Tyler Mongan, a member of our Emerging Fellows program inspects the alternative futures of the Arctic region through the lens of potential stakeholders in his sixth blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
On the surface, Arctic Nations envision an open and cooperative high north. However, some national strategies paint a different picture.
Russia’s arctic strategy is one of “strategic-rule breaking,” envisioning the expansion of their economic activities and military presence in the region, along with increased control over Arctic shipping routes. Continued financial partnerships with China will allow the development of infrastructure for LNG and Oil, and other natural resource extraction projects. Russia will also establish more infrastructure and control over transportation along the NSR to capitalize on the economic gains from transportation fees. Investments in rebuilding Soviet-era military facilities and building new bases along the northern coastal settlements and islands will grow. This will slowly fortify an Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) strategy, which extends around Russia to include the Baltic and Black seas, fulfilling the craving for access to warm water ports since the time of the Czars.
China’s arctic strategy is “opportunistic,” envisioning continued expansion of the Polar Silk Road as part of the BRI within an open and cooperative Arctic. This means the continued development of unilateral partnerships on scientific research with Arctic Nations, sea port infrastructure development with Russia along the NSR, and resource extraction with Russia and Greenland. China will also pursue the development of Arctic worthy vessels, like ice-breakers, and overtime a growing military presence to protect their interests in the region.
The US arctic strategy is “sustain rule-of-law”, envisioning an open and cooperative Arctic, within a growing context of strategic competition. Although there is growing US military concern over Russian and Chinese developments, US investment will continue to lag behind. The US is hoping that rule of law and climate challenges will limit the militarization of the Arctic region. However, as melting ice thins the barriers between US and Russian territories, strategic military operations and cooperation with allies will increase. The US will continue to take a reactive role to Russia and China developments, while slowly increasing investment in military, economic, and transportation infrastructure projects in the region.
Canada’s arctic strategy is “environmental and economic balance,” envisioning an open and cooperative Arctic that is guided by a shared vision. This vision includes, monitoring climate change, safeguarding the environment, sustainable development, open sea routes, and economic cooperation. Canada is shifting away from Arctic oil development and focusing on developing infrastructure and economic opportunities that support their northern indigenous population. Canada will also work to strengthen the mutual-defense initiatives with the US.
The European strategy is “preservation and sustainability,” with a vision that is along the same lines as Canada. European nations will expand their unilateral cooperation with Russia and China, especially in the areas of scientific research, resource extraction, and sea route development. However, some of these unilateral agreements and economic activities will lead to growing tensions. To mitigate conflict, the European nations might envision a stronger Arctic Council or the development of a legal governing body in the Arctic.
As Arctic nations seek to realize their visions and pursue national military, economic, and political interests, the trade-offs they are willing to make will determine if the region remains open and cooperative or transitions into to closed and conflicting.