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The Arctic Spotlight

Web Exclusive | AY 2015 - 2016
 

Editor's Note

Brianne Smith

This Fletcher Security Review online edition features a spotlight on the Arctic, including articles related to the Arctic’s military build-up and the possibility for cooperation, potential economic advances within the region, and a way to monitor and manage the threat of conflict.

 

The Arctic is a region that has not received sufficient international attention previously, primarily due to its harsh environmental conditions and the largely peaceful cooperation amongst the region’s nations. Additionally, the Arctic is far-removed from other conflict-ridden regions. While conflicts continue to expand in various areas throughout the world with world powers increasingly intervening, the Arctic has remained relatively neutral as states manage to have an attitude of cooperation that is unique to the region. However, as the ice melts and military and trade routes become more accessible, the possibility of more international competition in the region increases.

 

The authors in this edition highlight these points. They dive into issues pertaining to the Northern Sea Route and how Russia is strategically dominating this trek, not only in advanced military terms vis-à-vis other nations, as they possess Arctic military bases, more icebreakers, and more capable military machinery to battle the trying conditions but also in economic terms with Russia extracting natural resources with minimal international competition. In addition, Russia’s military dominance in the region leaves one to question if conflict will stem from the Arctic. Yet, Russia’s willingness for cooperation within the region suggests otherwise, and the United States is encouraged to build upon this collaboration. Finally, the idea of creating an entity tasked specifically with monitoring and managing conflicts related to the economic, military, environmental, and political issues in the Arctic is raised by one of our authors.

 

The goal of the Fletcher Security Review is to build on The Fletcher School’s strong tradition of marrying theory with practice and fostering close interdisciplinary collaboration in order to act as an incubator for unique ideas in international security. We believe that this semester’s publication accomplishes this goal. This spotlight feature seeks to capitalize on the strength of various scholars, while also ensuring a unique lens through which to view the issues currently being faced in the Arctic.

 

This feature is a testament to the hard work, dedication to scholarly achievement, and security-related research of our FSR contributing authors and staff. This was a collective, concerted effort at all levels, as the writers and editors were faithful and zealous in their commitment to the content that was produced. It is my most sincere hope that the readers of this spotlight find these articles to be enlightening and relevant as the eyes of the world turn north with renewed interest in the Arctic.

Brianne Smith

Staff Editor, Web Team

 

Fletcher Opening Arctic Conference

Rabia Altaf, Molly Douglas, & Drew Yerkes
(Patrick Kelley, U.S. Coast Guard)

What exactly is it about the Arctic today that is of such strong interest to policymakers and the greater global community? Why are we so engrossed with a part of the world that is often considered barren and remote?

 

The Arctic is home to eight million people and a wealth of plant and animal life, and it is also an emerging economic and geopolitical frontier. As the ice continues to recede and resources are exposed, the region presents a myriad of opportunities and challenges to both Arctic and non-Arctic nations. Opportunities are emerging in the form of new shipping routes, changing fisheries, increased access to mineral and hydrocarbon wealth, and the pressing need for supporting infrastructure. But we must ask: How can Arctic nations best regulate economic opportunity and reconcile Arctic territorial rights with competing national interests and external political tensions? How can these nations ensure that Arctic development is conducted sustainably? Why is Arctic development important to non-Arctic nations? What are the economic and political implications for the greater global community? These are all challenges confronting policymakers, business people, and security officials as they negotiate an increasingly accessible part of the world.

 

Many Western leaders point to the Arctic as a zone of cooperation—and we have observed such cooperation with the formulation of the Arctic Council, joint scientific endeavors, Search and Rescue agreements, and the very recent Arctic Coast Guard Forum—but disputes between Russia and other Arctic nations in regions to the south have raised concerns in certain quarters. While an ongoing struggle for dominance over the Northern Sea Route and Northwest Passage and competing continental shelf claims may reflect these tensions, tit-for-tat military exercises and plans for expanded military infrastructure in the Arctic certainly do. The Russian government recently announced completion of a new military base in Franz Josef Land capable of supporting 150 soldiers, as well as its intention to rebuild six existing airfields. While such a nominal increase in military personnel posted to the Arctic may merely be seen as a posturing act, taken in context with Russia’s recent actions in Europe and the Middle East, it might also be seen as a bold move to project power from a previously overlooked region.

