This article is from WeChat official account:Understand knowledge (ID: mingbaizhishi), author: understand knowledge er, title figure from: vision China

If someone said at the beginning of the 21st century that the Arctic would become a strategic place for great powers to compete, it might be considered a idiot.

But today, because of global warming, this impossible is becoming possible.

Perhaps, in another ten years, people will discuss the “Arctic issue” as naturally as they discuss the “Middle East issue.

As early as last year (May 6, 2019), US Secretary of State Pompeo(Mike Pompeo) said directly at the eleventh ministerial meeting of the Arctic Council in Finland:

“The area (Arctic) has become an arena for power and competition. Eight Arctic countries must adapt to this new In the future…We are entering a new era of strategic engagement with the Arctic…”

Not only the United States has seen this, but other major countries have gradually turned their attention to this “no man’s land” in recent years.

Earlier (January 26, 2018), the State Council Information Office released a white paper titled “China’s Arctic Policy”. And pointed out in the document:

“ChinaIs an important stakeholder in Arctic affairs. China is a “near-Arctic country” geographically and one of the countries closest to the Arctic Circle on land. The natural conditions and changes in the Arctic have a direct impact on China’s climate system and ecological environment, and in turn are related to China’s economic interests in agriculture, forestry, fishery, and oceans. “

China is a “near Arctic country” and hopes to establish a “Polar Silk Road” in the Arctic.

Not to mention Russia’s ambitions. It is the largest country in the Arctic Circle, and its power has been in the Arctic for at least a hundred years.

The eight countries of the Arctic Circle are geographically distributed. Although most of the land of Iceland is not in the Arctic Circle in the strict sense, it is still covered by the Arctic Ocean. Classified as an Arctic country. Image source: The Economist

There are eight countries in the Arctic Circle, including the United States(Alaska), Russia, Iceland, Greenland(The foreign affairs, finance and defense are represented by Denmark), Canada, Norway, Sweden, Finland.

These eight countries are the main forces competing for power in the Arctic Circle, and the deeper contest is actually a wrestling of greater political forces including the United States, Russia, China, Japan, and the European Union.

The intensity of the Arctic hegemony is beyond our imagination.

1. The strategic position of the Arctic

In principle, according to the 1982 “United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea”, the Arctic does not belong to any country. The eight countries in the Arctic Circle only have economic expertise in 200 nautical miles along the territorial coast.Privileges of the district.

But before this, various countries have been fighting for the Arctic for a long time.

In the 18th century, Russia declared sovereignty over the Aleutian Islands, the Bering Strait and Alaska;

The United States bought Alaska from Russia in 1867 for the then 7.2 million U.S. dollars, and obtained this strategically important land.

In 1920, 18 countries signed the Svalbard Treaty, which recognized Norway’s sovereignty over the Spitsbergen Islands and stipulated that citizens of all signatory countries have the right to stay on the island. But now, regardless of whether they are citizens of the State party or not, they have the right to stay.

The sovereignty dispute in the Arctic has always stirred the nerves of major powers.

In 2007, the Russian scientific expedition team planted a 1-meter-high titanium flag on the seabed below the North Pole, which caused the issue of Arctic sovereignty to heat up. Although this is a scientific investigation, it has a political flavor.

However, it is people’s understanding of global warming that really heats up the Arctic Circle’s hegemony. It can be said that global warming directly enhances the strategic significance of the Arctic Circle.

The changes in the area of ​​Arctic icebergs from 1979 to 2015 have made global warming a reality. Image source: EPA

The melting of Arctic glaciers caused by global warming is now an old topic. But melting glaciers is not only about environmental issues, but also about trade issues.

For hundreds of years, human economy has always depended on trade between countries. Trade enables countries to develop their own comparative advantages and achieve a win-win situation through exchange. In this process, the most important thing for trade is maritime transportation.

Nowadays, maritime transport accounts for about 90% of the world’s total trade. The impact of maritime transport on trade is evident..

It can be said that the choice of waterway is directly related to economic interests. The excavation of the Suez Canal and the Panama Canal is for trade; the important geographical position of the Strait of Malacca is also for trade.

In the next few decades, if the Arctic glaciers melt, the strategic location of two important shipping lanes will increase accordingly, and that is the “Northwest Passage”(Northwest Passage) and “North Sea Route” (North Sea Route).

Northwest Passage and Beihai Navigation Route Map. Image source: The Economist

Let’s talk about the Northwest Passage first, which is a legendary and vital waterway.

Geographically speaking, the Northwest Passage connects North America and East Asia, compared to the way from the south to East Asia through the Panama Canal.(below (Figure green route), the Northwest Passage is about 4000 kilometers closer.

There are two different routes from New York to Tokyo, the red is the Northwest Passage (14000km), the green is the Panama Canal (18200km), the difference between the two routes is about 4200km. Source: Wikipedia

This route began in 1845. At that time, the British navy dispatched explorer John Franklin(Sir John Franklin) to lead two ships to explore the Northwest Passage: one named Nether(HMS Erebus), a ship named Terror(HMS Terror).

As their names suggest, the whereabouts of the two ships were unknown in the second year. By the time people found them, more than a hundred years had passed.

Later analysis showed that everyone, including John Franklin, died one after another because of the obstacle of the glacier.

In 1903, Norwegian explorers sailed from the Atlantic Ocean to Alaska for three years, verifying that the Northwest Passage was feasible. However, due to the danger of this route, especially in cold weather, it will be completely frozen, the Northwest Passage route has never been considered.

With global warming, this route is becoming safer. Of course, along with the routes, there are huge trade benefits.

