Exclusive: Bizarre Love Triangle – U.S., Russia, and the Arctic’s Untapped Resources (Part One of Two)

by DR. ROBIN MCFEE February 19, 2009
Space may be the final frontier off the planet, but the Arctic is likely the final frontier on earth, especially for energy exploration, with the promise of readily accessible energy resources – and the U.S. has a claim to it. Finally, energy that isn’t just for the crazies, the corrupt or the Jihadists. It will be a happy day when we say ciao to OPEC. Or will we? Transition periods are always vulnerabilities – especially when incoming presidents differ with the policies and politics of their predecessors. “43” set the stage for the Arctic; will “44” carry through? Recent events at home and abroad underscore the urgency to explore now.
Just prior to leaving office in January 2009, President Bush issued National Security Presidential Directive (NSPD) 66/Homeland Security Presidential Directive (HPD) 25 – “establishes the policy of the United States with respect to the Arctic Region and directs related implementation actions.” The directive asserts that “the United States is an Arctic Nation with varied and compelling interests in the region.” The policy prescriptions provide for “meeting the national security and homeland security needs relevant to the Arctic region.”
From a security perspective, President Bush is quite clear how far we should push the issue: “The United States has broad and fundamental national security interests in the Arctic region and is prepared to operate either independently or in conjunction with other states to safeguard these interests. These interests include such matters as missile defense and early warning, deployment of sea and air systems for strategic sealift, strategic deterrence, maritime presence and maritime security operations and ensuring freedom of navigation and overflight.”
 In terms of natural resources – “Defining with certainty the areas of the Arctic seabed and subsoil in which the United States may exercise its sovereign rights over natural resources such as oil, natural gas, maritime hydrates, minerals and living marine species is critical to our nations interests in energy security, resource management and environmental protection.” And Mr. Bush has those listed in the right priority. Unlike Mrs. Clinton who during her confirmation hearing replied “I believe that the issues of the Arctic are one of those long term matters that will dramatically affect our commercial, our environmental and our energy futures.” Hmm, no concern over security? Not to mention the order of priority needs to be reoriented.
President Bush’s NSPD 66 is the first new directive of U.S. policy towards the Arctic in 15 years, and sets the groundwork for an important opportunity in the region. Will President Obama have the wisdom and courage to follow through? For the sake of the nation, the answer better be yes. But if current performance is indicator of future outcomes, one has to wonder, and worry.
While President Bush shared the U.S. posture towards the region, last week Russia issued its own world view of the Arctic.
“Winning isn’t everything, it is the only thing.” – Vince Lombardy
While the media continued to fawn over the incoming president or lamented that talk radio is the one genre not controlled by liberal indoctrination, President Obama scrambled for nominees who actually paid their taxes, and Congress debated whether to do the Lear Jet liberal thing before or after reading the dangerous and misnamed government “stimulus” bill they were foisting on the American public, Russia was again positioning itself to greater advantage. Putin clearly studied history, the American psyche, a world map and maybe even our football tacticians. He knows it is “winner takes all” – talks about sharing, collaboration and alliances are mere mis-directions.  
Consider the latest pronouncements from Russia on the Arctic – a region, an issue that should be front page news and the focus of our leaders. It is the last great earthen frontier, and perhaps our greatest hope for energy independence barring a major technology breakthrough in alternate power.
Russia announced its comprehensive strategy for development of the Arctic by the year 2020. The measure of their resolve cannot be missed – increased military operations in the arctic and naval operations around and under it. Russia has the largest fleet of icebreakers, including several nuclear powered ones. The military is committed to creating several new battle groups that include advanced carriers and submarines; at least one of which will be tasked with protecting their northern interests. It is only a matter of time when missile defense systems will accompany increased surveillance and communications capabilities on the ice. Concerning the lengths to which Moscow will go to protect their interests their policy document states “It cannot be ruled out that the battle for raw materials will be waged with military means.” 
Putin and Putin Lite (Medvedev) have been busy boys. Over the last few weeks Vladimir the chess master has effectively reigned in the Ukraine, enhanced the Central Asian rapid response force coalition through the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), increased the military capabilities of Iran and Syria, and countered the influence of the United States globally, including the latest insult to injury – the loss of our base in Uzbekistan for weapons transit. The latest shoe to drop is the recently released, and clearly aggressive Russian plan for the Arctic – a territory the Kremlin asserts is mostly theirs.