 

Asian nations are also proactively contributing to Arctic scientific research, brokering partnerships with Arctic nations, and shrewdly investing in Arctic mineral and shipping opportunities. The scope and pace of China’s Arctic strategy alone is formidable. The number of non-Arctic players in the field is steadily growing and shifting the political dynamics of the region, and no Arctic nation can afford to simply sit back and watch.    

 

Careful monitoring, open communication, and active policymaking can ensure that the Arctic does not become an area of proxy conflict. As the current Chair of the Arctic Council, the United States must exert strong leadership in the region to safeguard against this possibility and ensure that the Arctic continues to represent a zone of cooperation. The United States must also work with its fellow Arctic nations and interested non-Arctic nations asserting themselves in the region to facilitate a conversation on security that encompasses more than just immediate geopolitical tensions.

 

“Security” takes on many meanings. As it seems that the pace of Arctic economic development will only continue to accelerate, we must pursue a sustainable approach to security that prioritizes the Arctic’s people and its environment. The needs and desires of those who inhabit the Arctic must be understood—not as a recommendation, but rather as a necessity for success. Interested parties must support local knowledge and listen to those who understand the Arctic best before making decisions that could change the region forever.

 

The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy is joining in the movement to raise domestic awareness of Arctic challenges and opportunities and the United States’ identity as an Arctic nation. We recently launched an Arctic Lecture Series showcasing the reflections of a diverse array of experts on an interdisciplinary sampling of issues. We also convene an annual Arctic conference. In this, our fifth year, we are focusing on sustainable infrastructure development, entrepreneurship and innovation, and geopolitics and security. As we assemble representatives from around the world to engage in inclusive ideas and information sharing, we sincerely hope you will join us to share and learn, too.  The Opening Arctic Conference will be held on March 12th at our Medford, Massachusetts campus.

 

A Useful Pause in Arctic Drilling

Bruce M. Everett
(Prirazlomnoye Field/Wikipedia)

Until last year, drilling for oil in the Arctic was the subject of considerable discussion focused not only on the potential impacts of Arctic resources on the oil market, but also on the environmental and geopolitical implications of opening this area to development. Prospects for Arctic drilling dimmed considerably in 2015 when Shell decided to abandon its ambitious drilling efforts in the Burger Field in the Chukchi Sea, writing off several billion dollars in the process. The recent collapse in oil prices has probably put a stop to Arctic drilling for the time being, and this pause may prove useful in resolving some of the outstanding issues.

 

The following four major factors, in reverse order, are likely to determine the future of oil development in the Arctic:

 

Fourth: Technology and Operational Capabilities The Arctic presents daunting challenges for oil drillers, including ice, intense cold, severe ocean conditions, a sensitive environment, and isolation from major industrial centers and sources of help and rescue. Shell’s experience drilling in the Chukchi Sea was fraught with problems, including the loss of a drill ship when its towrope broke. Over time, the industry will find creative and effective ways of dealing with these problems through a combination of new technology and new procedures.

 

Third: Property Rights. Potential Arctic oil and gas resources are located either within the 200-mile economic zones of sovereign states (including the US, Canada, Russia, Norway and Greenland/Denmark) or in international waters. Private oil companies cannot and will not invest the billions of dollars necessary for exploration and development unless they can obtain a clear contractual commitment that will protect their property rights. In most of the countries on the Arctic periphery, environmental concerns make granting these rights politically controversial. In Russia, the participation of western companies is limited by the current sanctions regime imposed in response to Ukraine.

