When the Arctic Council was formed in 1996, its member nations regarded the Arctic as a “low tension” area — what a NATO study called a “zone of depoliticized cooperation.”
As instructive background, here are the Council members: eight countries that control some Arctic territory (U.S., Canada, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Iceland, Sweden, Russia) and six Arctic indigenous groups.
Denmark, a peninsula in the Baltic Sea, has major Arctic interests. Greenland is a Danish possession, and the island has an immense Arctic Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). That means Greenland has legit claims to immense Arctic mineral deposits and maritime resources.
Greenland, the world’s biggest island, is also in North America, along with Mexico, the U.S. and Canada. Check out the continental plate or ask a geologist.
Here’s more instructive background to further discussion of accelerating Arctic competition.
Let’s stipulate 9/11 ended the Faux Pax (Fake Peace with historical echoes) that followed the Cold War and its phony Peace Dividend.
However, as the 21st century’s second decade began Chinese and Russian imperialism began a new era Great Power conflict with global stakes and nuclear weapons. Concrete examples of Beijing’s and Moscow’s escalating treachery: (1) China’s artificial island invasion of the South China Sea (slow, calculated territorial conquest toward Singapore, with the Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia en-route victims); (2) Russia’s 2014 Crimea invasion and annexation; (3) Russia’s 2014 invasion of Ukraine’s Donbas and its all-out assault in February 2022.
Until 2010 or kinda-sorta, the Arctic “low tension” condition held.
We’re in 2022. Low tension is history. In August 2019, then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo addressed the reality. “We’re entering a new age of strategic engagement in the Arctic,” Pompeo said, “complete with new threats to the Arctic and its real estate, and to all of our interests in that region.”
Pompeo named the threats: China and Russia.
China? Yes, China now claims it’s a “near-Arctic state.” When China made that claim I read it as a threat to Russian Siberia.
According to Beijing’s propagandists, Siberia belongs to China. The current border (approximately 2,740 miles) is an artifact of the 1860 Convention of Peking. In 1917, the Bolsheviks acknowledged that czarist treaties forced on China were coercive and predatory. Russia, however, has never returned any Siberian territory.
Xi Jinping’s communist China wants it back, because it’s a route to global domination.
Seeing China’s big game (strategic goal is the fancy phrase), Pompeo didn’t bother with nerdish historical footnotes. He hit China’s propaganda claim head-on: “There are only arctic states and non-arctic states. No third category exists and claiming otherwise entitles China to exactly nothing.” He also made the correct contemporary connection that exposes China’s game. “Do we want the Arctic Ocean to transform into a new South China Sea, fraught with militarization and competing territorial claims?”
Which brings us back to now. This week Breaking Defense published an interesting article recommending the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) “invite Greenland and Denmark to join the command, reflecting the fact that Greenland is a strategically integral part of North America, and Denmark has sovereignty over it.” Why? “…increasing numbers of aerial intrusions.” By whom? Russia
The biggest factor is Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Outright aggression.
Breaking Defense’s invite makes so much sense a critic might say it’s 60 years late.
However, the immediate diplomatic and political message is useful. The New York Times and mainstream media will miss it, but Moscow won’t.
An administrative-strategic move to consider: include Greenland in NORTHCOM (U.S. Northern Command). Admittedly an obscure rearrangement but defending Greenland would be regarded as defending the U.S. and Canada. For what it’s worth, Mexico is a de facto member of NORTHCOM because clued-in and fully cleared in Mexican military liaison officers contribute to hemispheric defense at NORTHCOM’s headquarters in Colorado.
At the moment Greenland is assigned to European headquarters. I say, follow the science. Let geography and geology rule. And stick it in Moscow’s face.
To find out more about Austin Bay and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.