In addition to the Northwest Passage, there is also an extremely important North Sea Passage in northern Russia.

This route is the shortest sea route between Asia and Europe. From Shanghai, China to Hamburg, Germany, if you take the old road, that is, Shanghai-Malacca Strait-Suez Canal-Mediterranean-Hamburg, the distance is about 20,000km; and if you take the North Sea For the navigation channel, the path is shortened by nearly 40%, only 14,000km, which can save about half a month of sailing time.

The North Sea Channel in northern Russia is self-evident. Image source: Statista

But the North Sea Channel has a fatal shortcoming, that is, most of the year is in the freezing period and cannot sail; if a cargo ship is frozen in the channel, an icebreaker must be used to break the ice. The cost is so considerable that the overall utilization value is not high.

But now, due to global warming, the ice-free period of this channel is gradually getting longer, and the increase in utilization is just around the corner.

Previously, Russia collected tolls on the North Sea Channel based on the dilapidated port infrastructure, which has caused complaints from other countries. Obviously, whoever can establish their own routes as soon as possible, and establish their own ports in favorable locations, and delineate their own sailing ranges, will win the future.

Analyst Humper of the Arctic Research Institute (Malte Humpert) said that currently only 100 commercial ships pass through the North Sea Channel in northern Russia every year. In contrast, there are 20,000 ships passing through the Suez Canal every year, but he believes that the number of merchant ships in the Arctic Ocean will undoubtedly increase in the future.

The first thing to compete for hegemony in the Arctic is the economic benefits brought by trade.

Second, the value of extremely cold places

The importance of the Arctic is much more than that.

Due to the melting of glaciers and rising sea levels caused by climate warming, the resources in the Arctic have changed from their original “frozen” state to being available for exploitation and utilization.

US Secretary of State Pompeo mentioned that these Arctic resources include “13% of the world’s undiscovered oil, 30% of the undiscovered natural gas, and a large amount of uranium, rare earth ore, gold and diamonds”.

According to a 2008 report by the U.S. Geological Survey (USDS), the Arctic’s resources may include 90 billion barrels of oil, 669 Trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 44 billion barrels of natural gas liquids, indicating that the total resource wealth of the region may reachTo trillions of dollars.

In addition, with climate change, the fishing range of fishing boats can move northward, and fishermen in Arctic countries can also catch more types and numbers of fish, and fisheries are developing rapidly.

In the case of Greenland, the new income will account for 90% of its exports. In addition to the cold-water shrimp population that is the backbone of the traditional fishery, fishermen will be able to catch bluefin tuna and mackerel to expand their income.

It is conceivable that in the future, what people see today in the Suez Canal and the Strait of Malacca is likely to appear in the Arctic Circle. It is not only the development of fisheries and trade, and the exploitation of resources, but the surrounding tourism industry may also be driven by this, thereby making the Arctic region prosperous.

The Arctic is an unexplored treasure house, and the extremely cold places are becoming “hot”.

So, driven by economic interests, political forces began to compete for this “pure land.”

The eight countries in the Arctic Circle can currently be divided into three major political groups, namely North America(United States, Canada), Europe< span class="text-remarks" label="Remarks">(Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Iceland) and Russia.

During the Cold War, the Arctic was an “exception” to political struggles. Neither NATO nor the Warsaw Pact, seldom considered the strategic location of the Arctic, which led the US-Soviet Cold War to East Asia, Southeast Asia and other places.

Although the United States and the Soviet Union have their own submarines patrolling the Arctic Ocean, they have never thought of this as the core area of ​​the power struggle.

Therefore, neither NATO nor the Warsaw Pact did not take Finland and Sweden too high. Today, the status of these two Arctic countries is rising, and even Greenland has become the object of political power struggle.

Except for the United States and Russia, whether the remaining six countries are alone or at the mercy of political forces will become particularly important in the future.

(Kirkenes), which is also a NATO base. It is also a key area only 14 kilometers from the northern land border of Russia.

China carried out infrastructure construction and cultural exchanges here, and established “the northernmost Chinatown in the world”.

The northernmost Chinatown in the world in Kirkenes. Image source: Politico

At the same time, the railway and tunnel routes from Kirkenes to Europe are under planning and construction.

Even if the North Sea Channel is open to navigation, Chinese cargo ships need to bypass the Norwegian Sea, pass through the North Sea, and then to the Baltic Sea if they want to travel from the Arctic Circle to the European interior.

Once the construction of this railway is completed, it will become an important freight channel together with the North Sea Channel. Freight from East Asia will go directly to the Baltic Sea from Kirkenes, which is less than half the distance.

In 2018, the Arctic Corridor was planned to connect the Baltic countries. Image source: China Daily

This is also the direct motivation for China to become enthusiastic about a Nordic town.

The United States is also worried about this.

The island chain blockade carried out by the United States against China will lose part of its deterrence after the opening of the new channel.

Russia has the possibility of restricting China’s going to sea, but considering the continued weakness of the Russian economy, it is very likely to cooperate with China in the Arctic to balance the US.

In order to gain supremacy, the United States has also conducted military cooperation with Canada in the north, trying to obtain resources from the Arctic.

U.S. facilities at Greenland Air Force Base. The white golf structure in the photo is a radar. Image source: Defense news

For the “Romance of the Three Kingdoms” of the United States, China and Russia, the top think tank Strategy and International Research Center (CSIS) in Washington, USA began in 2018 Made an assessment on the Arctic, titled “The Arctic Hour in the United States: The Great Power Competition in the Arctic Before 2050”