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Military Leaders Meet, Stage Exercises as Arctic Warming May Portend New “Cold War”

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Climate change and global warming deniers deny, but there’s one important group of decision makers that are definitely taking the reality of climate change and global warming seriously: Arctic region military leaders.

A “new kind of Cold War” is emerging in the Arctic, an AP news article run in the Wall St. Journal reported April 16, as global military leaders “anticipate that rising temperatures there well open up a treasure trove of resources, long-dreamed-of sea lanes and potential conflicts.”

Norway was the staging ground for one of the largest Arctic military exercises ever last month, an all-around training event dubbed “Exercise Cold Response” that involved some 16,300 troops from 14 countries, according to a Greenwire report. Testament to the harsh conditions, five Norwegian troops were killed when their Hercules C-130 crashed near Sweden’s highest mountain, according to the AP-WSJ’s report.

A couple of months ago, leaders from the eight major Arctic military powers– the US, Russia, Canada, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland– met to discuss Arctic region security issues at a first-of-its-kind meeting at a Canadian military base.

“The Arctic region “is already buzzing with military activity, and experts believe that will increase significantly in the years ahead,” according to the AP report, “though none of this means a shooting war is likely at the North Pole anytime soon.”

Arctic warming has the world’s major oil, gas and mineral exploration companies chomping at the bit, however, while the opening up of Arctic sea lanes means a lot more marine traffic will be traversing the region.

Global warming and a new cold war in the Arctic

Both portend a significantly increased risk of accidents, as well as military actions in a remote, harsh and unforgiving marine environment that remains one of the earth’s few, though shrinking, nearly pristine natural environments, and one of the planet’s greatest regions in terms of biological productivity and biodiversity. The environmental threat to the region is real, growing and very substantial.

That’s mainly due to humanity’s demand for energy and mineral resources, which oil, gas and mineral exploration companies, in their own chosen ways, are devoted to meeting. The USGS estimates that 13% of the world’s undiscovered oil and 30% of its untapped natural gas is in the Arctic. Scientists at the National Research Council concluded that Arctic shipping lanes could be regularly open by 2030 as Arctic sea ice continues to melt.

Having largely regained control of its oil and gas resources, which has shored up its financial resources and enabled it to revitalize its Arctic military capabilities, the Russian government has been the most aggressive in terms of asserting its sovereign rights in the Arctic region.

Actively engaged in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere and constrained by huge government debt and deficits, the US “has been something of a reluctant northern power, though its nuclear-powered submarine fleet, which can navigate for months underwater and below the ice cap, remains second to none,” the AP writes.

Russia asserting itself in the Arctic has led other Arctic countries– Canada, Denmark and Norway–to resume military exercises they had abandoned or reduced after the collapse of the USSR.

The Arctic’s warming twice as fast as the rest of the earth’s regions, prompting the US Navy’s climate change task force to announce a stronger Arctic Roadmap in 2009. It’s a “three-stage strategy to increase readiness, build cooperative relations with Arctic nations and identify areas of potential conflict,” according to the AP.

“We have an entire ocean region that had previously been closed to the world now opening up,” Rob Huebert, associate political science professor at the University of Calgary was quoted as saying. “There are numerous factors now coming together that are mutually reinforcing themselves, causing a buildup of military capabilities in the region. This is only going to increase as time goes on.”

* Image credit: Field Notes

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