Climate Change Could Lead to a Cold War Over Resources

Source: U.S. Navy/Getty Images

U.S. Navy/Getty Images

We’re used to hearing about conflicts over resources all over the world. Prolonged engagements in the Middle East by the United States and its allies have been largely influenced by the abundant resources, crude oil in particular, found in the region. But it happens all over the globe. Increased military action across the continent of Africa in order to secure rare earth minerals for use in consumer electronics has been quietly under way for years now, and one of the biggest points of contention for American enterprise over the past few decades has been over cheap labor in east Asia.

The next big conflict area? Try the top of the world above the Arctic Circle.

There’s been plenty of discussion over the past couple of years regarding the arctic, which is beginning to garner lots of interest from countries across the globe, especially those bordering the far north. Canada, Norway, Russia, Denmark, and the United States look to be the major players involved at this point, although there is really nothing happening yet. But the gears of war are starting to turn, according to many analysts and others keeping an eye on the situation.

The catalyst behind all of the interest in the arctic is, of course, resources. It has been believed for a long time that the arctic is as loaded with natural resources as anywhere on the planet, but they have remained largely unreachable due to the extreme climate located near the north pole. But with the advent of global warming, rapid sea ice melts, and opening northern passages for transportation, countries and private enterprise are finding ways to finally tap in.

This is where we start to see conflicting interests rear their heads. Who, exactly, has the rights to go into the far northern latitudes, and by what rules do they need to abide by? A quick look at an atlas or globe reveals the obvious: Canada and Russia have, by far, the longest borders along Arctic Ocean, and thus, feel that they have the rights to the resources.

That may be logical thinking. But if we know anything about the world, especially when it comes to resources, the way things work is typically anything but logical.

Source: AFP/Getty Images

AFP/Getty Images

Canada naturally allies with the United States very closely. Both countries are very interconnected, share a long border, and have strong cultural and political ties. In fact, Canada has long been one of the top suppliers of crude oil to the United States, along with Mexico. Despite the belief that the U.S. gets most of its petroleum from the Middle East, America’s direct neighbors supply a large portion of the nation’s most precious resource.

Both countries are members of NATO, enhancing their relationship even more. But it also ties them, politically and militarily, to 26 other countries, some of whom also have a deep, vested interest in the arctic and the resources located there. Perhaps most importantly, Denmark and Norway are also on the list of member countries. Denmark, which reigns over the expansive island of Greenland, brings their interests to the table when it comes to the arctic as well. The same with Norway, which borders the arctic along the northern stretch of Scandinavia, where it bumps up to Russia.

Russia is the outlier in this situation. Vladimir Putin and his ilk are already on thin ice with the rest of the world following an invasion of the Ukraine and the backing of rebels, which recently shot down a commercial airliner with what are believed to be Russian-supplied weapons. When it comes to getting a foothold in the arctic to supply the multitude of oil and gas lying in wait, they are not likely to back down.

According to an article from The Verge, in 1982 the U.N. finalized the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, which allows countries to lay claim to the seabed beyond their borders by providing scientific proof that the seabed is, in fact, an extension of the continental shelf. Nations already have jurisdiction over resources within 200 miles of their borders, but when it comes to the northern point of the world, those boundaries become rather ambiguous.

This is the genesis of the issue, and where there is a great rift in political alliances. Right now, it looks as if Russia is on its own, although the infighting between countries like the Canada and the others may escalate in coming years. Military exercises have been underway by all the countries involved, leading to a similar situation as the Cold War.

Of course, with the arctic at stake, it gives that term a delightful sense of irony.

Source: Stringer/Getty Images

Stringer/Getty Images

How seriously are these countries taking the escalating situation at the north pole? Canada is taking it seriously enough to spend money testing out stealth snowmobiles, if that puts things in perspective. Russia already jumped the gun and planted their flag on the seabed under the north pole in an attempt to establish a sense of sovereignty. It’s safe to say that political tensions are already heightening.

The seriousness of the situation hasn’t been lost on Canada’s intelligence community. A report from the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service even said that clandestine operations are already underway, according to news outlet CTVNews. “Canada has been experiencing levels of espionage comparable to the height of the Cold War,” the report reads.

The U.S. might be backing off a bit from the situation in the arctic, as domestic oil and gas production has exploded in places like Texas and North Dakota over the past five years. Renewable energy is also picking up a lot of headway domestically, as wind farms and solar arrays are either being developed or deployed in many regions. By lessening dependence on foreign fossil fuel sources, America may be able to sit back and watch from the sidelines when it comes to the situation in the arctic. But it isn’t likely to, as its allies gear up for what is likely to be a lengthy, if not quiet, engagement.

Speaking with Fox News, Commander Ian Johnson of the nuclear submarine USS Connecticut reinforced that point. “We want to maintain our edge up there,” he said. “Our interest in the Arctic has never really waned. It remains very important.”

The only thing certain at this point is that conflict is on the horizon in the arctic. Right now, it’s been mostly relegated to the political arena, as well as with quiet displays of military force, but sooner or later, things will come to a head. The allure of natural resources, which by all estimates are quite abundant, is too much to pass over for the nations involved.

While the world focuses on current conflicts in eastern Europe and the Middle East, a silent war at the top of the world is only in its infancy.

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