Monday, 29 June 2020

The Unfrozen North - Turn 1 (2025)

By 2025, we decided that the Polar Ice Cap would have retreated beyond Severnaya Zemlya, effectively opening the Northern Sea Route from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean. This would have the effect of opening the Arctic Ocean to commercial traffic from East Asia to Europe and the Eastern Seaboard of the United States.

To facilitate the opening of the Polar Silk Road, China established the Arctic Investment Programme. As a feature of this, a transportation corridor between Harbin, Yakutsk, and Tiksi was put under development. That corridor would be completed by 2030, for use thereafter in Turn 3. Port facilities in Tiksi were included as part of this development, and would come on stream in 2030. As part of the AIP, funding was offered to Canada to develop the North West Passage, but this was declined.

Russia developed a mineral and hydrocarbon extraction research facility at Murmansk. This was funded and staffed by Chinese SOEs and developed a reputation for expertise in these areas. On Sakhalin Island, Japan financed the further development of the LNG trans-shipment terminals. This went hand in hand with the establishment of an Economic Development Institute in Sapporo to focus on the development of the Sea of Okhotsk region, including the Kamchatka Peninsula and the Kurile Islands. 

The United States deployed six Coast Guard cutters to the Arctic Ocean, but their home port remained as Seattle, reducing their effective time in the region. Work was commenced on developing a home port facility at Prudhoe Bay. Owing to Canadian resistance to the use of the Pan American Highway to transport materials, this would not be complete until 2035, for use thereafter in Turn 4. This was part of a general retreat of US commercial interests in Canada. By 2025, Big Oil had exited Canada owing to the shifting economics of oil extraction. Canada aimed to provide alternative work for the displaced labour by encouraging the fisheries in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Denmark, at the behest of the European Commission, tabled an environmental motion that wasn't fully understood by the international community. Russia voted for the motion, but the US and Canada vetoed it. The motion tabled by Denmark managed to alienate the population in Greenland, giving rise to an uptick in support for the Greenland Independence Party.

This was the situation in 2025. The Arctic Ocean had become navigable, China had seized the opportunity to develop the Polar Silk Road, and the NATO response had been disjointed and disunited. Would things change in the years to 2030?

Stephen Aguilar-Millan
© The European Futures Observatory 2020

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