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What milestones alert us to these futures?

Posted By Tyler Mongan, Monday, August 10, 2020
What milestones alert us to these futures?

Tyler Mongan, a member of our Emerging Fellows program detects the milestones that likely shape the futures of the Arctic region in his eighth blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

There are some key milestones that can serve as guideposts for determining a nations success in the Arctic region as they move from the baseline to the preferred future.


One of the key milestones for Russia would be 5-10% of shipping rerouted through the NSR. This will diversify Russia’s economy and increase their control in the region. A pathway to that metric requires a consistent trend of melting ice in the region, which will support an increase in investor confidence in commercial operations. It is predicted that an ice free Arctic could occur between 2030 and 2040. Ice is melting faster along the Northern Sea Route than other parts of the Arctic. If this trend continues we will see more investor confidence in Russian transportation infrastructure and natural resource extraction. Although unlikely, another key milestone to look for would be a move to approve an extension of Russia’s EEZ all the way to the center of the high north.


One of the key milestones for China’s success in the region is an increase in Chinese yuan flowing into the region. China has already invested billions into the region to support the development of a Polar Silk Road. The flow of yuan into the region will be supported through bilateral partnerships. Some of the biggest financial investments have occurred in Iceland, Greenland, Norway and, to a large extent, Russia. A diversity of long-term bilateral agreements will secure China’s place in the region as a near-arctic state. As Chinese money increases its flow into the Arctic, China will become more deeply embedded in the geopolitics of the region. Another sign that there is a trend towards reaching this milestone is an increase in Chinese shipping and icebreaker activity in the region supported by its satellite technology.


A key milestone to look for that supports US success is a reversal of climate change and a decrease of melting ice in the region. This would hamper Russian and Chinese developments, while also reducing the need for a stronger Arctic Council. This would also maintain the secure ice wall between Russia and the US, blocking a transpolar route.


A key milestone for European Nations would be a strong Arctic Council to increase the capacity and capability to create legally binding agreements in the region. The path to this milestone might require an increase in multilateral cooperation to keep the Arctic open, sustainable and demilitarized. This milestone could also be inspired by increase conflict over EEZ, fisheries, and strategic military developments. To prevent these conflicts from escalating, the European nations might demand stronger governance in the region.

A key milestone for Canadian success would be for the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to confirm recognition of the outer limits of the continental shelf in the Arctic Ocean. While Canada supports an open and cooperative Arctic, it also wants to maintain sovereignty in the region. Canada aligns with the European Nations, supporting sustainable and environmentally friendly economic developments. These aligned goals could increase support for a favorable UNCLOS ruling and if a stronger Arctic Council develops it could also move to recognize Canada’s desired future.


As nations strive for their preferred futures in the Arctic, not all these milestones will be reached. There will be a dynamic balance of powers through trade-offs, negotiations, and strategic conflicts. It will be difficult to define which nations are “winning” and which nations are “losing.” 


© Tyler Mongan 2020

Tags:  Arctic  ice  Russia 

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