Tyler Mongan, a
member of our Emerging
Fellows program inspects the ownership of Arctic natural resources in his
ninth blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily
those of the APF or its other members.
As Arctic nations pursue their interests, stakeholder relevance and
opportunities will depend on which futures emerge. We can image four alternative
futures that will shape the stakeholder landscape in the region: (1) A White
Arctic with no change in ice levels, or a reversal of ice melt, leading to a
decrease in access to the region. (2) A Blue Arctic featuring an increase in
open and navigable waters governed by the rule of law (3) A Red Arctic featuring
open waters within a context of strategic competition and conflict, and (4) A
Green Arctic featuring open waters within a context of sustainable economic
development and cooperation.
If the ice melt stalls, or shows signs of reversal, we will see a White Arctic
future emerge. Current stakeholders will dominate the landscape with little
change in power dynamics. Financial investment and overall risk will be
extremely high for new stakeholders to venture into the region. Further, a trend
of ice melt reversal would make future investments in the region and the
promises of past investments less tenable. Overall, very few stakeholders would
be in a position to make investments in the region. Russia would be an exception
simply because they control the largest portion of the Arctic circle, but even
their efforts would be stalled.
If the ice melt continues on the current trend, it will result in a Blue Arctic
future with longer periods of ice-free waters. In the Blue Arctic rule-of-law is
the norm and the Arctic Council is a relevant power. Russian transportation and
natural resources extraction companies, and their partners become larger
stakeholders in the region. In general, the shipping industry takes a larger and
long-term stake in the region. Chinese research and investment partners expand
their access in the region. US stakeholders continue to lag behind in their
efforts to access the region. Canada solidifies control over their portion of
the Arctic and increases indigenous people’s relevance to their region. Military
stakeholder access will be limited by agreed upon rules and cooperation efforts.
The Blue Arctic could easily slip into a Red Arctic future if the rule-of-law is
compromised by strategic competition and conflict. If this future emerges, the
military could become the dominate stakeholder in the region. Russia will extend
its control over the shipping routes and form new partnerships with China to
invest in closing off a portion of the Arctic. The US will be forced to increase
its military presence in the region, and Russia and China will respond with
similar build ups. Shifts in fisheries could lead to naval conflict. In this Red
Arctic future economic development stakeholders are overshadowed by military
stakeholders in the region.
The Blue Arctic could also transform into a Green Arctic with a stronger Arctic
Council to ensure the rule-of-law and support sustainable development and
continued cooperation in the region. In this alternative future the environment
and indigenous people become more important stakeholders in the decision making
process. Stakeholders that bolster cooperation, follow sustainable development
guidelines, and increase safety, while decreasing risk, will thrive in the
region. This could include resources extraction businesses, transportation
operations and research partnerships. Tourism could also open up the region to a
more global stakeholder perspective as more people are able to experience the
As milestones alert us to which alternative future is most likely to arise,
stakeholders will begin to position themselves to take advantage of emerging
long-term possibilities. The stakeholders who are willing to take a risk and
invest in their desired future will also shape the future of the region. This
cycle will have local, national and global implications and will determine if
Arctic geopolitics trend towards strategic conflict or economic and
Tyler Mongan, a member of our Emerging Fellows program reviews the preferable futures of the Arctic region through the eyes of potential stakeholders in his seventh blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
Russia will utilize “strategic rule breaking” to realize a vision of arctic dominance by expanding their EEZ and increasingly enclose the Arctic region. Not only does Russia claim the largest area of Arctic coastline, but ice in their region is melting faster than in other areas. Russia will exploit this early access to natural resources, while also taking the opportunity to control trade sea routes for economic gain. Russia will attempt to build a strong military presence in the region to fortify their resources and sea routes, while also controlling the airspace. Economy and security take precedence over sustainability and cooperation. Overall the Arctic Council remains a weak force of governance and Russia is free to do as it pleases with its portion of the arctic.
China will utilize the “opportunistic” strategy to slowly claim more rights to the Arctic region as it expands the BRI and builds the Polar Silk Road. This will include access to oil, gas, mineral resources,research, fishing and tourism in the region through unilateral partnerships. Further, China sees the Arctic as its ‘golden route’ in shipping and will develop the military, technology, and agreements required to secure its ability to ship goods through the region. China will develop a growing co-dependance with Russia, while also advocating for an open and cooperative arctic.
The US vision of the arctic relies on the hope that “rule-of-law” and climate challenges will disrupt Russia and China ambitions. The US vision is that the Arctic Nations continue to have a strong agreement that the region remain open and cooperative, while the Arctic Council remains weak. This allows the US to retain the right to unilateral actions in response to strategic competition with Russia and China. However, the US wants to keep proactive investment in the Arctic low. The hope is that the climate will continue to challenge the militarization and development of the region, slowing Russia and China access to strategic global positions.
Canada’s vision will be realized through a strategy of “environmental and economic balance” and further alignment with European nations. Canada will continue to seek an open and cooperative Arctic that is stabilized by a more proactive Arctic Council. Canada will pursue resource extracting within the context of building more economically sustainable indigenous communities, protecting the natural environment, and collaborating on climate change mitigation. Multilateral military agreements and alliances, especially with the US, will support a Canada First defense strategy and Canadian Arctic Sovereignty.
A general European vision is realized through a strategy of “preservation and sustainability.” European nations support the development of a more proactive Arctic Council that can develop into a legal governing body. A more powerful third-party actor in the region would allow the rule-of-law to be enforced. This will ensure that cooperation on climate change mitigation, sustainable resource extraction, safe and open transportation, and arctic peace, can be preserved.
Although the visions of the Arctic Nations have some overlap and consensus, there is also the potential for future divergence that leads to conflict. Russia and China are the key actors in the region because they have strong visions along with access and resources to explore and exploit. Without proactive collaboration and a stronger governing body in the region, the US, Canada, and European nations will be forced to take reactive measures. In general, as nations reach their milestones, the other nations will be forced to adapt or push back.
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.