Climate change is opening up a new potential site of intersection and conflict: the Arctic. But a key lawmaker has warned that the US has fallen behind in securing the region as other powers move in, adding that he believes the Arctic could soon be the stage for Vladimir Putin’s nuclear show of force.
“This new ocean is showing up on our maps, and it has all kinds of implications,” Maine Sen. Angus King, a Democratic-leaning independent, told CNN in an interview. “We’ve been slow to pick it up, to be honest.”
The summer extent of Arctic sea ice has decreased by about 50% since the 1970s. The chairman of the Senate Arctic Caucus believes that the dramatic change in the region will be irreversible in the short term. While King says the world needs to do more to combat climate change, a new reality is fast approaching and a global rush is under way, with global powers untapped natural resources like oil and natural gas and much-coveted shipping. because they move forward in search of ways.
“If you think about the Mediterranean Sea, there was a 1,000-year war to determine the relations of these neighboring countries. The question is can we open up the Arctic and avoid conflict? he said
With some scientists predicting we could see ice-free summers near the North Pole for decades to come, King said additional shipping lanes could boost trade and bring a big economic advantage because some routes cut shipping times by up to 15 days.
“But Russia has a huge border in the Arctic Ocean, and by the way, they’re militarizing the hell out of it right now,” he said. “It’s a national security issue for everyone in the United States, whether you’re in Texas or Minnesota.”
CNN has reported on the ongoing construction of Russian military bases along the country’s Arctic coast, including the renovation of old Soviet facilities. The Kremlin gave CNN a first-hand look at the position of Russia’s northerners in 2021, vowing that its intentions for the region were peaceful.
“Ukraine changed all that,” King said, adding that Putin’s expansionist views may soon extend to the Far North. “I don’t think there’s any doubt that it will stop (in Ukraine) if it succeeds.”
As the counteroffensive in Ukraine gathers momentum and Russia’s military suffers setbacks, one of King’s worries is that Putin may turn to using nuclear weapons to reassert his dominance.
“He has a number of options when it comes to a tactical nuclear weapon, one of which is ‘demonstration,'” in the Arctic, King said. “The idea is we’re going to show you what we can do, but we’re not going to kill a lot of people.”
King, who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said that while there is no intelligence indicating an imminent nuclear test by Putin, he said it remains “one of his options.”
While King said he applauds the Biden administration’s new “National Arctic Strategy” released this month, he said the U.S. needs to invest more resources to compete.
“I mean Russia has about 40 icebreakers. We have one,” King said, adding that Russia is not alone, with nations not geographically close to the North Pole, such as China and India, also outlining their Arctic ambitions.
At an Arctic conference in Iceland a few years ago, King said he met with a 40-strong Chinese delegation where Chinese officials told Beijing it was interested in the region as a “near-Arctic nation”.
“That’s what makes Maine a Caribbean state. There is no geographical relationship. It’s ridiculous,” King said. “But they see the strategic value and the potential economic value.”
King is calling for a stronger naval presence in the Arctic, stronger military infrastructure and commitment to international treaties, among other steps like the United Nations’ Law of the Sea, that he believes could prevent future war.
“I think the jury is out on that, but at least it’s possible and I think that would be positive for America and the world,” he said.