treason by Russia for passing on state secrets relevant to Arctic security to China.
- June 12th – Norway announces the launching of a satellite in October 2021 for the purpose of military communication.
The United States:
- June 10th – Trump administration announces increased icebreaking capabilities to be ready by 2029.
Why should you care? The political moves made in the Arctic now will have ramifications later.
- The Russian paradrop was not conducted in polite weather, like when Canadian ships conduct training. It was done when the weather was far below freezing and there was a real risk of death.
- Shandong Gold Mining buying a Canadian rare earth metals mine is not a new event, with several mines up north already majority-owned by Chinese companies.
- The American announcement is not an acceleration of fleet development per se, but it does open up the door to expanding the fleet far beyond the initial budget.
The world is interested in the Arctic, whether we are – and whether we like it – or not.
The bottom line: In all this activity, Canada has been conspicuously silent. Yes, COVID is important, but just because Canada has forgotten about the Arctic does not mean that everyone else has as well. And if Canada ignores the Arctic, very soon we wont be in a position to complain, let alone do something.
With yesterday’s news that Canada lost its bid for a non-permanent seat on the security council, a reevaluation of priorities in the race for the Arctic is necessary now more than ever.
- Canada Loses Race for Security Council Seat | Explained.
- Trudeau’s Security Council Bid Is a Vanity Project | Op-Ed
- Charming Canadian, Ugly American?