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Analysis: Cold War over North Pole?

The Russian claim of the North Pole has alarmed the Pole's neighboring states. Photo courtesy AFP.
by Stefan Nicola
Berlin (UPI) Oct 1, 2007
What may turn into a Cold War-like resource conflict started quietly, with a vehicle called "Peace 1" some 2,500 miles below the North Pole. The Mir 1 miniature submarine, manned with three Russian scientists, on Aug. 2 planted a titanium capsule with a Russian flag into the seabed -- a symbol for Russia's controversial claim of the vast resources that are believed to be stored below it.

For the Russians and other states surrounding the North Pole, global warming may yet mean a financial blessing. U.S. scientist published a piece in Science that foresees record temperatures for the icy region, resulting in further melting of the polar ice caps. That would mean that ships will be able to better navigate there, and that it will become easier to tap into the vast energy reserves believed to be stored below the icy surface.

"Studies claim that up to a fourth of the world's undiscovered oil and gas resources lie there, as well as uranium, titanium and gold, so there's a lot of money at stake," Claudia Kemfert, energy expert of the German Institute for Economic Affairs, a Berlin-based think tank, told United Press International Friday in a telephone interview. "The conflict over those resources has already started."

The Russian claim of the North Pole has alarmed the Pole's neighboring states.

Finnish Defense Minister Jyri Hakamies earlier this month during his trip to Washington said there were three threats to his country's security: "Russia, Russia and Russia."

While the comment earned him a rebuke from Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen, it demonstrates well how officials in Scandinavia look at Russia's latest advances.

In nearby Norway, officials are even afraid that they have to single-handedly defend against the Russians in case of a serious conflict. Because the West is tied up in its anti-terror missions in the Middle East, Norway cannot rely on assistance from NATO if Russia attacks, believes Sverre Diesen, the country's top military official, according to a confidential defense report quoted by Norwegian TV station NRK.

"There is no direct threat of war," Diesen later said in a radio interview, adding, however, that a realistic conflict scenario could included struggles over fishing rights and oil and gas assets in the Arctic waters north of Norway.

And the concerns aren't baseless. Russia has greatly expanded its naval and aerial military activities near the Norwegian border. Over the past five months Norway's air force had to launch fighter jets on 18 occasions to identify Russian long-range bombers that flew dangerously close to Norwegian airspace.

Of course Russia and Norway aren't the only players demanding ownership of the Arctic assets.

Denmark, Canada and the United States have also entered the race, each of them sending their own research missions into the ice to prove their claims righteous.

Under the U.N. Law of the Sea convention, countries have the right to economically exploit zones in the Arctic within 200 miles of their shores. All countries have ratified the treaty -- except the United States, which is now getting ready to do so. Washington has already sent the U.S. Coast Guard to the Arctic for a research expedition.

After completing its own research mission, Russia earlier this month argued that the underwater Lomonosov and Mendeleev ridges, believed to be full of energy resources, lie on a continental shelf connected to Russia's land mass. Moscow will file an application to claim the shelves with the United Nations next year, Russian officials said. Canada has since vowed to update its icebreaker fleet and add two new military installations in the Arctic.

Denmark, which has just completed a mission aimed at proving that the Lomonosov ridge belongs to Greenland, a self-governing Danish province located between the Arctic and Atlantic oceans, called on the other countries competing for the area to join a meeting next year to find "a common civilized manner in which to behave.''

Experts, however, see the current muscle flexing in the Arctic as heralding further struggles over resources.

"What we are seeing currently in the North Pole is a precursor to what will be the conflicts of the future," Kemfert said.

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Remarkable Drop In Arctic Sea Ice Raises Questions
Boulder CO (SPX) Sep 28, 2007
Melting Arctic sea ice has shrunk to a 29-year low, significantly below the minimum set in 2005, according to preliminary figures from the National Snow and Ice Data Center, part of the University of Colorado at Boulder. NASA scientists, who have been observing the declining Arctic sea ice cover since the earliest measurements in 1979, are working to understand this sudden speed-up of sea ice decline and what it means for the future of Earth's northern polar region.

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