Ice-Cold Geopolitics (II)

BERLIN/MOSCOW/WASHINGTON | | russische-foederation

BERLIN/MOSCOW/WASHINGTON (Own report) - The participation of elite units of the German Bundeswehr in NATO's current "Cold Response" exercise in Norway, is a demonstration of Germany's growing interest in the Arctic. While the Bundeswehr is training in "winter warfare" skills, the German government, by its own admission, is seeking to make the polar region a "central focus of German policy." Because of global warming, the thawing ice facilitates the "mining of raw materials" as well as the "ships passage through the Arctic," thus opening up new "opportunities for the German and European economies." In the meantime, Russia has officially declared that - together with China - it seeks to turn the Northeast Passage, connecting the European North Atlantic via the Russian Arctic coastline to the Pacific Ocean, into a "transport corridor with global importance." US media are already speaking of a new phase of "competition" for "spheres of interests" and calling the Arctic a future "flash point" between Moscow and Washington.

Central Focus of German Policy

The participation of the Bundeswehr's "Special Forces Commando" - specialized in military operations behind enemy lines - in NATO's "Cold Response" exercise, currently taking place in Norway (german-foreign-policy.com reported [1]) corresponds to Germany's growing interest in the Arctic. Already in late 2013, the German government had adopted its binding "Arctic Policy Guidelines," acknowledging its "geopolitical" and "geo-economic" interests in the northern polar region. The "rapid increase in the melting rate of the polar ice," due to global warming, opens new "opportunities for the German and European economies," according to these "Guidelines." This will facilitate the "mining of raw materials in the Arctic" and will allow the "passage of ships through the Arctic." Germany's Foreign Ministry, therefore, aims to make the northern polar region a "central focus of German policy" and seeks to "ensure horizontal coherence within the EU's foreign and security policy on issues concerning the Arctic."[2]

Promising Growth Potential

Back in 2011, the German Ministry of Economics implemented a "National Master Plan for Maritime Technologies" (NMMT), that explicitly makes reference to German interests in the northern polar regions, stipulating: "Due to the climate change, the ice thickness and expanse have seriously receded in the Arctic. This has produced totally new perspectives for the exploitation of raw materials in ice-covered regions. In addition, the focus on the northern maritime route - representing a 40 percent shorter sea transport between Europe and East Asia, to that of the Suez Canal - is gaining prominence for shipping." Therefore, it is imperative to participate in the "impending development and exploitation" of the Arctic through "timely research and development," to be able to insure access to this "promising growth potential."[3]

Significant Natural Resources

In a recent study, the Federal Agency for Geological Studies and Natural Resources (BGR) also declared that the Arctic is "rich in mineral resources" and disposes of "significant natural resources on a global scale."[4] Reference is made particularly to the so-called high-tech metals and rare earth, essential for industrial production in western industrialized nations. According to official US studies, the northern polar region contains up to one third of the world's oil and gas reserves - approx. the amount discovered in Saudi Arabia before exploitation began. Exploration is being continued, in spite of the current drop in prices, it is reported. For its part, the German government is massively promoting polar research, for which it has spent approx. 960 million Euros over the past ten years. The finances went to the Potsdam-based Alfred Wegener Institute, which recently introduced its "primary focal points for future Arctic research" to the public. As Volker Rachold, the institute's head researcher explained, the objective is "to generate knowledge and convey this to decision makers." Therefore, his institute is focusing its activities on research into "the role the Arctic plays in the global climatic, economic and geopolitical system," as well as the development of "models and prognoses" on "future climatic change" and the "reliability of the Arctic environment and society."[5]

Competitive Transportation Corridor

In the meantime, Russian Vice Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin has announced that Moscow, together with China, will expand the so-called Northeast Passage into a "competitive transport corridor with global importance."[6] The maritime route runs along the Russian Arctic coastline to the Pacific Ocean and is significantly shorter than the usual shipping routes from Western Europe either via the Suez Canal and the Indian Ocean or over the Atlantic via the Panama Canal - that is if it is ice-free. In addition, on this route, there is no danger of piracy or transit fees. As Rogozin explained, the availability of the "Northeast Passage" also opens access to Eastern Asia in case Turkey should close the Bosporus for Russian vessels in a military conflict with Moscow. The US McKinsey Company's participation in the opening of the "Northeast Passage," recently being discussed in Russian government circles, is of course controversial.

The Militarization of the Arctic

On the other hand, the USA is suspicious of Russia's Arctic policy. Media close to the US military are already speaking of a new phase in the "competition" for "spheres of interests" and designate the Arctic region as a future "flash point" between Moscow and Washington. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[7]) The press close to the German military have, for years, been saying the same. They are particularly raising the accusation that, to secure its areas of natural resources and transportation routes, Russia is "militarizing the Arctic."[8] In light of NATO's heightened activity, the northern polar region could, in fact, become the theater of conflicts with high potentials for escalation - a scenario, the Bundeswehr is preparing for with its participation in maneuvers such as "Cold Response."

[1] See Ice-Cold Geopolitics (I).
[2] Auswärtiges Amt: Leitlinien deutscher Arktispolitik. Verantwortung übernehmen, Chancen nutzen. Berlin, November 2013.
[3] Bundesministerium für Wirtschaft und Technologie: Maritime Technologien der nächsten Generation. Das Forschungsprogramm für Schiffbau, Schifffahrt und Meerestechnik 2011-2015. Berlin, Mai 2011.
[4] Neue BGR-Studie zum Rohstoffpotenzial in der Arktis: Weltgrößtes gesichertes Seltene Erden-Vorkommen liegt in Sibirien. www.bgr.bund.de 16.01.2014.
[5] Forschungsschwerpunkte für die Arktis festgelegt. idw-online.de 18.02.2016.
[6] Arctic Fellowship. rusplt.ru 02.03.2016.
[7] See Ice-Cold Geopolitics (I).
[8] See Eismeer statt Wüstensand and Arctic Roadmap.