Cold War at the North Pole


BERLIN (Own report) - The German government is backing up its claims to the deposits of Arctic raw materials with an international conference on the future of the northern polar region. Through the climatic change induced melting of the polar cap, the enormous resources hidden under the Arctic ice pack can be exploited in the coming decades. "With its enormous oil, natural gas reserves as well as its mineral resources, the Arctic can make a major contribution to the security of energy supply for Europe," according to the German Ministry of the Economy. The race for ownership titles in the Arctic Ocean has begun. NATO recently weighed into the debate. Because Germany has no borders to the area in question, the German government is seeking to have the resources declared international property. They should be "globalized" maintain government advisors in Berlin and propose that Germany use favorable criteria for the decision concerning the rights of access: "the Arctic should remain open for the participation of those states that clearly use philo-climatic policies to the benefit of all."


The region around the North Pole is considered of enormous strategic importance. Extensive reserves of natural resources are presumed under the floor of the Arctic ocean, including tin, manganese, gold, nickel, lead, platinum, and raw diamonds as well as a quarter of all of the currently prospected reserves of oil and natural gas. Profitable exploitation is becoming possible, because nowhere else on earth is the climatic warming as rapid as in the Arctic, melting glaciers and the icecap into the Arctic Ocean. The routes, that until recently had only been navigable in the summer months, shortening the distance from Europe and the East Coast of North America to China and Japan, will be open all year round in the future. For the booming German-East Asian trade, these new routes hold a long term major significance.


There is strong rivalry for control over the natural resource deposits and shipping lanes through the Arctic. Moscow is claiming sovereignty over the "Northeast Passage" (Northern Europe - Eastern Asia) and wants to charge transit fares. Canada lays claim to an important segment of the "Northwestern Passage." In both cases, other states are insisting that these routes are freely accessible international bodies of water. The five bordering states, Russia, the USA, Canada, Denmark (via Greenland) and Norway are making direct claims on the mineral resources. Their borders in the Arctic Ocean are yet to be marked. Research missions are charting the region and seeking to appraise the national claims as highly as possible. Russia, for example, is claiming half of the Arctic Ocean including the North Pole. Even Germany, which, as a non-bordering state, has no property rights itself, has on various occasions insisted on its claim to the Arctic's natural resources. ( reported.[1])


One of Berlin's strategy versions is the attempt to attain influence through the European Union. The first general outline of the EU's future Arctic policy was laid out in an EU Commission strategy paper in November. The paper states that in the High North - "this unique region with strategic significance" - European interests "are to be offensively pursued." The paper calls for a major political influence as well as access to the oil and natural gas reserves. It is important that the EU "recognize also the economic potential of this region" says the state secretary in the German Ministry of the Economy, Jochen Homann. "With its gigantic oil and natural gas deposits, as well as its mineral deposits, the Arctic can make a major contribution to the security of energy supply for Europe."[2]


Following on the heels of the EU, the United States published its new Arctic Strategy - as one of the last official acts of the Bush Administration. Washington seeks to expand its presence in the Arctic and announces it will impose its interests even if it has to go it alone.[3] The new administration in Washington has confirmed this standpoint. Foreign Minister Clinton called for haste because the Arctic "has a long term impact on our commercial, ecological and energy interests" and President Obama's designated Scientific Advisor John Holdren warned not to miss out on the race to the North Pole.[4] It is expected that more of the non-bordering countries will enter this race in the future, with Great Britain, Japan, India and the People's Republic of China already being named.

