Climate change is opening up a new crossroads and a potential center of conflict: the Arctic. But one key lawmaker warned that the United States was lagging behind in securing the region, with other powers moving, adding that he believed the Arctic could soon be the scene of Vladimir Putin’s nuclear power show.
“This new ocean is showing up on our maps, and it has all kinds of different effects,” Senator Angus King, an independent who rallies with Democrats, said in an interview with CNN. “We’ve been slow to pick it up, frankly.”
The summer extent of Arctic sea ice has decreased by about 50% since the 1970s. The co-chair of the Arctic Group in the Senate believes that dramatic change in the region is likely to be irreversible in the short term. As King argues the world must do more to tackle climate change, a new reality is fast approaching and there is a global rush underway, with global powers interfering in the search for untapped natural resources, such as oil and natural gas, and much-desired shipping routes.
If you think of the Mediterranean, there have been 1,000 years of war to define the relationships between those countries around (it). The question is can we open the Arctic and avoid conflict? ” He said.
Just as some scientists predict we may see ice-free summers near the North Pole in the coming decades, King said additional shipping lanes could increase trade and lead to a huge economic advantage as some routes reduce shipping times by up to 15 days.
“But Russia has a huge border on the Arctic Ocean, which, by the way, is militarizing Hell now,” he said. “It’s a national security issue for everyone in the United States, whether they’re in Texas or in Minnesota.”
CNN I mentioned earlier On the constant strengthening of Russian military bases on the country’s Arctic coast, which includes the renovation of old Soviet facilities. The Kremlin allowed CNN to get a first-hand look at Russia’s northernmost outpost in 2021, and pledged its intentions in the region would be peaceful.
“Ukraine changed all of that,” King said, adding that Putin’s expansionist views may soon extend further north. “I don’t think there is any doubt that he will stop (in Ukraine) if he succeeds.”
As the Ukraine counteroffensive gains momentum and the Russian military suffers setbacks, one of King’s fears is that Putin may resort to the use of nuclear weapons to reassert hegemony.
“He has several options in terms of a tactical nuclear weapon and one of them is the so-called ‘show’ in the Arctic,” King said. “The idea is we’ll show you what we can do, but we’re not going to kill a lot of people.”
While King, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said there was no intelligence indicating an imminent nuclear test by Putin, he said it remained “one of his options.”
While King said he praised the Biden administration’s “new National Arctic Strategy,” which was released this month, he said the United States should invest more resources to compete.
“I mean Russia has like 40 icebreakers. We have one,” King said, adding that Russia is not alone, with countries that are not geographically close to the North Pole, such as China and India, also placing their ambitions in the Arctic.
At an Arctic conference in Iceland a few years ago, King said he met a 40-person delegation from China, where Chinese officials told him that Beijing was interested in the region as a “near Arctic country.”
This makes Maine near the Caribbean. There is no geographical relationship. King said. “But they see the strategic value and the potential economic value.”
King calls for a stronger naval presence in the Arctic, a more robust military infrastructure, and adherence to international treaties, such as the United Nations Law of the Sea, among other steps he believes could deter a future war.
“I think the jury is out on that, but at least it’s possible and I think that would be positive for America and the whole world,” he said.