Battleground Arctic – Climate Change & Threat of Nuclear Winter

Rapid increase in melting of Arctic Ocean is manifesting one of the worst fears of climate change caused by global warming. The scientific evidence suggests that the Arctic Ocean will be ice free in next 20 years. Large areas which were under permanent ice cover earlier, are now open water. During the summer months, these areas are growing rapidly.  Arctic refers to five Arctic coastal states, which includes Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia, and the United States. Arctic Council refers the eight full member states (the five listed, plus Finland, Iceland, and Sweden).

Melting of Ice has intensified competition among global players for tapping vast available natural resources of the Arctic. According to estimates by various International Agencies, undiscovered oil and gas reserves in the Arctic amount to 22% of the world’s total oil. Arctic region has vast deposits of valuable mineral resources. This includes Significant deposits of phosphate, bauxite, diamonds, iron ore, gold and other precious minerals including vast resource of fisheries.

New trade routes in the Arctic, caused by Global warming are strategic in nature, which various nations are contesting for dominance. The Arctic Ocean provides shorter trade routes between most industrialized nations leading to lesser fuel consumption, reduced carbon emissions and faster transportation. Currently, three shipping passage are in operation: the Northeast Passage (NEP), the Northwest Passage (NWP), and the Transpolar Passage (TPP) and other passages that were previously inaccessible are gradually opening up.

These situations are eventually leading to greater presence of Russia and NATO in the region and imposing further pressure on bilateral and multilateral relations dynamics. Situation is expected to be more strenuous in future as both the military superpowers have extensive programmes under way to modernize their nuclear warheads, missile and aircraft delivery systems, including production facilities.

We have to consider that, Russia & US nuclear policies places nuclear deterrence at the centre of security strategies, when dealing with each other. It is obvious to assume that, in future an increasingly ice-free Arctic will make the Arctic more accessible to contesting nations. Russia has displayed military might in the Arctic region by testing its newest nuclear torpedo in the region, which is part of a chain of actions to secure its northern coast. It has been reported by various media agencies that In 2017, Russian military tested the “Skyfall”, which is a nuclear-powered cruise missile, still an experimental and largely speculative weapon.

Militarization of the Arctic may have ramifications beyond the region and may result in new power tussle, spanning across the globe. Both Moscow & Washington have power to threaten distant targets without deploying traditional power projection. The Arctic is becoming one such base from which competing military power can threaten targets of strategic value. 

On the other side, Moscow too has concern on Increasing US military presence in the Euro-Arctic region including NATO in the region, which Moscow believes may be destructive in nature. The updated agreement on military cooperation between the US and Norway, grants Washington the right to utilize the Norwegian military facilities. Norwegian authorities believes that this agreement is an important milestone towards strengthening of ties with key NATO ally.

Further China has also emerged as a competing power in Arctic. China is one of the 13 observer states of the Arctic Council and is contesting for bigger role in Arctic affairs. China is investing in the Arctic as part of its Belt and Road Initiative by setting up various facilities, investing in economic projects, and working with Russia for creating a new sea route through the Arctic Ocean. China announced the Polar Silk Road in 2017, as a part of its Belt and Road Initiative.

Arctic is becoming the battleground for major superpowers. One who exercises greater influence in the Arctic will have a greater geopolitical influence and will command greater say in the mining and distribution of untapped wealth of Arctic resources which runs into trillions of dollars. Rapid militarisation of Arctic is a global cause of concern. It is the battleground where the threat of nuclear winter coincides with the dire consequences of Climate change.

We have to remember that if humanity has to avoid an existential catastrophe, national leaders has to cooperate to diminish risk of existential threats. Citizens around the world should remind and work with their leaders in constructive ways to reduce the risk of nuclear calamities and climate change.

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