 

Second: Oil Prices. Shell acquired its $2.1 billion Chukchi Sea leases in 2008 at a time when oil prices first hit $100 per barrel. Even if Arctic leases were being offered and could be acquired at a much lower price, the capital and operating costs of Arctic drilling will likely be prohibitive until oil prices recover to levels at least somewhat higher than today’s $30-35 per barrel. In this regard, it’s worth noting that the recent massive decline in oil prices has resulted from oversupply and diminished expectations for global economic growth, but not from an absolute reduction in oil demand. The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that global oil demand increased by 1.4% in 2015 and projects a further increase of 3% by the end of 2017. The world will continue to need additional oil supplies in the future, and Arctic supplies are likely to come back into the equation at some point.

 

First and foremost: The Size of the Resources.  Of all the problems that led to Shell abandoning its Burger Field program, the disappointing exploration results were the most serious. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) estimates that the Chukchi Shelf geological province contains 15.4 billion barrels of oil, but the range is between 2.3 and 40.1 billion barrels. This substantial uncertainty arises because the USGS bases its estimates on analogies with similar geological provinces elsewhere in the world. It is possible to narrow these estimates with the use of modern seismic (sonar) imaging, but only actual drilling can prove the presence of commercial quantities of oil.  At $100 million or more per well under Arctic conditions, the cost of obtaining this information is very high, hence, the high risks and consequent high return ambitions in the oil industry. As a further point, some unknown part of the Arctic hydrocarbon resource base is natural gas, which would require massive and expensive infrastructure to move to market even if large reserves were discovered.

 

The pause in Arctic activity, however long it may endure, may bring a number of benefits.  Low oil prices encourage oil companies to research cheaper and more effective exploration techniques, better drilling technology, and improved project management. A few years from now, the industry may be better equipped both to find oil and to handle the operational and environmental challenges of the Arctic. Furthermore, the pause will provide an opportunity to sort out some of the political issues regarding access to Arctic resources, particularly those in international waters.  As a result, after the pause, the development of Arctic oil resources may be more efficient and more broadly acceptable to both the industry and the public.

 

Bruce McKenzie Everett  

 

Bruce McKenzie Everett has over 40 years of experience in the international energy industry.  He received a BA from Princeton University in 1969 and a Ph.D. from The Fletcher School in 1980.  Between 1974 and 1980, he served in the Federal Energy Administration and the US Department of Energy in the Office of International Affairs.  He joined ExxonMobil Corporation in 1980 and held a variety of executive positions all over the world in corporate planning, oil, natural gas, coal, business development and government relations.  Since retiring from ExxonMobil in 2002, he has taught oil market economics as Adjunct Associate Professor of International Business at the Fletcher School.

 
(Patrick Kelley, U.S. Coast Guard)

Russia's Arctic:

A Necessary Space for Dialogue

Andrew Yerkes
(Alan Wilson/Flickr)

Over the weekend of November 21st, 2015, Russia flew 141 sorties over Syria, hitting 472 targets in eight different provinces throughout the country.[1] While the deployment of the Russian Air Force over Syria has been in full affect since last September, the events of November 20th proved to be unique. Two of the TU-160 blackjack bombers that participated in the weekend’s campaign took flight not from a base in southern Russia, but rather from Olenegorsk Airbase on the Kola Peninsula of the Russian Arctic.[2] The two bombers traveled southwest along the coast of Norway, skirting United Kingdom airspace, turning east through the straits of Gibraltar, and achieved their goal of firing cruise missiles on Syria from the eastern Mediterranean. After their mission was complete, they flew northeast over Iran and the Caspian Sea to their home base in Engles, Saratov Oblast, in Southern Russia.[3] In total, the flight lasted 16 hours, with the aircraft traveling 8,000 miles, while motivating Norway[4] and Britain,[5] among other nations, to scramble fighter jets in the process.

 

 Presumably, the Russians chose such a circuitous route along the edges of Europe to demonstrate its long range bombing capabilities. In doing so, the Russian Federation also showed the rest of the world that its capabilities might rival those of the United States, proving that Russia too could attack targets all throughout the world. This use of an Arctic airbase for active bombing missions also marks a turning point in history; not even during the Cold War did the Russians demonstrate Arctic-based military capabilities with such expansive reach.[6] While this mission did not focus on targets within the Arctic, the use of an Arctic base for active bombing missions draws attention to Russia’s military buildup in the region...

