A New Cold War In A Very Cold Place

Written By BlabberBuzz | Tuesday, 11 May 2021 11:30

President Biden has faced many pressing problems in the early days of his administration, from the coronavirus pandemic to a spiraling immigration crisis.

Though one of the least talked-about difficulties is one that's been brewing for years, long before even the Trump administration: increasing difficulties to the United States' ability to advance its will in the Arctic.

The area is not often the focus of significant attention, with decades of strife in the Middle East and the looming threats of North Korea and China in the far East.

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Though the Arctic is packed with natural resources, it is strategically important and has the potential to work as a main shipping route t. According to Nick Solheim, the founder of the Wallace Institute for Arctic Security, America's abilities there are "super-limited."

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"It doesn't look very good right now. It hasn't looked very good for the last 10 years, 20 years actually, at this point," Solheim explained about the U.S. strategic place in the Arctic, particularly in light of its dearth of icebreakers.

"We're running out of parts to replace ... on the Polar Star, our heavy polar security cutter, which is now 40 years old," Solheim said, referring to the Coast Guard's lone heavy icebreaker. The Coast Guard further has a medium icebreaker, the Healy.

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Chief geopolitical competitors China and Russia, in the meantime, have spent years forming their attendance in the Arctic. Russia has dozens of icebreakers, including many to rival the Polar Star. China has three medium icebreakers and is angling for more, including a heavy icebreaker.

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Rear Adm. John Mauger, the Coast Guard's assistant commandant for capability, explained that China regards the Arctic as a massive economic possibility due to its energy and mineral deposits, and its potential for shorter global shipping routes.

"Certainly we've been looking at how China and others view the Arctic. We've seen what China has written about the 'Polar Silk Road,' their Arctic strategy white paper they published in 2018, linking the Polar Silk Road and their 'Belt and Road' initiative," he said. "And we understand what they're doing with company investments to strengthen their position to have access to those resources."

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China is making efforts to increase its power in a number of Arctic nations in many ways. It's worked to improve its activity on the Arctic Council, where it is technically an observer. It's also worked to set up trade agreements with Arctic nations, and tried to buy or build companies and infrastructure in those nations.

Solheim called these efforts the "No. 1 biggest threat from China to the United States in the Arctic region."

The most recent power grab in that vein was a failed attempt by a Chinese state-owned mining company to purchase a gold mine in Canada. The Canadian government thwarted the effort, citing national security grounds, according to the Financial Post.

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