The Arctic is a somewhat amorphous region largely covered by ice. Generally accepted to be located above 66 degrees North latitude upwards to the North Pole. Of note, the Arctic pack is constantly moving. This region – whether due to global warming or the dynamic interplay of complex systems – has been losing by some estimates between 3 -10% of its ice per decade since 1953; the ice cap appears to have shrunk by 28,000 square miles. As a result, areas that had been frozen over are increasingly opening up, such as the Northwest Passage. And with these openings, there is the likelihood of greater access to oil, gas and other resources.
According to international law, nations with an Arctic border are entitled to sovereign rights. Moreover if your continental shelf extends beyond the 200 nautical miles, you have rights to the extended region and the resultant oil, gas and minerals.
The Russians claim that an underwater formation – the Lomonosov Ridge - runs 1,240 miles from Siberia through the North Pole close to Canada’s northernmost point Ellesmere Island and Greenland. By their claim on the Ridge, they are charting out a very large region as Russian territory – a somewhat unsettling notion to other Arctic States. Russia buttresses their argument with the fact historically, geographically and demographically they are largely an arctic nation, compared to the U.S., whose only claim is through a small piece of Alaska. Consider by various estimates, between 20 - 30% of Russia is above the Arctic Circle, six of its major rivers feed the Arctic Ocean and approximately 2 million live there. The Arctic region of Russia is responsible for 11% of the GDP and 22% of its export earnings.
Russia, Canada and Denmark – in terms of land abutment – would have the largest claims on the Arctic.
And there is good reason for Russia’s ambitions for the Arctic. According to estimates from multinational scientific collaborations, the Arctic seabed may contain as much as 90 billion barrels of oil and almost 2 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, representing 13% of the world’s total oil and about 30% of the natural gas reserves likely remaining. It is estimated there are almost 30 billion barrels of oil off the coast of Alaska. These are technically recoverable amounts based upon our current capabilities. The Arctic represents a sizable equivalent of Russia’s total oil reserve.  Some experts suggest that Russia will not be able to continue energy hegemony without new sources of fossil fuels; the Arctic represents an important opportunity that would guarantee her leadership in oil and natural gas for years.  
While Russia is an energy power, she is not so financially sound as to absorb all insults. The direct losses for Gazprom from punishing the Ukraine and halting the flow of gas is ~$1.5 billion to $2 billion. Even for Gazprom, that is not insignificant. But interrupting the flow through complex pipelines can pose technical challenges. Never the less, it was an investment in shifting the Ukraine to a more pro-Moscow, less pro-Washington posture. And the gas threat can happen almost anywhere in Europe. Russia supplies 60% of Central and Eastern Europe’s gas and almost 100% to Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Finland.
As Russia’s own resources eventually flatten out, the Arctic holds the promise of perpetuating their preeminence. As such, Gazprom and other Russian industrialists, scientists and military have laid out a plan for their expanding Arctic frontier. According to several sources, if things go according to schedule, the flow of gas could occur as early as 2013. Is it any wonder that Prime Minister Medvedev is calling for a new law to recognize Russia’s claims to an extended area of the Arctic because of the Lomonosov Ridge? His comments leave little room for doubt Russia’s concerns about international opinion: “It is our obligation and our duty to posterity, we should reliably and for a long term perspective, secure Russia’s national interests in the Arctic region.”
In 2008 the Russian Defense Ministry sent naval vessels into the Arctic Ocean, and asserted it will be a summer training zone. Moreover, they intend to increase the operational radius of their navy. Russia has been increasing its contingent of military units trained in Arctic warfare; not a major stretch of the imagination given much of Russia is frozen most of the year. The general in charge of combat training operations – Vladimir Sharmanov has made it clear the focus of Russian military strategy would involve protecting national interests in the Arctic region.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has made it no secret that he intends to increase the military presence and capability in the Arctic region as well as promote greater development there. Canada has laid claim to the Northwest Passage as an internal waterway, while the U.S. asserts it is an international waterway. Upon first blush one would think that is a minor point of contention – in reality, the angels are in the details. As an international waterway, submarines would be able to traverse the passage submerged; as an internal portion of Canada, like other vessels, they would have to travel visibly at the surface. Given the stealth nature of the submarine world – and the cat and mouse games between the Russian and U.S. silent services – resolving the Northwest Passage issue is important. As stated in NSPD 66 states Canada and the U.S. “have an unresolved boundary dispute in the Beaufort Sea.” Moreover all parties are all too aware of the resources in that area.
