‘Arctic territorial zones well defined, but some scramble for resources inevitable’
Disputes over the fate of the natural resources of the Arctic will be resolved peacefully, believes Rear Admiral Christopher J. Parry. However, the retired commander told RT the ice thaw in the North will create a new geopolitical geometry.
RT: Many nations have joined the race for the Arctic as that ice continues to thaw, but is there a great danger that this carve-up will lead to conflict anytime soon?
Christopher J. Parry: I think one has to
consider that the Arctic Council and all the Nordic nations have
come together over the last 15 years and they have been
anticipating the Arctic story. The Russians of course are making
great use of the Northern Sea route as they have done over 70
years. And I think, so far, we are seeing that people want to
talk rather than argue about access to both the resources and the
routes up in the Arctic.
RT: Well I wonder if attitudes might change as the oil resources run out elsewhere in the world and they become more plentiful or more accessible there?
CP: Well up in the Arctic, I think most of the territorial seas are very well defined. There’s few disputes between Canada and Denmark and also between Russia and Canada of course over some of the sea space out there. But quite a lot it of course has been agreed.
And I think so far, a lot of the chats that have been taking place in the Arctic Council amongst the nations out there have been very positive and I think that should make us optimistic for the future.
Where I think we could have some disputes is that there’re a number of other interested countries such as India, China, Korea, Japan – all getting very interested not just in the Northern Sea route but also in the resources that exist out there in the Arctic. Already the Chinese are operating in Greenland, in places like that, and I think there would be a scramble by some of the other countries for some of those resources.
RT: Some of the other countries you’re talking about there, what is their specific claim over that land?
CP: Well what it is that already we are seeing joint ventures between Russian energy companies and China. China is putting in a lot of money into some of these investments. We are seeing mineral and other prospecting going on.
And this is the idea of some of the countries of the world that the resources of the Arctic should be really for all mankind to enjoy, not just the countries that have a border on the Arctic. I think what we have to do is recognize the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea of 1982 says, that each country has an economic zone out to 200 miles and Russia, of course, has an extensive economic zone which it would wish to exploit – lots of oil and gas out there. And that is actually Russia’s right to do that.
Where I think, we’re going to have a little bit of a dispute is in those waters that get revealed by the ice which aren’t subject to any country’s jurisdiction or the economic zone. Then I think we’re going to see a bit of scramble for those resources. But that is probably going to happen 30 years down the track when the ice recedes even further.
RT: And is it only about the resources, or is it more about strategic, logistical opportunities available there when the ice opens up?
CP: Well up in the North we have to recognize that when the ice does recede, you’re not just going to have the Northern Sea Route across the top of Russia and the North-West Passage across Canada, you’re also going to have a route around 2050 straight across the top of the North Pole. Now that means the countries that in the past have faced each other across the North Pole, that icy waste are going to have open water for quite a few months of the year. That would introduce different a prospective, different geometries to the strategic situation.
For example, right up in the North you’ve got the biggest Russian fleet, that is the one operating out of Murmansk and Arkhangelsk. You’ll have a very easy route across to Far East of Vladivostok and across the top of the world, you’re going to see the United States and Canada also entering into the Arctic. So it is going to be a very interesting situation from a strategic point of view, probably around 2045-50. But people will be getting ready for that in the years leading up to that.
RT: Again looking ahead do you see a scenario, we’re looking at the moment – the anti-missile defenses that have been put up to the West of Russia by America – could that happened up in the North?
CP: Well to an extent you already have that because during the Cold War there was always a threat that the Russian submarines could threaten the US, the US submarines could threaten Russia across the top of the world. You’ve already got an extensive defense and anti-missile network that exists. It is called the NORAD, North American Aerospace Defense Command, so that already exists to an extent. But I think by the time we get to 2040-50, a lot of these counties will be talking to each other about what they can share and how they can cooperate rather the how they are going to compete.
RT: Let’s take it further ahead 100 years. Once the northern resources are depleted, are people going to head south, do you think?
CP: Well I think people will go and get resources where they could find them and there is a lot of potential of course up in the north of Russia already being exploited, something that Russia is very used to with all the settlements and industry out there. We’ve got enough unconventional and shale gas and oil to last us for about 70-80 years. And I think the optimist in me says that by then technology would have found other ways of generating the sort of power that we need.
There are all sorts of options like nuclear fusion which promises a lot of electricity with very little input. There would be other ways of generating electricity that we need for 11 billion people who will live on this planet by then. So I am a great believer in mankind’s ability to find its way around this thing. It is not just about oil and gas. Right now we are in the oil and gas economy but by then I suspect we’ll be into something else.