Militarization of the Arctic to counter Russian claims

05.07.2016

According to the recently finished Arctic Analysis - a report ordered by the Danish government - it has been deemed necessary to "enforce sovereignty over the Arctic and secure surveillance and preparedness as the sea traffic is increasing" (Kongstad: 21st June, 2016). In order to realize this, Denmark is seeking to militarize the Arctic by establishing a Home Guard in Greenland, invest in satellites for surveillance, and improve the strength of the Danish Navy in the area.

It is estimated that the cost for initiating this militarization will amount to $54 billion, followed by an annual spending of $18 billion for the perpetuation of this mission (ibid.).

The geo-economic importance of the Arctic region is that it is estimated that 25% of the world's unexplored natural resources, such as oil and gas, are located there. Global warming is making previously ice-covered areas accessible for resource extraction, and for this reason several states have started claiming control over Arctic territory. Also, new sea routes will be made available as the ice retracts, meaning that this territory has the potential to provide further economic and military strategic possibilities for the countries seeking rights there.   

In December 2014, Denmark sought to claim 895,000 square kilometers of the Arctic sea floor, constituting an area more than 20 times the actual size of Denmark (Børsen: 4th August, 2015). 

Parts of this same area have also been sought by the USA, Russia, Canada, and Norway. Therefore, the Arctic region could likely turn into a new geopolitical battleground between the states competing for the right to control the areas encompassing the Mendeleev Ridge and Lomonorov Ridge respectively - in other words, it is an increasingly important area of the Rimland. 

Last year, Russia handed a document to the UN stating their claims to the Arctic, claims that Russia has been interested in having recognized since 2001. But despite Russia having approached the matter from a peaceful and diplomatic angle, the Danish government has chosen to respond aggressively by initiating a military buildup instead of waiting for the UN's decision. 

Johannes Riber Nordby, Commander at the Danish Defense Academy, has defended the Danish militarization, stating that: "Denmark must be prepared for further Russian military activity if they receive an answer from the UN before we do. We must be prepared for Russian overflights over Greenland and the Arctic areas that Denmark is also laying claim to. This cannot be ignored if Denmark wants any hope of gaining the rights to these disputed areas. This will be a task for the Danish Defence, which must adjust to this, and it will take time." (Damkjær: 5th August, 2015)     

Thus, the specter of "aggressive Russia" is once again used to justify an expensive military buildup that, in light of Russia's diplomatic approach to the UN, can only be viewed as a provocation, and this at a time when tensions are already running high with NATO's enhanced presence in Northeastern Europe. 

Russia is set to receive an answer from the UN to their Arctic claims in four or five years, while Denmark will have to wait until the year 2027. In the meantime, we can only hope for better relations and communication between Denmark, as well as the other Western countries, and Russia on solving their issues in a non-confrontational manner. Furthermore, they must accept the reality that "the race to the Arctic" does not have to be a zero-sum game between states, or blocs, but instead they should seek to negotiate a mutually beneficial solution between all the actors with interests in the Arctic region.       

Sources:

Damkjær, Ole. "Ruslands krav i Arktis er et opråb til Danmark" Berlingske. Berlingske, 5 August 2015. Web. 4 July 2016. http://www.b.dk/globalt/ruslands-krav-i-arktis-er-et-opraab-til-danmark

Kongstad, Jesper & Maressa, Jette Elbæk. "Danmark klar til omfattende militær oprustning i Arktis" Jyllands-Posten. Jyllands-Posten, 21 June 2016. Web. 4 July 2016. http://jyllands-posten.dk/indland/ECE8786676/danmark-klar-til-omfattende-militaer-oprustning-i-arktis/

 

"Rusland gør krav på samme del af Arktis som Danmark" Ritzau. Børsen, 4 August 2015. Web. 4 July 2016. http://borsen.dk/nyheder/generelt/artikel/1/308433/rusland_goer_krav_paa_samme_del_af_arktis_som_danmark.html