The Next Geographical Pivot: The Russian Arctic in the Twenty-first Century
[ Page 15-16 ]
The geopolitics of the twenty-first century will be different from the days of empire and conflict of the nineteenth and twentieth. The increased accessibility of the Arctic, with its energy and mineral resources, new fisheries, shortened sea routes, and access to rivers flowing north to the Arctic, is pushing Russia to become a maritime state. As it progresses, Russia will no longer be susceptible to geographic isolation or encirclement. At the same time, these changes will require Russia to become more closely integrated into global commercial and financial networks, to welcome international business involvement, and to par- ticipate in international bodies that harmonize international shipping, safety, security, and environmental regulations.
These changes are already opening the way for a new geostrategy that has its roots in the geopolitical thinking of the twentieth century but addresses the changes that are turning the Arctic from an afterthought to a central front in the new geopolitical view of the world. In this new geostrategy, Russia assumes a role as one of the maritime powers of the “rimland,” and the Russian Arctic becomes a new geographical pivot among the great powers. Decades will pass before Russia can fully make the shift from Eurasian heartland to Arctic coastal state, but it is already integrating policies toward this end into the strategies of its national security council and federal ministries, and it shows every indication of expecting to seize its future seat among the major maritime states of the world.
[ Page 28 ]
Foreign Policy. In seeking to establish the Arctic as a “zone of peace and cooperation,” the Russian Arctic policy emphasizes mutually beneficial bilateral and multilateral cooperation among Russia and other Arctic states on the basis of in- ternational treaties and agreements to which Russia is a party. Underlying all Russian policies toward the Arctic is support for regional collaboration in the Arctic and commitment to UNCLOS and multilateral organizations and approaches, including the International Maritime Organization, the Arctic Council, and the five Arctic coastal states, who met in Ilulissat, Greenland, in 2008 to issue their declaration on management of the Arctic. The key foreign policy point in the Ilulissat Declaration—that the Arctic coastal states will resolve disputes peacefully in line with the law of the sea—is consistent with the Russian Arctic policy.22
[ Page 33 ]
As a maritime state with interests in sustaining freedom of navigation on a global stage and in maintaining safety and security in its offshore waters, Russia in the twenty-first century will increasingly share interests long held by the United States and other ocean powers. Russia’s interests in its Arctic will foster a maritime policy that embraces coastal resource management and freedom of international navigation, though likely with a greater emphasis on offshore￼sovereignty and less on distant-water power projection. Strategic security policy will be a continuation of past and current policy, the U.S.-Russian maritime boundary is already resolved de facto (pending official approval of the boundary treaty by the Russian Duma), and current and potential territorial disputes between Russia and U.S. allies Norway, Denmark, and Canada are likely to be resolved through peaceful means. The United States and Russia also have an agreement that maritime-boundary and navigation disputes will be resolved diplomatically rather than by resort to arms.32 The conflicts that do arise will be focused on matters of commercial navigation, boundary delimitation, fisheries management, energy development, environmental protection, and ocean science, all the subjects of international diplomacy and regulatory enforcement rather than warfare.
[ Page 35 ]
The opening of the Arctic in the twenty-first century will give Russia the oppor- tunity to develop and grow as a maritime power, first in the Arctic and eventually wherever its merchant fleet carries Russian goods and returns with foreign products. This transformation of the threatening “heartland” of Mackinder and Spykman into a member of the maritime powers will require extensive effort to bring the new maritime Russia into the collaborations and partnerships of other oceangoing states. Commitment to the rule of law, shared Arctic domain awareness, joint security and safety operations, and collaboration in developing policies for the future can maintain the Arctic as a region of peace even while the coastal states maintain naval and law enforcement capabilities in the region.
The best course is to address Russia’s evolving maritime role with an Arctic regional maritime partnership based on the model of the Global Maritime Partnership initiative, expanded to address civilian interests in climate, resources, science, and conservation. The American objective should be to work collab- oratively to resolve disputes over continental shelf and fishery claims, negotiate a regional high-seas fisheries management plan, develop a regional Arctic maritime transportation plan, and coordinate security and safety policies on the ocean and ice surface and in the air, in line with the U.S. Arctic Policy and the sea services’ “Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower."
[ Page 19 ]
Russia’s Arctic encompasses the northern seas, islands, continental shelf, and the coast of the Eurasian continent; in addition, it is closely linked to the vast watershed that flows to the sea. The Arctic coast of Russia spans from its border with Norway on the Kola Peninsula eastward to the Bering Strait. Along the coast is a wide continental shelf, running eastward from the Barents Sea in the west to the Kara Sea, the Laptev Sea, the East Siberian Sea, and the Chukchi Sea. Of these seas, only the Barents is largely ice-free throughout the year, a result of the Gulf Stream returning there to the Arctic. The continental shelf extends northward far beyond the two-hundred-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ). When free of ice, the coastline along the Arctic extends almost forty thousand kilometers (including the coasts of the northern islands), which must be patrolled and protected. The Russian Arctic coast drains a watershed of thir- teen million square kilometers, equal to about three-quarters of the total land area of Russia and an area larger than any country on earth save Russia itself.
Russia has long been a major producer of oil and gas from land-based re- sources. Now the resources of the Arctic continental shelf are drawing increasing attention. Deposits in the Barents Sea are already being developed, with oth- er known deposits in both the Barents and the Kara seas being eyed for future exploitation. Still more energy resources are awaiting discovery. In 2008, the U.S. Geological Survey, estimating the as-yet-undiscovered resources of oil and gas in the Arctic, projected over 60 percent of the total resources (equivalent to about 412 billion barrels of oil) to be located in Russian territory, with all but a very small percentage on shore or inside the EEZ.6 The area of greatest poten- tial is in the Kara Sea basin, with smaller, yet still respectable, prospects in the Laptev and East Siberian seas.