As a longer article, this piece will only be offered in PDF format for easier reading. Download the PDF to read more.

[1] “Russian air strikes ‘killed over 400 Syrian civilians.’” Al Jazeera. November 23, 2015,  http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/11/syria-monitoring-groups-russian-air-strikes-kill-400-civilians-151122063024984.html

[2] Farmer, Ben. “Russian bombers fly around Europe to strike Syria in 8,000 mile show of strength.” The Telegraph. November 20, 2015, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/russia/12009123/Russian-bombers-fly-around-Europe-to-strike-Syria-in-8000-mile-show-of-strength.html

[3] Nilsen, Thomas. “Strategic bombers striking targets in Syria departed from Kola.” The Barents Observer. January 30, 2016, http://www.thebarentsobserver.com/security/2016/01/strategic-bombers-striking-targets-syria-departed-kola

[4] Nilsen, Thomas. “Strategic bombers striking targets in Syria departed from Kola.” The Barents Observer. January 30, 2016, http://www.thebarentsobserver.com/security/2016/01/strategic-bombers-striking-targets-syria-departed-kola

[5] Farmer, Ben. “Russian bombers fly around Europe to strike Syria in 8,000 mile show of strength.” The Telegraph. November 20, 2015, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/russia/12009123/Russian-bombers-fly-around-Europe-to-strike-Syria-in-8000-mile-show-of-strength.html

[6] Nilsen, Thomas. “Strategic bombers striking targets in Syria departed from Kola.” The Barents Observer. January 30, 2016, http://www.thebarentsobserver.com/security/2016/01/strategic-bombers-striking-targets-syria-departed-kola

Andrew Yerkes  

 

Andrew Yerkes is a second year Masters in Arts of Law and Diplomacy student at the Fletcher School, focusing on development economics and international negotiation and conflict resolution. He attended the University of Minnesota Twin-Cities (2009) with a double degree in both the Spanish language and anthropology. In 2012, Andrew joined Peace Corps Indonesia as a TEFL volunteer, teaching English at a remote public high school in East Java for more than two years. While living in Indonesia, Andrew lead a variety of secondary projects, including an intercultural radio program and extracurricular English learning groups.

 

Arctic Strategy:

Trust the Invisible Hand

Victor Marsh
(Arctic Wolves/Flickr)

On April 18, 1775, Massachusetts businessman and U.S. revolutionary Paul Revere alerted fellow patriots that British military action against the rebellion in Boston would come by sea rather than by land. The warning that “the [British] regulars are coming” was a verbal intelligence report. It was based on what Revere and his associates had seen with their own eyes. They interpreted the visual data correctly; British military action came the very next day via an initial naval landing of troops that engaged in the first battles of the United States’ Revolutionary War.   

 

Intoning the urgency of Mr. Revere, these U.S. analysts and Alaskan politicians seek to inspire a sense of urgency within United States decision-making, warning that the Russians are coming to dominate the north. While taking exhaustive notes on the ambiguous “duality” in Russia’s Arctic policies, the pessimists have nonetheless quickly resolved this open question and pronounced with alarm the fear that Russia is secretly deploying a “new ice curtain,” meaning actions to deny the United States access to the allegedly vital Arctic region. 

 

The pessimists have paid most attention to the visible field of strategy, likely misinterpreting information about Russia’s physical movements of military personnel and bases to the north and overstating the importance of even the worst-case scenario of denial of access to the Arctic. While they understand that additional, inconspicuous fields of strategy exist, these analysts discount America’s long-term advantages in invisible battlefields. However, there are three long-term trends (political, technological, and economic) that, although intangible, are no less powerful than the physical presence of Russia’s naval fleet.

