Race for Arctic resources

(VOVworld) – US President Barack Obama just made a 3-day tour of the Arctic in an effort to influence in a vast area enriched with mineral resources, particularly oil. As Russia is quickly expanding its influence to the Arctic, the visit indicates the US’s readiness for a race to control the Arctic.


Race for Arctic resources - ảnh 1

Climate change has resulted in rapidly melting ice in the Arctic in recent years and this could be the most serious disaster humanity has ever faced. Most of the Arctic ice is predicted to melt by 2030, revealing abundant natural resources there.

Race between world powers

Russia has been expanding its influence in the Arctic with increased military presence and infrastructure building. In 2014 President Vladimir Putin spent 4.2 billion USD on a 5-year program on military and industrial development in the Arctic. In March this year Russia held a large-scale military exercise there, involving 40,000 soldiers and dozens of submarines and warships. Most recently, on August 31, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said that from now until the end of 2015 Russia will reinforce its armed forces there with more planes and air-defense troops.

The US has also deployed a new national strategy in the Arctic. It has boosted cooperation with its allies in addressing environmental, security, and economic issues in the Arctic, improved the capability of its search and rescue forces, and maintained an early warning radar system there.

China is another country trying to increase its influence in the Arctic. China said it has strategic interests in the Arctic Ocean and will build a fleet of icebreakers. Beijing has worked hard to become a permanent observer in the Arctic Council, a forum of 8 countries: Canada, Denmark, the US, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, and Russia. The Arctic Council was established in 1996 to discuss environmental and development issues in the region. In a move to show its ambition, 5 Chinese navy ships were spotted off the coast of Alaska on the day President Obama set foot in the Arctic.

Who will gain control?

The United Nations has reported that one fourth of the earth’s resources remain undiscovered in the Arctic Ocean. The US Geological Survey said that area possesses 30% of the global gas reserve, 13% of the global oil reserve, and 10% of the global charcoal reserve. This has increased resource competition between countries in and outside the Arctic.

Analysts say Russia has an advantage in the race. The US lacks the infrastructure needed to maintain its presence in the Arctic. The US has only 2 icebreakers there while Russia has 40 and will build 11 more. The US doesn’t have any seaport in the north and lacks the facilities to support its search, rescue and environmental monitoring forces. The US has a geographical and demographic disadvantage with Russia because 60% of the Arctic is on Russian soil and more than 80% of the Arctic’s population live in Russia.

During his tour President Obama proposed an increased budget to build new heavy icebreakers for the US navy to conduct regular patrols in the Arctic. The White House hopes the icebreakers will help the US safeguard its national interests, protect and manage natural resources, and increase international cooperation.

Geographical distance and current economic difficulties will make it more difficult for China to seek a new maritime route in the Arctic Ocean. The race to gain control of the resource rich Arctic has just begun and is predicted to intensify.