Military Buildup

Experts are no longer excluding the possibility of armed conflicts, given the growing rivalries for influence over the Arctic. The display of military muscle is already in full swing. Since World War II, the USA has been militarily present in Greenland and through accords has assured for itself a wide-ranging margin of military maneuver on Canadian territory as well as along Canada's coastline. Canada has announced it will build new patrol boats, a deep sea harbor, two military bases and will show a stronger military presence.[5] Enhancing its military position in the Arctic as well, Russia will modernize it fleet of icebreakers and establish a network of polar stations, thereby reinforcing its claims on the area.[6]

Sword Rattling

In light of the competitive struggle taking place, NATO also seeks - as demanded by the German Konrad Adenauer Foundation [7] - to reinforce its position in the Arctic and is provoking new tensions with Russia. A NATO spokesperson declared that the region is of long term strategic interest to the alliance. NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer even introduces the idea of the possibility of a military presence in the polar region. The Russian presidential special emissary for polar cooperation, finds that NATO lacks the capability to compete with Russia in the Arctic.[8] The General Chief of Staff warns that from now on, combat training of the Russian navy will take the presence of NATO ships in the Arctic into consideration.[9]

New Opportunities

In spite of NATO advances, that are also being done in Germany's name, the German government has been attempting to sharpen its profile as peacemaker at the Arctic Conference taking place over the past few days in Berlin. Given the limited power policy and military margin of maneuverability open to Germany, Berlin is seeking to legitimize an imposition of its interests by appealing to international law. "We must avoid a cold war at the North Pole" explained Foreign Minister Steinmeier in Autumn 2007; the claims to polar energy deposits must be decided exclusively along the lines of international law.[10] Now the foreign ministry is saying that though Germany is not a bordering state, it is favoring "working toward structures for the Arctic region, based on international law aimed at a sustainable, peaceful exploitation of the resources and the maintenance of the ecological equilibrium."[11] The international conference "New Chances and New Responsibilities in the Arctic Region" is being sponsored together with the foreign ministries of Denmark and Norway, Germany's closest allies in the struggle for control of the Arctic Ocean. The EU Commissioner in charge of the Arctic as well as the Russian Special Emissary for Arctic questions are among the speakers at the conference.

Arctic Standing

The Berlin government's current strategy is to play for time. Because Germany, as a non-bordering state, was not taken into consideration, a possible clarification in the next few years of the territorial claims in accordance with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea should be postponed by means of a moratorium. Since the bordering states "will be hard to convince of the utility of such a moratorium," government advisors from the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) are suggesting that a common approach be undertaken with other non-bordering states such as Great Britain, Japan and China.[12] It must by all means be prevented that the Arctic mineral resources under the ocean floor be divided up among the five bordering states. They should be "globalized" and entrusted to a yet to be named "integrated body". Berlin seeks to inscribe its claims in this body with the use of obscure criteria: "The Arctic should remain open for the participation of states that clearly use philo-climatic policies to the benefit of all" recommend the advisors at SWP. In addition, SWP says that, on the basis of its long years of Arctic research, its participation on various Arctic committees and its alleged "justifiable maritime interests," Germany has a considerable Arctic "standing."[13]

[1] see also Ice Cold War
[2] Neue Strategie: Europäer steigen in das Rennen um die Arktis ein: Spiegel online 21.11.2008
[3] Neue Arktis-Strategie der USA: Bushs eisiges Vermächtnis; Spiegel online 13.01.2009
[4] Streitkräfte und Strategien; 07.03.2009
[5] Kampf um Arktis: Kanada will mehr Militärpräsenz zeigen; RIA Novosti 02.03.2009
[6] Russland baut Präsenz in Arktis aus; Der Standard 12.02.2009
[7] see also Strategic Concepts (I)
[8] Russland braucht keine Nato-Konkurrenz in der Arktis zu befürchten; RIA Novosti 12.02.2009
[9] Russland wird Versuche zur Militarisierung der Arktis adäquat beantworten; RIA Novosti 24.02.2009
[10] Deutschland plant große Arktis-Konferenz; Spiegel online 17.02.2009
[11] Internationale Konferenz "Neue Chancen und Verantwortlichkeiten in der Arktis" im Auswärtigen Amt; 06.03.2009
[12], [13] Klimawandel und Sicherheit in der arktischen Region; Januar 2009