 

First, the balance of concern favors, and will continue to favor, the United States. For Russia, the political stakes of national concern are much higher than in the United States. The Russian sentiments about the need for strategic predominance in the high north are broadcast loudly and clearly in the public statements of Russia’s Arctic point man, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin. He claims that the frigid north is “Russia’s Mecca.” He even spent time in 2015 denouncing Czar Alexander II’s 1867 sale of Alaska to the United States (advisably, it is time to move on). Unlike Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and the USA, only Russia appears to be ramping up official nationalistic rhetoric on the topic. The other seven Arctic Council members are reportedly getting nervous, but should relax.

 

Rather than grow fearful that such long cultural memories of history give Russia the advantage somehow, we should cheer the folly of Rogozin’s grudge. Alaskan senators might hate it, but I am relieved that U.S. citizens, by contrast, do not care nearly as much; this enables the government that serves them to be less nationalistic and more objective as it assesses the importance of the Arctic’s potential strategic worth.

 

Moreover, even if the Arctic proves, as estimated, to be super rich in mineral, oil, and natural gas resources, the United States will likely continue to drive the extraction innovation frontier. Only the United States and its friends currently produce the kind of technologies that have led to great leaps in extractive work - from deep-water robots to sideways drilling. Russia desperately needs this technology to achieve its energy extraction objectives in the high north. That is a critical source of U.S. leverage. It is therefore important that the U.S. private sector invest today in its invisible defenses – cybersecurity and intellectual property protection – so that the U.S. government can hope to maintain a strategic edge against Russia in the long term, when oil prices rise again. This type of investment likely provides much more leverage per dollar than any physical undertaking to develop new Alaskan deep-water ports.

 

How could this current innovation advantage possibly endure in later years, when Russia has every incentive to invest in the high-technologies of resource extraction? Under Republican administrations, expect that the U.S. government will actually (and regressively) subsidize such developments, as was done in 1970s Department of Energy projects to maintain technological leadership in energy extraction. Under Democratic administrations, the pressure from a green trinity of regulations on climate impact, wildlife protection, and water safety would also force the industry to innovate quickly (and progressively pay for it themselves). Professional U.S. policy planners do not care much which party is in power. Either way, the United States can afford to invest today in maintaining its edge, while Russia faces budget cuts across the board

 

Finally, the culminating result of U.S. technological leadership, relative political flexibility, and its ability to restrict exports to Russia (if the sanctions coalition is maintained) is that the balance of economic threat benefits the United States and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. When I was overseas as a U.S. diplomat articulating the details of U.S. sanctions on Russia (as punishment for incursions into Ukraine and subsequent formal annexation of Crimea), I did not understand why sanctions experts at the U.S. Treasury and State Departments had targeted Arctic extractive industry high technology. Now, it seems like a stroke of evil genius. If Russia cares so much more about its conquest of the frigid elements in the region that produces a whopping 20% of its GDP and 22% of its exports, why not force them to choose between the archaic myth of Novorossiya in Ukraine (about which the United States has a stronger strategic concern) and their modern Arctic “Mecca” nationalism? The Arctic is an important negotiation space for the restoration of territorial integrity to a beleaguered Republic of Ukraine.

 

Pessimistic Arctic specialists have excellent ideas about detailed policies that would keep the Arctic a zone of peace. They correctly argue that the United States should let federal engineers use Alaskan money for a deep-water port, expand (even if only marginally) the dismal two-ship fleet of U.S. Coast Guard ice-breaker ships, and permit some off-shore drilling near Alaska through Department of Interior licenses. The first two much-ballyhooed priorities are already authorized or in the new draft budget for Congressional approval; the third priority was permitted by the federal government but Royal Dutch Shell stopped its work when rock-bottom world oil prices reduced the incentives for exploring the stormy, wildlife-rich Arctic. 

