WikiLeaks: Rush to Drill in Arctic is Stirring Military Tensions with Russia


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The latest batch of Wikileaks cables reveals that there's an ongoing rush to "carve up" the Arctic for resources between the states that border it. The cables detail brewing tensions, especially between the United States, Canada, and Russia. They show fault lines within NATO itself, and some ambassadors have expressed concerns that the race to claim the resource-rich territory -- remember, the US Geological Survey estimates that there's as much oil off the coast of Greenland as there is in the North Sea -- will lead to military conflict in the near future. Greenpeace contacted me with their parsings of the leaked cables (I hope to have time to dig deeper into them a bit later), and here's some of what they found:

  • A cable numbered 12958 details a conversation between US diplomats and then Danish foreign minister Moeller, in which they discuss delays in US ratification of a key maritime convention. "If you stay out," Moeller is quoted as telling the Americans, "then the rest of us will have more to carve up in the Arctic.
  • A 2010 cable (number 248929) quotes Russian Ambassador to NATO Dmitriy Rogozin saying: "The twenty-first century will see a fight for resources, and Russia should not be defeated in this fight ... NATO has sensed where the wind comes from. It comes from the North."
  • A 2007 cable (number 129049) shows how the U.S, is positioning to take advantage of any oil strike off Greenland. The cable states: "Greenland is on a clear track toward independence, which could come more quickly than most outside the Kingdom of Denmark realize... With Greenlandic independence glinting on the horizon, the U.S. has a unique opportunity to shape the circumstances in which an independent nation may emerge. We have real security and growing economic interests in Greenland, for which existing Joint and Permanent Committee mechanisms (described reftel A) may no longer be sufficient. American commercial investments, our continuing strategic military presence, and new high-level scientific and political interest in Greenland argue for establishing a small and seasonal American Presence Post in Greenland's capital as soon as practicable...
  • Cable 208631 (from 2009) states the U.S. belief that "Behind Russia's (Arctic) policy are two potential benefits accruing from global warming: the prospect for an (even seasonally) ice-free shipping route from Europe to Asia, and the estimated oil and gas wealth hidden beneath the Arctic sea floor... Despite on-going efforts to renew U.S.-Russian relations, some Russian voices have called the situation in the Arctic a ""cold peace"" vis-a-vis NATO and the U.S. In April 2008, Russian Navy head Admiral Vladimir Vysotsky said, ""While in the Arctic there is peace and stability, however, one cannot exclude that in the future there will be a redistribution of power, up to armed intervention...

One of the most striking things about the Wikileaks cables has been just how much senior diplomats and power brokers actually sound like Bond villains or caricatures of cigar-chomping fat cats. Some of these reported statements just need a bit of Vincent Price-esque cackling afterward to be pushed into B-list suspense film territory.

Besides that, Wikileaks has provided yet another invaluable peak into how governments work when nobody's looking. It shouldn't surprise anyone that disputes over territory in the oil-rich Arctic -- at a time when demand for the black gold is surging and supply is dwindling -- should cause military strategists to worry. Nor will it likely surprise anyone that the US is repulsively circling Greenland like a vulture, waiting for it to declare independence so our oil companies can swoop in an monopolize the region.

And against the backdrop of all of this is the fact that man-caused global climate change is making it all possible -- now that there's less ice in the Arctic, ships (and oil rigs) can more safely navigate the seas. Some of the cables mention this outright. They make eminently clear that climate change will almost certainly make the region the next hot button zone in geopolitical affairs.

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Tags: Arctic | Oil | United States

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