An arctic superpower, minus the power

Gregg Easterbrook’s Atlantic piece on global warming’s winners and losers is extremely thinky and philosophical, not long on facts. He concludes that the big winners in a warmer world are Russia (thousands of square kilometres of hitherto unfarmed, uninhabited and generally unused land), Scandinavia (tourism), the U.S. (Alaska) and Canada (similar to Russia, plus political stability).

Easterbrook’s short on details, though, and there’s one particular passage that makes me suspect that the story is more the result of smart and informed guy looking at a map of the world and thinking hard than intense research:

Oh, and there may be oil under the arctic waters. Who would own that oil? The United States, Russia, Canada, Norway, and Denmark already assert legally complex claims to parts of the North Pole seas—including portions that other nations consider open waters not subject to sovereign control. Today it seems absurd to imagine the governments of the world fighting over the North Pole seas, but in the past many causes of battle have seemed absurd before the artillery fire began. Canada is already conducting naval exercises in the arctic waters, and making no secret of this.

It’s true that we’re “already conducting naval exercises in the arctic waters,” which we and most of the world other than the U.S. consider largely our sovereign territory, but we’re really not equipped to assert any sovereignty up there. Our Arctic-class icebreakers are few and unarmed, our land forces train up there once a decade (our sovereignty patrols consist of Inuit using their own snowmobiles, wearing red sweatshirts and equipped with WWII-era rifles), and our submarines can’t operate under icepack for any length of time. The Canadian Arctic is Canadian largely because nobody else has wanted it and possession is 9/10 of international law.
Even the strictest small-government nut considers maintaining national borders a legitimate task of government; ours has been falling down on that job for decades.


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