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‘US wants to catch up with Russia in the Arctic’

Published time: March 11, 2014 14:41
Franz Josef Land in the Arctic Ocean. (RIA Novosti / Vladimir Astapkovich)

The US wants to play a leading role in exploring the Arctic but doesn’t have enough facilities or resources, and basically lags behind Russia, Edward Struzik, leading researcher of the Arctic region, told RT.

[The Russians] have ice breaker capability, they have naval bases, they are expanding their naval bases. I would say the Russians' road map to the Arctic is well under way and the US right now is simply acknowledging that they have got to catch up,” Struzik said.

Due to the fast disappearance of seasonal ice, many Arctic countries, particularly the US, have strengthened their involvement in the Arctic region. In February, the US Navy radically updated its 2009 Arctic road map, including various specific tasks and deadlines for Navy offices, including calling for better research on rising sea levels and the ability to predict sea ice thickness, assessment of satellite communications and surveillance needs, and evaluation of existing ports, airfields and hangars.

In November, the US announced it was going to extend its presence in the Arctic, especially taking into account the massive natural resources there vital for America’s development. The Arctic is estimated to have 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil reserves and 30 percent of undiscovered gas deposits in the areas covered by an ice cap, which is actually beginning to shrink. In terms of resource shortages, many countries and companies are seeking to become the first to explore and develop new routes and oil and gas fields freed from many thousands of years of ice. Canada, China and Russia have also mobilized their forces, claiming that they’d increase their military presence in the region, develop infrastructure, and explore new shipping lanes for economic, security and environmental reasons.

A helipad on the NS 50 Let Pobedy Arktika-class nuclear-powered icebreaker. (RIA Novosti / Alexey Filippov)

In this context, the US doesn’t want to remain behind, especially taking into account that the US Navy and Air Forces aren’t numerous there. In fact, the US has only two icebreakers, the Healy and the Polar Star, while Russia has many ice breakers and naval bases. In March, the US Navy will conduct a submarine exercise in the Arctic, and it also plans to participate in a joint training exercise with the Norwegian and Russian military this summer.

Struzik, an author and journalist, argues that the new American road map isn’t really a tool to expand US geopolitical presence in the Arctic region, but it’s an attempt “to catch up because the Russians are far ahead of everybody” and could end up establishing total control over Arctic waters.

[The US] wants to be a leader as they are in pretty much everything else in the world and they see themselves as a driving force in the future planning of the Arctic. It’s going to be difficult to do right now because they have got only two ice breakers, one is really on its way out, they don’t have any real plans right now to develop a new one. They don’t have a naval base in the Arctic yet, so for them to be leaders they are going to have to do an awful lot to get themselves there,” Struzik said.

Struzik said that Washington could be planning to become some kind of Arctic policeman, though “any kind of combat in the Arctic will be so expensive and such a logistical nightmare,” that the Arctic should rather be “a region of international cooperation.”

It would drain resources of the country and I don’t see that there is any need because it’s so vast and I think its future is so far ahead that there is plenty of time for Arctic nations to avoid that kind of conflict,” he said.

At the same time, countries are obsessed by their own self-interest and underestimate the looming environmental disaster in the Arctic region provoked by the melting ice cap.

What’s happening now is that we see resource development comes first and the environmental response is second,” Struzik told RT.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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