The Arctic - A New Frontier

The Arctic Ocean is melting and it is melting fast. The effects of global warming on the Arctic Region have given rise to a new scramble for territory, resources and shipping lanes in the high North.

The Arctic has always undergone cooling and warming periods, but the current melt ocurrs in a dramatic and unprecedented fashion. The decomposition of multi- year ice means that the Arctic will soon (as early as 2013) experience ice-free summers and will be navigable year round. As oil prices are on the rise again, the vast fossil fuel resources of the Arctic Region signify the last remaining undiscovered hydrocarbon reserves on earth.

While the exploration of these and other resources may be 10 to 15 years away, the opening of new shipping lanes created by the melt will be a more immediate prize. The Northwest Passage and the Northern Sea route can reduce long-haul shipping distances by as much as 40 percent while avoiding such choke points as the Panama Canal, the Strait of Hormuz or Malacca.

While the lack of an overarching political and legal framework does not necessarily lead to some sort of armed brinkmanship, the Arctic players are fast approaching a diplomatic gridlock. The strategic location, coupled with new shipping routes and vast undiscovered natural resources will place the Arctic issue front and center of national interest considerations.  The emergence of the world economy out of its worst recession in decades and the continued rise of energy hungry and export oriented BRIC countries will further put pressure on the demand of global resources and the availability of shipping capacities.