Warming of the Arctic will change centuries-old geopolitical calculus by giving Russia a significant maritime role
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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.
Tension between Russia and other Arctic nations will remain high as they continue to compete for Arctic territory. Maintaining UNCLOS as a viable legal framework for settling Arctic territorial claims should help avert potential confrontations between Russia and other UNCLOS members.