By Jason Miks
GPS digital producer Jason Miks recently sat down with Icelandic President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson to talk about his decision to launch the Arctic Circle, the new great game in the Arctic, and why the region matters for U.S. national security.
What’s behind the growing international interest in the Arctic?
First of all, the Arctic is America’s backyard. Just by looking at a map you can see Alaska, the northern part of Canada, Greenland – the region is of crucial strategic, economic and political interest to the United States.
In the Cold War, you didn’t have to explain to U.S. audiences why this backyard was important, because you had the so-called Soviet threat of missiles, submarines. So you had a vast network of military installations throughout the Arctic region. But with the end of the Cold War, the eight Arctic countries, including the U.S., succeeded in creating through the Arctic Council a venue for different organizations and institutions, a very constructive network to discuss how to evolve an area that during the Cold War was one of the most militarized areas into an area of constructive cooperation.
This is important because the Arctic region as a whole is one of the world’s richest in terms of natural resources – minerals, rare metals, clean energy, gas, hydro. With the melting of the Arctic sea ice, it is opening up for at least three or four months of the year a new global sea route which, to some extent, will replace the Suez Canal as a formidable linkage between Asia on the one hand and the U.S. and Europe on the other.
If this isn’t enough for America to be interested, the wake-up call should be that this neighborhood is now becoming crowded, because countries like China, Japan, India, South Korea, Germany, France, the United Kingdom have all in one way or another entered the Arctic and declared their intention of becoming involved in this new economic, political and scientific playing field.
By Global Public Square staff
For anyone living in the Northern Hemisphere, it's been a sweltering few weeks. In fact, last month was the fifth hottest June in recorded history. According to government data, for 340 consecutive months – more than 28 years – the earth has been warmer than historic averages.
And take a look at what's happening in one of the coldest parts of the world – way up north in the Arctic.
Twenty-eight years ago, the Arctic was covered by ice throughout the year, as it had been for centuries. Now, every summer, two-thirds of it melts to water. In 2010, only four commercial ships were allowed to sail the Northern Sea Route, which connects northwestern Europe to northeastern Asia through the Arctic. In 2011, that number rose to 34 and then 46 the next year. This year, with five months still to go, more than 200 ships have already been given the green light to sail.
By Heather A. Conley, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Heather Conley is senior fellow and director of the Europe Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington and author of a new CSIS report, ‘A New Foreign Policy Frontier: U.S. Interests and Actors in the Arctic.’ The views expressed are the writer's own.
Last August, then U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Tom Nides declared that, for the United States, the Arctic is “one of the last true frontiers in the United States. It is becoming a new frontier in our foreign policy.”
He was right. The Arctic is a new frontier in the sense that the polar ice cap is melting so rapidly – confounding and deeply disturbing most climatologists and earth scientists – that once-frozen and nearly impenetrable borders in the region are now being traversed with increased frequency. The Arctic also presents a new opportunity for U.S. policymakers to address the emerging political, diplomatic, economic, and security dynamics caused by unprecedented climate change.
But what is America’s vision for its piece of the Arctic – the state of Alaska? Will the United States view the Arctic like a new frontier that must be explored, claimed, and developed along the lines of Teddy Roosevelt’s vision of Winning of the West, embodying America’s pioneering spirit? Or will Washington seek to protect and preserve the Arctic? What are U.S. policy objectives and priorities? What financial resources will be needed to implement these priorities? What are the right organizational and coordination structures to ensure that an American Arctic strategy is implemented and federal agencies are held accountable?