 

U.S. diplomats should indeed pressure Russia to adhere to normal de-conflicting procedures related to ship travel and to avoid risks inherent in not notifying your neighbors of military exercises. But, the pessimists are mistaken to argue that the United States needs a major economic investment push in the Arctic specifically for security reasons, a whole new multilateral structure based on the OSCE, and detailed formal security codes agreed with Russia for these issues of military de-confliction. Surely the need for US-Russo military de-confliction agreements in the Arctic can be at least as informal as the memorandum that has succeeded in keeping the two forces apart in Syria – a much more strategically important and tense battleground. Although the rate of growth of concern in these areas is high, the absolute numbers of military incidents in the Arctic still pale in comparison to the daily territorial tensions between NATO countries like Greece and Turkey.  Greece, for example, argues that NATO ally Turkey violated its airspace over 2,000 times in the year 2014. In the same year, European policy experts expressed shock and alarm at only 40 such accusations in the Arctic against the Russian Federation. 

 

Agreements on commercial fishing, search and rescue arrangements, the tracking of ships, and detailed charting of each power’s territorial claims should be left to experts and kept away from the theater of geopolitics, where the overacting of politicians can become dangerous. Rather than a new Arctic-specific ministerial body modelled on the Helsinki Accords to handle a comparatively modest set of incursions, the Arctic powers can be fully represented by special coordinators and all their able coastal security agency counterparts at Arctic Council events without having Foreign Ministers in the room dramatizing the situation. 

 

The good, practical subset of recommendations of the pessimists deserve full implementation, but the pessimists are dead wrong to dress up these economic priorities with the alarming language of intense geopolitics. Resurrecting Cold War phrases like “icebreaker gap,” and “ice curtain,” and alleging unambiguous “belligerence” might help dramatize the issue for busy Congressional staffers, but it also serves as precisely the kind of irresponsible rhetoric that the pessimists criticize when voiced by Russian officials. 

 

Let’s acknowledge that in the Arctic, the United States is making its next moves from a position of relative strength. Maintaining that relative position will require investment today in cybersecurity and the close guarding of intellectual property arrangements, but these are not existential challenges. Our invisible advantages and impressive economic levers are enduring and comforting. Meanwhile, the United States also has a broader portfolio of truly vital long term naval interests in the Aegean, Mediterranean, Red, and South China Seas where commercial sea traffic is exponentially more voluminous than in the frosty north and where alliance-maintenance across Europe, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia is far more challenging than in the comparatively cozy 8-member club of Arctic powers.

 

To break a glass, one could either invest in a hammer to achieve an advantage or simply hire a soprano to sing an invisible, shatteringly high note. Let Russia attempt, in the worst-case scenario, to build an “ice curtain” to block the United States from accessing the Arctic; let the invisible, enduring advantages enjoyed by the USA shatter it too.

Victor Marsh 

 

Victor Marsh is a former U.S. diplomat now residing in the Denver suburbs.  He is a Fellow with the Truman National Security Project.  Views expressed are his own.  You can follow him on Twitter at @vicmarsh

 
(Patrick Kelley, U.S. Coast Guard)

Counter-Piracy as a Model for an Arctic Task Force

An Opportunity for International Cooperation

LCDR Tracy Reynolds, USN
(MC3 John Callahan/U.S. Navy)

The Arctic region sits at a jumping-off point.  The international community may choose to leap toward global tension and a reinvigoration of Cold War-style conflict in the high north.  Or, those with interests in the region may choose to elevate the current spirit of cooperation and build extant multilateral partnerships into lasting formal relationships that will safeguard and develop regional interests.

 

Organizations such as the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) and its affiliated organizations already work together to promote security, stability, and prosperity across 3.2 million square miles of international waters.  Naval forces, nation-states, international organizations, non-governmental organizations, and private industry voluntarily work together without political or military mandate.[1]  The organizational structure is flexible, maximizes each contributing partner’s assets, encourages communication among all interested stakeholders, and builds upon already established networks.  Arctic stakeholders need only turn to CMF and its affiliated organizations to find a model for future Arctic cooperation.

