This week, the Center of Strategic and International Studies launched its interactive Arctic Military Activity Tracker to help document recent events and positioning from military actors in the Arctic. As climate change melts the ice in the High North, new economic and geopolitical opportunities are emerging such as faster maritime trade routes and new resource deposits. Consequentially, the rival powers in the region are pushing to outmanoeuvre one another in a race to secure these lucrative new opportunities.
In particular, Russia's activity in the Arctic region has escalated in the past decade and shows no signs of cooling off. Incidents in and under the Arctic Circle present a threat to the Northern NATO member states given that a greater Russian presence could not only inhibit access to the new opportunities, but also put a geographical chokehold on Western Europe through control of the GIUK gap (Greenland-Iceland-UK sea gap). Moreover, growing Russian militarisation across the Bering Straits from Alaska undoubtedly will worry American security planners in Washington.
From a Russian perspective, their country occupies a vast proportion of the Arctic region and sees securing its northern border to access the new resources, economic opportunities and projecting power in its neighbourhood as a vital cog to its foreign policy. In the past decade, it has revitalized Soviet-era bases, deployed missile defense systems, invested in domain awareness capabilities, increased aerial and maritime patrols, and stepped up its exercise schedule. Russia’s military activities in the Arctic have in turn led the United States, NATO members, and close U.S. partners such as Sweden and Finland to increase their own regional military capabilities with a commensurate uptick in exercises, deployments, patrols, and capability investments.
With the warming of the Arctic continuing at record pace, an accurate picture of strategic competition in the Arctic is necessary as policymakers search for ways to enhance transparency of their military activities, develop confidence-building measures, and create dialogue mechanisms to avoid conflict.
For the tracker, click HERE