The Arctic region is beginning to get hot — but not for anything having to do with “global warming.” No, international tensions are increasing, because of the increasing international demand for fossil fuels.
As Alan Dowd of the Fraser Institute notes in a recent piece, the Arctic is attracting rapidly growing geostrategic attention.
The place is amazingly rich in fossil fuels. The US Geological Survey puts total Arctic oil reserves at 90 billion barrels of oil, or about 13% of estimated undiscovered reserves worldwide, and 1,670 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, or about 30% of the world’s undiscovered gas.
Those are just the conventionally available fuels. God alone knows how much unconventional fossil fuel energy (shale oil and gas, methane hydrates, and so on) lies beneath that frigid sea.
These resources are becoming more and more commercially attractive, for several reasons. First, the Green Regime in Washington has worked to strangle our own domestic production, hoping to shift America to dependence on so-called green energy (wind, solar, and biofuels). Second, Middle East production is increasingly expensive. Finally, as formerly poor countries such as India and China become ever more industrialized, their consumption of fossil fuels is growing. The Energy Information Agency projects a 20% increased in world oil usage over the next 18 years.
This is leading inexorably to friction among nations that have claims in the Arctic: the United States, Canada, Russia, and Norway (together, to a lesser extent, with Sweden and Finland). And it is no surprise the form that this increasing tension is taking: Russia, under the Putin Regime, is pushing to control the lion’s share of the region’s energy wealth.
Russia’s intentions are easy to read from its actions. A 2007 Russian expedition planted the Russian flag on the North Pole. Its leader boasted, “The Arctic is ours!” A year later, a Russian general said that his country was planning to train troops to engage in combat in the region, noting cheekily that “wars these days are won and lost before they are launched.” A year after that, Russia announced that it was opening a string of bases along its northern tier. And last year, it announced plans to deploy 10,000 troops in the region to “defend its Arctic claims.”
And there has been a dramatic increase in Russian bomber interceptions by Canadian and American fighters (up from eight between 1999 and 2006 to 45 between 2007 and 2010). All this is evidence that Putin wasn’t joking when he recently said, “Russia intends without a doubt to expand its presence in the Arctic. We are open to dialogue, but naturally, the defense of our geopolitical interests will be hard and consistent.”
In reaction, both the Bush and the Obama administrations have reaffirmed our national security interests in the region. The US keeps 20,000 troops in Alaska and is conducting “Northern Edge” exercises meant to train our forces in defending the Arctic and keeping the waterways open.
Canada is also concerned. It is constructing new military bases in its Northern Territories and is training troops. The Canadian military has conducted joint exercises with the American and Danish military. A few years ago, Norway conducted Arctic maneuvers with 12 other nations, as did Sweden on its own a year later. Now Finland, Norway, and Sweden together are developing a “Nordic security partnership.” And Denmark is beefing up its military forces in Greenland (its legal territory). The pacifist nations appear to be uniting over this matter.
Such happy high jinks! Notice that these countries aren’t fighting over solar panels, wind turbines, or switchgrass farms. No, they’re fighting over fossil fuels. But, then, people don’t argue over what has no value.