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US to beef up Arctic military posture

May 6, 2019

The eight-member Arctic Council is meeting in Finland as thawing of polar ice has some countries scrambling over the earth's untapped resources. The US is set to strengthen its presence in the region.

The north pole
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/U. Mauder

Top diplomats from the United States, Russia and other member nations of the Arctic Council met in Rovaniemi, Finland on Monday to discuss policies pertaining to the polar region.

The summit comes as tensions grow over how to deal with global warming and jurisdiction of the Arctic's wealth of minerals.

Speaking on Monday ahead of the talks in Finland, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US would strengthen its Arctic presence to keep in check what he called the "aggressive attitude" of China and Russia.

Pompeo said: "The region has become an arena of global power and competition."

"Just because the Arctic is a place of wilderness does not mean it should become a place of lawlessness," Pompeo added.

The issues under discussion at the Council meeting include:

  • Concerns over the climate policies of US President Donald Trump.
  • China's "Polar Silk Road" plan, which it outlined last year.
  • Russia's reopened Cold War military bases and Northern Fleet modernization.

US and Russian officials could also meet separately to discuss the political crisis in Venezuela which is Russia's biggest South American ally.

Surface air temperatures in the Arctic are warming at twice the rate as the rest of the earth, according to some researchers.

Some experts say the ocean could be ice-free during the summer months within 25 years.

The melting ice has made some of the earth's undiscovered reserves of oil, gas and mineral deposits more accessible.

Read more: Magnetic north pole is changing faster than forecast

Trump's environmental approach: The US president has frequently expressed skepticism about whether the increase in global temperatures was a result of human activity. His administration has reversed several policies of his predecessor, Barack Obama.

The Trump administration haspromoted coal production and withdrawn from the 2016 Paris Climate Accord. Environmentalists are concerned that the Trump administration is focused on exploiting resources and pushing back on Russia and China for strategic and security reasons at the expense of the Arctic's fragile environment. 

The 'Polar Silk Road': China, which became an observing nation on the Arctic Council in 2013, has tried to boost its presence in the Arctic region. It has been one of the countries scrambling to claim territory as thawing ice allows for the exploitation of some of the world's remaining untapped resources. Last year, China outlined a plan for a "Polar Silk Road" as melting ice has opened up northern shipping routes. The US warned earlier this month of the risk of Chinese submarines in the Arctic.

What is the greenhouse effect?

What is the Arctic Council? Established by the 1996 Ottawa Declaration, the eight-member arctic council is an intergovernmental forum that discusses issues facing Arctic nations as well as indigenous people of the Arctic. Headquartered in Tromso, Norway, it is made up of the United States, Canada, Russia, Finland, Norway, Denmark (representing Greenland and the Faroe Islands) and Iceland, which currently holds the council's rotating chair. Indigenous groups also are represented and the council has 13 observer states — non-Arctic countries invited to council meetings but which have no voting rights — including China.

dv/jm (AP, Reuters)

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