While Canada is also claiming part of the Lomonosov Ridge, they have identified another underwater mountain range – the Alpha Ridge – that they believe will extend their Arctic territory. 
The Canadian Government has announced plans to build several ships capable of operating in ice. Currently they have six icebreakers; clearly more than the U.S. but less in number as well capability to Russia.
Although the Canadian military plans to build a new winter combat school near the Northwest Passage, increasing their capability, as well as increase the number of patrols in the region, currently the number of available personnel is significantly too small to provide adequate security to the vast territory.
Of course Russia and the United States are not the only Arctic Nations. Just last week Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden met to discuss creating a Nordic military alliance to protect their interests in the Arctic. The report of the proceedings reveals this is a proposed collaboration not limited to joining military force but also joint efforts in international security, air surveillance, maritime monitoring and medical services. They also discuss the possibility of a polar orbital satellite system by 2020. On the surface this seems to be a good thing for the West. But Putin didn’t get where he did by being easily outmaneuvered. He sees this as an opportunity to meet with the Nordic nations outside their NATO oversight; Finland and Sweden are not members. Of course, the U.S. could counter that option by joining the alliance. That is, if someone e-mails Obama to let him know what just happened.  Maybe Secretary Clinton can pass him a memo.
Our leaders should take the cautionary insights of Norwegian Rear Admiral Trond Grytting in his assessment of the Arctic “we have lots of natural resources, military personnel and disputed borders in the Arctic. This has never been a recipe for peace.” He should know. Russian reconnaissance aircraft fly close to the Norwegian coastline. There are a few territorial disputes already in play with Russia. According to the admiral “the Russian doctrine is unmistakable – the (Red) army is supposed to advance the stat’s goals in the surrounding region.” And the Red Army is increasing its presence in the region.
Finland may need to import firewood, given their dependence on Russian gas approaches 100%, and we’ve seen what happens to countries that disagree too vocally with Putin, Inc. Winter is a bad time to challenge Russia. Just ask the Ukrainians.
Where is the leadership in Washington? Is the Obama Doctrine merely great oratory and little substance? While energy remains one of the two defining issues we must face in the early 21st century, terrorism (radical Islamic Jihad) being the second, and one could argue they often intersect, why one has to wonder, is it not part of both a national debate and the subject of discourse from the White House?
Energy independence is an important step in the war on terror; it would deprive the necessary funds that some Middle East nations use to support Jihadists.
About the only evidence of life from the White House in terms of foreign policy has been during the campaign when the Obama team indicated support for the Law of the Sea Treaty – often referred to as “LOST” – a not wholly inappropriate acronym given the potential to limit US sovereignty.
Energy is not merely a commodity; it is a weapon and a policy tool. Those who have an abundance of oil and/or gas not only reap economic and financial benefit, but they can use these resources towards geopolitical aspirations and influence nations who are largely dependent upon steady supplies of either. Consider how quickly the Ukraine capitulated to Moscow this winter, or how over the years the U.S. has had to play nice with OPEC and Saudi Arabia. Does anyone think Riyadh wouldn’t be one big parking lot after 9/11 if it wasn’t for oil? If the United States was energy independent – either through a great expansion of its own supplies or new technologies – we would be in an ideal position to throw off the energy extortion we currently pay, as well as enjoy a greater ability to influence global events. Europe receives precious little oil or gas from the U.S. or our allies compared to Russia. Like tentacles on an octopus, Russia has pipelines stretching from Northern Europe to Eastern Europe. And with it, a firm grasp of/on each country. You would be hard pressed to identify a European nation that was not dependent to some degree upon Gazprom or Putin, Inc.
Part Two will continue with a review of Russia, oil and gas.
FamilySecurityMatters.org Contributing Editor Dr. Robin McFee is a physician and medical toxicologist. An expert in WMD preparedness, she is a consultant to government agencies, corporations and the media. Dr. McFee is a member of the Global Terrorism, Political Instability and International Crime Council of ASIS International. She has authored numerous articles on terrorism, health care and preparedness, and coauthored two books: Toxico-Terrorism by McGraw Hill and The Handbook of Nuclear, Chemical and Biological Agents, published by Informa/CRC Press.

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