An Ice Cold War

8 08 2007
artic map

Scott Borgerson in The New York Times

RUSSIA’S flag-planting caper at the North Pole last week captured the world’s attention. Harking back to the heady days of colonial imperialism and perhaps the success of Sputnik, a resurgent Russia dispatched from Murmansk a nuclear-powered icebreaker and a research vessel armed with two mini-submarines to stake a symbolic claim to the Arctic Ocean’s riches. Russia hopes that leaving its flag encased in titanium more than 13,200 feet beneath the frozen surface bolsters its 2001 claim that the Lomonosov Ridge is a geological extension of its continental shelf and thus the 460,000 square miles of resource-rich Arctic waters stretching from the North Pole to Eurasia fall under the Kremlin’s jurisdiction.

“The Arctic is ours and we should manifest our presence,” declared Artur Chilingarov, the celebrated polar explorer who led the expedition.

Russia isn’t alone in the great Arctic race. Thawing of the Arctic ice cap has opened access to billions of tons of oil and gas, valuable minerals like gold and platinum and untapped fishing stocks, and all the countries bordering the Arctic are staking a claim. Denmark has spent more than a quarter of a billion dollars to prove that the Arctic once was attached to Greenland, its possession. Finland, Norway and Iceland also have their eyes on the Arctic. And Canada is spending $7 billion to build a fleet of armed Arctic patrol vessels.

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