The Arctic has become “an arena of global power and competition,” said US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during last week’s meeting of the body, comprising eight Arctic countries and representatives of the indigenous people of the region, in Roveaniemi, Finland.
Particularly worrying, Pompeo said, was Russia’s “aggressive behavior” – referring to its increasing military presence in the Arctic and recent demands that foreign vessels should ask Moscow’s permission before transiting through the Northern Sea Route.
With the Arctic Council customarily focused on environmental and development issues, Pompeo’s comments on geopolitics and security were highly unusual. The meeting ended without a multilateral ministerial joint statement.
Clearly, the geopolitical importance of the Arctic is rising. As the ice shelf shrinks due to global warming, the region is increasingly accessible to exploitation, while previously inaccessible commercial routes connecting Europe with Asia are now becoming viable.
These routes could carry a significant portion of global trade in the future, and when it comes to asserting control, recent Russian ship seizures in the Sea of Avoz provide a worrying precedent, one expert said.
The Northeast Passage
The Northern Sea Route (NSR) – sometimes called the “Northeast Passage,” analogous to Canada’s “Northwest Passage” – runs along Russia’s vast northern coastline from the Kara Sea all the way to the Bering Strait.( Collapse )