By Niall Green
29 June 2009
In more ways than one, things are heating up in the Arctic. Several large military exercises undertaken by the United States and members of the US-led military alliance NATO are proof of growing tensions between the major powers.
The stakes involved in the Arctic are enormous. A report issued last year by the United States Geological Survey estimated that the Arctic Ocean could hold 90 billion barrels of oil, up to a third of the world’s untapped natural gas deposits, and a possible 20 percent of natural gas liquids. In addition, the retreat of the Arctic ice sheet due to environmental warming could open up viable shipping routes between the northern Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
For many years the United States has played a relatively muted role in the Arctic, while Russia, Norway, Canada and Denmark have actively pursued territorial claims in the region. US Coast Guard Real Admiral Gene Brooks has warned, “If there’s a five-nation race in the Arctic, we’re fifth,” while Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Thad Allen has urged Washington to renew its fleet of icebreakers so as not to fall behind its rivals.