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Conquest of the Arctic: Defence of the Eagle

Updated: May 23

The Arctic Circle is undeniably the new battlefront of a 21st century Cold War between West and East. The rise of China as a strategic observer in the Arctic and its commitment to invest in new North Sea trade routes has made it a formidable adversary for the West. Meanwhile, Russia, with a powerful presence in the area, pushes its national interests over international cooperation, in a move that defies sanctions and trade embargoes. Not to mention Russia's rapidly developing military presence building numerous Arctic bases in strategic positions throughout the region, presenting another serious threat to Western development in the region.


The Arctic has become a de facto Cold War battleground because of the inevitable response to come from the West, led by the United States of America. I believe the only chance for the West to counter the growing influence of the East is for both Europe and North America to work together to bring security to the Arctic. While the East unites through trade relations, it's time for the U.S. to utilise its strategic military alliances with Europe and bring balance to the Arctic region.


After years of Arctic absence, the White House published a 2022 update on their National Strategy for the Arctic Region. Their plan consisted of 4 focus areas: security, environmental protection, commercial development, and international cooperation. In my view, security and international cooperation will be top of the Western agenda, as it is the most direct and efficient way to combat any non-Western influence in the Arctic. Just last year, U.S. forces alongside Norway and Finland, hosted the Arctic Forge 23 military exercises in the Arctic region, in a clear demonstration of power and military capability against Russia and similar adversaries in the region.

In a press release, U.S. Commanding General Darryl A. Williams stated:


“Whether we are campaigning, competing, responding to crisis or in conflict, winning matters and we must win in any engagement, including and especially the Arctic, where over-the-pole exercises like this with the Total Army and with our Allies and partners not only protect U.S. national security interests, but ensure a safe and secure region”. 


From my perspective, it is consistent with the West's goals to indicate the possibility of aggression in the above statement. With the ongoing war in Ukraine, the failures to halt Russia through economic sanctions and the expanding influence of China in the Arctic, the U.S. strikes a leading path towards increased Arctic security that is harmonious with the fourth pillar of interests in the region: expanding international cooperation between North America and Europe.


In the North American continent, both the U.S. and Canada have become increasingly collaborative after studying the situation in Europe and Asia. While the U.S. has recently expanded its interests, Canada, with its strategic geography, has intended to maintain a strong position. Thus, Canada sees this cooperation as very worthwhile.


Former National Defence Minister of Canada, Anita Anand, vowed to strengthen and modernise the North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD), a bilateral organisation between the U.S. and Canada. At the same time they continue conducting military exercises in the Arctic in response to Russia’s increased expansion policies. Furthermore, expanded cooperation in North America will be transferred to Europe, primarily through NATO. America-Europe collaboration will be focused on several countries such as Norway, Denmark, Iceland, and Finland, which see their national interests as inextricably interconnected with those of North America.


For Europe, the Arctic has been of great scientific importance for study, exploration, and environmental protection. However, as the ice caps continue to melt, new opportunities play a key part in national and international interests. Areas such as energy, fossil fuel extraction, commercial trade, and security are top of the agenda for these nations. For the Arctic states that belong to NATO, like Denmark and Norway, cooperating closely with the U.S. and Canada is vital for them in order to guarantee their security as tensions in Eastern Europe continue to rise. However, even though Denmark and Norway are members of the so-called Arctic Five, their influence in military terms is not as great as the United States. As a result, whilst the Arctic becomes a more central conflict zone there could be a growing level of dependency from Europe to the United States. Nevertheless, collaboration between the two continents seems to be the only reasonable approach to bring a balance of power to the Arctic as this new Cold War approaches, Cold War II.

In my view, Greenland has already served as the first “battlefront” of this conflict. Since the end of WWII, the U.S. has considered Greenland an area of paramount interest, describing it as land in their backyard. As a result, military presence in the area has been essential for America as they wish to maintain their grip on power. On the other hand, with China strengthening their relations with Greenland and the expansion of Russia, Greenland serves as the ring for a "wrestling match" between all three superpowers and their allies. 


The Arctic has undergone thorough exploration by all the major countries involved in its newest conquest. In essence, all the major nations currently involved in the Arctic region have completed the first step towards Cold War II. Commercial relations and the establishment of alternative shipping routes collide with military expansionism and national chauvinism. In the meantime, it is important to stress that ordinary people, such as the indigenous people of Greenland and the Arctic, are caught in the middle of this “war”. 


But, this is the state of affairs. Local interests are pushed aside to prioritize the national interests of global superpowers. 2024 will be a pivotal year for the conquest of the Arctic. Global elections might bring new leaders to the forefront, and they might employ different political tools, but the primary goal remains the same. It’s only a matter of time before we see which side comes out on top.

Image: Official U.S. Navy Page from United States of America

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