Arctic & Antarctica
Lev Fedoseyev / TASS

Not All Is Quiet On the Arctic Front

Four key opportunities could spark instability in the Arctic in 2019.

Not a day goes by without a mention of a looming new Cold War in the Arctic. Apparently, conflict between Russia and the West is now linked inextricably to the phenomenon of melting icecaps. Russia’s Arctic interest has, however, not matched its assertive foreign policy elsewhere — as per Ukraine or Syria.

Russia is the largest Arctic state and has a long history in the Arctic, predating Vladimir Putin.

Moscow’s Arctic interest is to be expected and in reality, Russian Arctic strategy is logical in its scope and ambition.

Unfortunately, this does not provide attention-grabbing headlines. An Arctic conflict agenda is fanned incessantly, which serves to cloud its relatively cooperative environment.

However, 2019 will present four clear windows for the region to potentially backslide — proving security pundits right.

Control of the Northern Sea Route

The first potential avenue for Arctic competition to intensify is related to control of the Northern Sea Route (NSR).

The NSR is an attractive maritime route — namely for China — which slashes global transportation lead times and costs. Situated within the Russian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), hugging Russia’s Arctic coastline, the transport corridor has a long Russian history.

Recently, Russia has clamped down on the NSR and moved to restrict foreign transit along the corridor connecting Asia to Europe. Vessels are now required to submit notice to Russia some 45-days prior to voyage, host a Russian pilot during their transversion of the NSR and pay increased transit fees.

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