Arctic Roadmap

BERLIN/WASHINGTON | | usa

BERLIN/WASHINGTON (Own report) - German Navy circles are discussing US plans for the militarization of the Arctic. According to the latest edition of the German magazine "MarineForum", the US Navy is currently elaborating concrete scenarios for missions in the Arctic Ocean to develop arms programs for the next few years and is examining the possibility of establishing a permanent military presence in the High North. These US projects are not only important for Germany because Washington would like to coordinate them, at least to a certain extent, with its allies. In addition, the competent department director in the German Navy declared already last year that it must also be examined "to what extent ships, boats and aircraft already in service" would be capable of participating in "operations in the maritime regions of the High North." Berlin favors Iceland joining the EU, because it could provide a strategic base for Arctic missions and the EU is endorsing membership negotiations. Western authorities are suspiciously watching China’s recent efforts to use the opening of the Arctic.

The Melting Ice

The climate change and the melting ice in the Arctic have provoked these current discussions. Even though this winter brought Europe unusual cold temperatures, it did little to strengthen the Arctic ice cover, which could not reach its average winter size, as has been measured since 1979 by satellite. The ice expansion was measured at its three lowest values over the past three summers. The melting ice provides access to significant potential natural resource deposits and new shipping routes for intercontinental trade through the Arctic Ocean. Last year a German merchant vessel has transited for the first time through the so called North-East passage off the Siberian coast.[1] Resources and trade routes are whetting appetites and provoking growing rivalry between the Arctic bordering states.[2] (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[3])

Extending Influence

In this context, the Bonn-based magazine „MarineForum" [4] presented the current US plans for a militarization of the Arctic. Already last summer, the German journal "Europäische Sicherheit" informed the German military of the "National Security Presidential Directive 66", enacted January 9, 2009 by the outgoing US President, George W. Bush. It was one of his last official acts. „Because of the growing human activity in the Arctic, the USA feels impelled to extend its presence and influence in that region to protect its interests and facilitate its Navy’s access to the entire region," is the journal's summary of the Directive.[5] In the meantime the "U.S. Navy Arctic Roadmap" has been presented specifying proposals for future US activities in the Arctic. In its recent edition, the German magazine "MarineForum" provides information on these proposals.

Military Presence

According to the journal, the United States is compiling for the coming five years "most probable threat scenarios" in regards to the natural resources and the maritime trade route of the polar sea. They form the basis of mission scenarios as well as "mission requirements" that are to be developed. Based on a detailed "assessment of the necessary naval capability for the Arctic" - precise arms buildup plans - "recommendations for future development and procuration programs" are to be elaborated. "An assessment must also be made of the degree of necessity for a permanent military presence in the High North and the establishment of military bases along the northern coast of Alaska.[6] The MarineForum points to the fact that an ice-free polar sea opens new options not only for maritime trade but also new "options of mobility" for naval vessels. The "time of transit from the east coast of the USA and Eastern Asia" will be reduced "substantially."

Operations in the Polar Sea

US plans for militarizing the Arctic, currently in discussion in Navy circles in Germany, have aroused interest in Germany not only because Washington has announced its intentions to involve its allies and the countries bordering on the Polar Sea, at least to a certain extent, in its project. Berlin has also begun considering its own possible options for intervention in the High North. The question is "to what extent ships, boats and aircraft already in service" would be capable of participating in "operations in the maritime regions of the High North" explained the director of the concept and planning guidelines department in the commanding staff of the German Navy already last year.[7] In any case, the fleet command in Gluecksburg will serve "as the interface between the national and international situation assessment organization and will have to handle more information in the future, to generate up-to-date situation assessments" predicted the department director in reference to the Arctic Ocean.

Bridgehead to the Arctic

In Berlin, Iceland's joining the EU is considered advantageous for enhancing German-EU influence in the Arctic. Because of its location in the north, the country could serve as a "strategic bridgehead in the Arctic realm which is growing in importance for the EU" assessed the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) already last year.[8] Iceland plays "an important strategic role in all questions dealing with the Arctic," explained the Swedish Foreign Minister, Carl Bildt. "At the moment, the EU is playing absolutely no role in this game."[9] This is why the EU Commission's decision at the end of February to initiate EU membership negotiations with Iceland is significant. In explaining that decision, the EU's Membership Commissioner also confirmed that Iceland has a "strategic importance" for the Arctic.[10]

The Major Rival

Western authorities are suspiciously watching China’s recent efforts to use the opening of the Arctic. "China is slowly but steadily recognizing the commercial and strategic opportunities that will arise from an ice free Arctic," explained the author of a study handling the Chinese Arctic strategy, published last week by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute SIPRI.[11] The study concludes that even though Beijing would like to profit from the natural resources and shipping routes of the High North, China is restricting itself to research and cooperation with the Arctic nations and does not speak of military projects.[12] It would serve smaller Arctic nations with less means at their disposal to cooperate in the Arctic with the Peoples’ Republic of China, according to SIPRI. But this could also signify potential conflicts with Western powers, which are not willing to tolerate a major rival in the Arctic.

Please read also Ice Cold War, Cold War at the North Pole and Bridgehead to the Arctic.

[1] see also Vor fremden Küsten
[2] Arktis-Anrainer sind Russland, Norwegen, Dänemark (via Grönland), Kanada und die USA (via Alaska).
[3] see also Cold War at the North Pole
[4] Die Monatszeitschrift MarineForum wird vom Deutschen Marine Institut herausgegeben. Dieses wiederum ist 1973 von der Marine-Offizier-Vereinigung gegründet worden, die sich als Netzwerk aktiver und ehemaliger Marineoffiziere versteht.
[5] Amerikas neue Sicherheitsdirektive für die Arktis; Europäische Sicherheit 7/2009
[6] Neue Front im Norden. Arktis-Fahrplan der US-Navy; MarineForum 3/2010
[7] Markus Kraus-Traudes: "Arktis wird eisfrei!" ... und das bedeutet? MarineForum 11/2009
[8] Carsten Schymik: Island auf EU-Kurs; SWP-Aktuell 24, Mai 2009. S. auch Bridgehead to the Arctic
[9] Erweiterung: "EU sollte strenger zu Südosteuropa sein"; diepresse.com 23.02.2010
[10] EU-Kommission empfiehlt Beitrittsgespräche mit Island; www.wirtschaftsblatt.at 24.02.2010
[11] China will von arktischer Eisschmelze profitieren; Financial Times Deutschland 01.03.2010
[12] China Prepares for an Ice-free Arctic; SIPRI Insights on Peace and Security 2010/2, March 2010