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The race to conquer the Arctic – the world’s final frontier

Posted on March 12th, 2018 at 21:05 by John Sinteur in category: News


Climate change is the crucial precondition. In August 2017, the Russian-owned Christophe de Margerie, the world’s first ice-breaking LNG tanker, accomplished a world-record voyage from Norway to South Korea in only 19 days by taking the Northern Sea Route (along Russia’s Arctic coast from Murmansk to the Bering Strait). Had it followed the usual route via the Suez Canal and the Indian Ocean, the journey would have taken almost a month. But the recent melting of the Arctic ice cap is transforming global shipping and international geopolitics.

The Russians are constructing 15 new LNG supertankers, each with built-in ice-breaker capacity – to add to their existing fleet of 40 ice-breakers. And they aren’t the only ones. At the end of the 19th century the great powers engaged in a scramble for Africa. Now, in the 21st century, a scramble for the Arctic is unfolding. Across one of the bleakest landscapes of the world, the race is on for gas, oil and fish and to control the emerging shipping lanes of the High North.

The Arctic is at issue, above all, because nobody owns it. Unlike Antarctica – governed since 1959 by the Antarctic Treaty, which established the continent as a scientific preserve and banned military activity – the polar region of the north is one of the least regulated places on earth. There are more rules even in outer space. All the Arctic states are now jockeying for position as the region literally opens up. And several non-Arctic states are seeking influence, with the big money and real strategic vision coming from Beijing. It’s time for the West to pay attention.

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