The Arctic Challenge

As I noted in this review of Cleo Paskal’s new book, “the northwest passage looms large in geopolitics.”

Paskal argues that the the U.S. and European Union are allowing short term economic interests in the Arctic to threaten their long-term security interests. It’s one of the more provocative assertions she makes in Global Warring: How Environmental, Economic, and Political Crises Will Redraw the World Map.

 On that note,  an article in Foreign Affairs last March was titled:  

The Great Game Moves North:  As the Arctic Melts, countries vie for control

The author, Scott Borgerson, wrote:

The next few years will be critical in determining whether the region’s long-term future will be one of international harmony and the rule of law, or a Hobbesian free-for-all.

So I found it curious when, in a recent post at The New Security Beat, Geoff Dabelko wrote:

Remarks at a recent spate of Arctic climate and security discussions suggest officials in Washington view the geopolitical and trade issues more as “challenges” than “crises.”

That seems fair enough. But depending on how those issues are handled, might the challenges soon become  crises?

2 Responses to “The Arctic Challenge”

  1. Sure, they could become crises, but part of making them challenges is toning down the rhetoric and posturing and taking more detailed looks and working through institutions that are there and can be used.  In this way you hear some in the US Navy say the Russian flag planting episode was actually helpful becomes it got attention that more reasoned arguments had not.  At the same time it is dismissed as a tourist adventure and publicity stunt and not anything that poses a real threat.  But with the attention, one can try to channel systematic looks at the problems.  Those who see it as a challenge emphasize the territorial disputes are marine as opposed to terrestrial, suggesting those may be easier to resolve or at least there are institutional forums for it. The big changes that could come with commercial shipping are, according to Admiral Titley and Rich Engel from the NIC, are still in a 2040 or 2045 frame because of the level of certainty of service required before the ice free passages will be reliable.  So it may also be a distinction between where we are today (challenges) and where we some decades hence (crisis if not dealt with well but there is some time to deal with it).   I would also hasten to add that challenge vs. crisis is not a comment on the rate of physical change or what that means for the larger system vis a vis climate change, sea level rise etc.  These are terms describing the security and diplomatic processes, not the biophysical.

  2. Keith Kloor says:

    The distinction you make at the end of your comment–between the biophysical and security–is an important one.  I was definitely referring to the security challenge.

    Your other point about the time scale is equally important. However, as Cleo mentions in her book, wer’re not just talking about shipping lanes here. There’s also the issue of access to some potentially huge  oil & gas reserves.  If I’m also reading the Russian speech (that you reference in your post) correctly, this is the big issue for them. And I see that access to that booty opening up well before 2040. 

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