The timer is nearing its alarm call and global powers are in a tie as to what the best focus should be. Are we now racing toward a finish line that no longer exists?

By Matthew PArkes: Political Columnist

By the year 2040, scientists believe that the Arctic will be completely free of ice in summer months.

For environmentalists this is an alarming prediction, but for northern and global powers it is the firing of a starting pistol. The race is on. 

The Arctic is an incredible source of resources, it is estimated to contain 22% of the world’s untapped oil and natural gas reserves and other high-value goods such as Uranium. This has made the sovereignty of the North Pole highly contentious. Russia, Denmark, and Canada have all made separate claims for the location, largely based off of complex underwater ridges that extend from the respective country’s land. (Russia even placed a flag on the seabed of the North Pole in 2007). 

The United States has not recognised any of these claims and has previously sent nuclear submarines to the disputed waters near Canada

In recent years, global powers have begun to remilitarise the Arctic region. Russia has built 475 new military sites on its northern border and above the arctic circle. Both NATO and Russia regularly perform military exercises in the region. 

The Kingdom of Denmark, which encompases Greenland, announced in February 2021 that it has allocated 1.5 billion Danish crowns ($245 million) for defence spending in the Arctic. The Norwegians have acted similarly, promising to increase their military spending by 3 Billion Norwegian Kroner this year. 

However, it is not just a scramble for natural resources, melting ice provides opportunity for new, faster trade routes. The Northern Sea Route, which runs along the entirety of Russia’s coastline, was previously only accessible twice a year, but when the ice disappears in the coming decades it could be a viable shipping lane. 

Continue the Conversation…

Share this article or leave us a review on the Google Front Page.

Earlier this year, a Russian Freighter navigated the Northern Sea Route in February for the first time, demonstrating that warming sea temperatures have made the route easier to travel through during the winter. 

It is estimated that the route could save valuable time when transporting goods from Europe to Asia. From Rotterdam to Yokohama, this new Arctic route could knock off 9 days from the total travel duration. It also provides China with a precious alternative to the South China Sea which could become compromised in times of conflict. 

China has also displayed significant interest in the Arctic region. On Friday, it announced its plans to construct a ‘Polar Silk Road’ as part of its ‘Belt and Road Initiative’. The country has already made investments in many Northern countries such as Greenland, where a Chinese company is a partner in a proposed rare earth mining project

Last year, China also sent its first domestically built and designed icebreaker to the Arctic for research purposes, an attempt to justify its claims as a ‘near-arctic’ power. 

Last year, China also sent its first domestically built and designed icebreaker to the Arctic for research purposes, an attempt to justify its claims as a ‘near-arctic’ power.

These recent developments set the stage for geopolitical games which will heavily influence the rest of the century and beyond. It is reminiscent of historical episodes such as ‘The Scramble for Africa’, where European powers competed for control of the continent, or the ‘Great Game’ when the Russian and British Empires fought for control of Afghanistan.

Meet Matthew on the Team Page & Visit the Politics Department.