What milestones alert us to these futures?
a member of our
program detects the milestones that likely shape the futures of the
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
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.
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.
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