• Russia Completely Outpacing The US In The Arctic

    Arctic waters represent the new front for global resource speculation and, potentially, a geopolitical cold war between the U.S. and Russia. So far, experts say, America is lagging.

    “We’re not even in the same league as Russia right now,” Coast Guard Commandant Paul F. Zukunft told Newsweek. “We’re not playing in this game at all.”

    According to the Coast Guard, the U.S. is sorely behind in the race to capitalize on the burgeoning region, rich in resources and major strategic import, Newsweek reports.

    Several important changes in the past couple decades have accelerated the race to the Arctic. First, Arctic sea ice is thinning. Second, icebreaking technology has drastically improved, and third, many polar countries feel an increasing need to take advantage of additional resources. Most notably, the U.S. believes that 15 percent of the world’s oil and 30 percent of its gas deposits are located in the Arctic.

    There’s also a possibility that a new route through the Arctic could replace the Suez Canal in connecting Europe and Asia. An Arctic route would reduce transit time by from 48 days to just 35. A total of 71 ships have already made use of Russia’s northern coast for transit in 2013. These ships carried 1.35 million tons of cargo. The number dipped to 53 ships in 2014 but is expected to trend upward over time.

    Although the ice continues to thin, it often still takes the power of an icebreaker to navigate most regions in the Arctic.

    Russia has flooded its northern coast with new projects, including 10 Arctic search-and-rescue stations, 10 air-defense radar stations, and 27 operational icebreakers.

    Washington, in contrast, only has two icebreakers. The cost of an additional icebreaker amounts to approximately $1 billion. Not only does the Coast Guard have insufficient funds, but even if it did, construction would still take years and may take away from other priorities in the Navy like the ballistic missile submarine program. Currently, the Navy projects shipbuilding costs at around $19.7 billion, but receives just $15.7 billion a year for this purpose.

    China, meanwhile, is not too far behind and plans to have two icebreakers ready by next year, despite the fact that it’s somewhat removed from the region.

    A lack of spending isn’t the only reason the U.S. has had a difficult time engaging in Arctic relations. Congress has refused to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which allows for countries to claim up to 200 miles of sea floor, supposing that scientists determine that the area belongs to that country’s continental shelf. Other countries, like Norway and Russia, have filed claims. Denmark and Canada have also exhibited strong interest in the Arctic.

    While the U.S. has lagged in the international treaty arena, on January 21, President Barack Obama issued an executive order to help coordinate federal efforts in the Arctic, as the region has “critical long-term strategic, ecological, cultural, and economic value.” Whether this effort accomplishes anything significant remains to be seen.

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