 

The necessary international will,[2] multilateral partnerships, and international organizations currently exist to serve as the foundation for an Arctic organizational structure in the spirit of CMF operations.  Current momentum is toward more cooperation among Arctic stakeholders.  However, the global order is fragile and tides are subject to ambiguous change.  The present serves as an opportune time to begin working toward CMF-style operations in the Arctic...

As a longer article, this piece will only be offered in PDF format for easier reading. Download the PDF to read more.

[1] Combined Maritime Forces.  2015.  “About CMF.”  December 11.  http://combinedmaritimeforces.com/about/. 

[2] Zhang Ming, Vice Foreign Minister, People’s Republic of China.  “Chinese Country Session:  China in the Arctic:  Practices and Procedures.”  (lecture, Arctic Circle Assembly, Reykjavik, Iceland, October 16, 2015).  The Arctic Circle Assembly’s country sessions reiterated a theme of international cooperation and utilizing extant international legal frameworks to address the rights, duties, and obligations of Arctic and non-Arctic countries.  China in particular emphasized the rights and obligations of non-Arctic nations to Arctic exploration, resources, and shipping lanes.  However, all country sessions kept to this message.

LCDR Tracy Reynolds, USN  

 

LCDR Tracy Reynolds, USN, is an LL.M. student at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. Her education also includes a Master of Arts in National Security and Strategic Studies with an emphasis on Asia and the Pacific from the Naval War College, June 2015; a Juris Doctor from the Saint Louis University School of Law with certificates in international and health law, May 2004; and a Bachelor of Arts in English magna cum laude from Truman State University with minors in biology, international studies, and political science, May 1999

 

The Realities and Challenges of Russia's Northern Sea Route

Dr. Lawson W. Brigham
(Christopher Michel/Flickr)

The development of the Northern Sea Route (NSR)[1] across the top of Eurasia is tied directly to Arctic natural resources and the future economic security of the Russian Federation. This national Arctic waterway has two primary purposes: to maintain marine access in all seasons to the Russian North’s remote regions for an effective sovereign presence, security, law enforcement, and supply (to coastal communities and government outposts), and also to facilitate the movement of natural resources out of the Russian Arctic to global markets. It is the latter purpose, as a marine transportation corridor, that garners international attention and is linked firmly to the regional development of Siberian onshore and offshore resources.

 

However, the NSR is unlikely to be a major global maritime trade route in the coming decades that will attract large numbers of container ships away from the Suez and Panama canals. Certainly plausible are niche markets, more limited but economically viable roles, between the Pacific and Europe where trans-Arctic voyages can be established and maintained on a seasonal (summer) basis. But the majority of the new Arctic marine traffic will plausibly sail on voyages along the NSR with bulk cargo ships, liquefied natural gas (LNG) carriers, and tankers carrying resources out of the region to European and Pacific-rim markets. The length of the NSR navigation season has yet to be established as it will be maintained in the future by a fleet of nuclear and non-nuclear escort icebreakers, several of which are being constructed today in Russia.  According to Russian Arctic shipping experts, it is highly plausible the NSR will develop in future decades as a ‘seasonal supplement’ to the Suez Canal route.[2]...

As a longer article, this piece will only be offered in PDF format for easier reading. Download the PDF to read more.

[1] The Northern Sea Route is defined in Russian law as the set of marine routes from Kara Gate (south of Novaya Zemlya) in the west to the Bering Strait in the east. Several of the routes follow along the coast, making use of the main straits through the islands of the Russian Arctic, while other potential routes run north of the island groups.

[2] The Moscow Times, 4 June 2013.

Dr. Lawson W. Brigham  

 

Dr. Lawson W. Brigham is Distinguished Professor of Geography & Arctic Policy at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and a Fellow at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy’s Center for Arctic Study and Policy. A career U.S. Coast Guard officer, he was captain of the icebreaker Polar Sea on Arctic and Antarctic voyages, and also served as chair of the Arctic Council’s Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment from 2005-09.  His research has included studies on the Russian Arctic, Arctic climate change, marine transportation, Arctic scenarios, and polar marine policy. Funding for this research has been provided by National Science Foundation grant 1263678.