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Russia And China Take Advantage Of The US In The Arctic Region

The United States is essentially conceding the Arctic to Russia and China, says the top U.S. coast guardsman.

“Our nation has two ocean-going icebreakers … We’re the most prosperous nation on Earth,” Adm. Paul F. Zukunft, commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, stated at the Navy League’s Sea Air Space exposition and conference Tuesday. “Our GDP is eight times that of Russia. Russia has 27 ocean-going icebreakers.”

Russia has 27 icebreakers capable of moving through the region, while China is busy conducting research on what the U.S. considers to be its extended undersea shelf, DOD Buzz reports.

In comparison, the U.S. has only two icebreakers, and Zukunft argued that an aging fleet of ships which constantly breakdown cannot possibly stand up to Russia.

The situation is complicated because the United States has not signed onto the Law of the Sea Convention, which if ratified would grant the U.S. an area twice the size of California in the Arctic. The U.S. signed onto the first convention in 1958. However, the Senate refused to ratify a crucial addition in 1982. Obama recently stated that the U.S. is in a difficult position. Without the backing of the international sea treaty, criticizing China over sea disputes is not terribly effective.

At the very minimum, according to Zukunft, the Coast Guard needs an additional icebreaker. Although the estimated cost is around $1 billion dollars, such an expenditure is necessary as the Northwest Passage becomes increasingly navigable. To show how urgent the need is, Zukunft pointed to the fact that a cruise ship is set to sail directly through the Northwest Passage next year.

While the U.S. faces distractions in the Middle East, Russian president Vladimir Putin has been busy on the Arctic front, announcing the reopening of 10 military bases and 14 airfields. The Pentagon has confirmed that Russia is building four nuclear-powered submarines.

“We’re experiencing a reawakening of the strategic importance of the Arctic,” Navy Adm. William E. Gortney told the Alaska Dispatch News.

“Is this a second Cold War? It doesn’t matter what we think,” Gortney added. “Maybe they think the Cold War never ended.”

China’s building interest in the Arctic stems from resource hunger. A U.S. Geological Survey in 2008 estimated that the Arctic is home to 13 percent of the world’s oil. Approximately 30 percent of the world’s natural gas is also up north. According to The Diplomat, China is allocating $60 million dollars a year to polar research. In comparison to Russia, China only has one icebreaker focused on the Arctic, but another will soon arrive in 2016 to match Norway and the U.S. In 2013, China took the next step forward by joining the Arctic Council, which is an 8-member group of states working on Arctic policy formation.

For now, the U.S. is mostly a bystander as Russia and China take the initiative.

Follow Jonah Bennett on Twitter

 

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