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US Army Arctic Strategy: The Arctic as a Region of Strategic Competition

This section of the US Army's recently published Arctic strategy does a good job of succinctly summarizing the new stakes in the Arctic and how it sets up an arena for power competition between the Arctic states (and China). Read the section from pages 15 - 20 on the pdf here:

The Arctic as a Contested Space -

Great Power Competition

The Arctic has the potential to become a contested space where United States’ great power rivals, Russia and China, seek to use military and economic power to gain and maintain access to the region at the expense of US interests. U.S. National Security Strategy highlights the Arctic as a corridor for expanded strategic great power competition

between two regions – the Indo-Pacific and Europe. The NDS identifies the erosion of the Joint Force’s competitive edge against China and Russia as a central problem the Department must prioritize while maintaining a favorable balance of power between the two theaters. The Army needs to generate forces able to compete effectively by, with, and

through allies and partners, to pose dilemmas to adversaries as they seek to gain access to and compete in the region.

The eight nations of the Arctic Council (Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and the U.S.) have sovereign territorial claims in the region. While China does not possess land above the Arctic Circle, it considers itself a “Near-Arctic Nation” and, since 2014, holds observer status at the Arctic Council. While most Arctic nations are U.S. allies, America’s great power competitors – Russia and China – have developed Arctic

strategies with geopolitical goals contrary to U.S. interests. Russia seeks to consolidate sovereign claims and control access to the region. China aims to gain access to Arctic resources and sea routes to secure and bolster

its military, economic, and scientific rise. There are four drivers of great power competition

in the Arctic: (1) military developments, (2) energy resources and minerals, (3) transportation, and (4) food security.

• Military. The Arctic is essential to Russia’s military power. Russian military developments in the region are by far

the most advanced driver of great power competition. China has described the Arctic as a new strategic frontier (alongside space and the seabed) where there is “undetermined sovereignty,” suggesting a justification for access and presence in the High North. Sovereign ambiguity allows China to justify access to the region and potentially

utilize military means to do so.

• Energy and Minerals. According to most estimates, the Arctic is home to 13% of the world’s oil, or 90 billion barrels, as well as 30% of the world’s natural gas, an estimated 47 trillion cubic meters. Additionally, the Arctic has vast deposits of base metals (aluminum, copper, iron, nickel and tin), precious metals (gold, platinum, and silver), precious stones

(diamonds), other minerals (apatite, graphite, and gypsum) as well as uranium. Perhaps most importantly to digital societies around the world, the Arctic is also a source of rare earth metals (dysprosium, neodymium, and praseodymium). These metals allow the miniaturization of components for aircraft engines and advanced weapons as well as

televisions, smart phones, laptops, cars, and cancer treatment drugs.

• Transportation. As noted, there has been a ~40% reduction in Arctic sea ice index over the last four decades during the warmer months (June-July) and ~10% in the colder months. As sea ice extent recedes to record levels, there is interest in exploring the potential for new trans-Arctic shipping. The NSR, NWP, and the potentially new Transpolar Sea Route (TSR) across the North Pole are possible future highways of maritime commerce. All routes cut the travel time between Europe and Asia while avoiding maritime chokepoints including the Strait of Malacca, the Bab al Mandeb, and the Suez Canal.

• Food Security. New fishing opportunities are an economic resource to both Arctic and non-Arctic states. Thick, multi-year ice, fishing moratoriums, and regional fisheries organizations have kept commercial fishing in sub-Arctic and Arctic waters to a minimum.

Over the next 30 years, the Arctic will be critical for Russian economic survival, while for China the Arctic will be a necessary source for energy and manufacturing, transportation, and food security diversification.

Russia – Taking Actions to Assert Dominance

As the country with the largest amount of land above the Arctic Circle, Russia’s first priority is defending its historic right to rule over the Far North, securing its territorial interests against those of NATO-aligned states.

China – Attempting to Normalize Presence

Beijing’s interest in the Far North, accelerated over the last decade, is widely viewed as a preemptive bid for control of economic resources in the region. China began to normalize its presence in the Arctic almost two decades ago under the auspices of scientific exploration.

Russian and Chinese Confluence

U.S. and European sanctions on Russia for the 2014 annexation of Crimea caused a reorientation of Russia’s energy markets toward Asia; Moscow has turned to Beijing as a source of long-term financing and technology

to aid the energy and infrastructure development in the High North. This has emboldened China’s pursuit of its Arctic

economic ambitions under the auspices of its Polar Silk Road Fund at the exact moment when Beijing’s global economic ambitions under the banner of its Belt Road Initiative are gaining momentum. A confluence of economic and political interests led to accelerated Russian and Chinese cooperation in the Arctic, as highlighted by the Yamal Liquid Natural Gas Project, a $27 billion joint venture between the Chinese National Petroleum Corporation and the Russian energy firm Novatek.

Russian Arctic energy is also only one of many energy sources necessary to satiate China’s long-term energy needs and desire for supply side diversification. Increased production by Russia, increased requirements from China,

and a dearth of other suppliers could position Moscow to provide for ~20% of China’s total energy consumption by 2050, emanating from both Arctic liquid natural gas (LNG) and energy piped across Russia.

China’s increased physical presence in the Arctic, combined with Russia’s growing economic and military ambitions in the region, highlight how both nations have long-term strategic designs for the Arctic. It is unclear, however, whether they can reconcile their Arctic ambitions to reshape the region to suit their individual strategic interests"

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