Arctic: Toward the End of the Exception? Strategic, Nuclear and Maritime Issues in the Region Proliferation Papers, No. 64, April 2022
Through multiple international initiatives, including the creation of the Arctic Council at the end of the Cold War in 1996, the Arctic appears to be one of the last areas of peaceful cooperation in the world. This “Arctic exception” is also devoid of any serious territorial dispute between the neighboring countries, some of which are nevertheless great powers: Russia, the United States, Canada, but also Sweden, Norway, Denmark (via Greenland), Iceland and Finland.
However, this peaceful cooperation is not exempt from strategic rivalries: for some years now, these States in the Arctic have been redefining their strategic postures, notably through the publication of roadmaps and the deployment of new military forces trained to fight in this hostile environment. Russia thus remains the dominant power in the Arctic, in the face of a China with growing ambitions and a Western world – represented in particular by the United States – which is lagging behind after years concentrated on other military conflicts. Furthermore, the war in Ukraine that started in February 2022 also carry the germs of a broader destabilization of the region.
Conventional competition is therefore renewed between these great powers, while the nuclear balance is partially maintained. It is indeed worth noticing that the Arctic is an area of direct contact between the Russian Federation and the United States. As such, it had a special significance during the Cold War as the shortest route between both adversaries for a potential ballistic missile and was a privileged position for deploying chains of radars and advanced detection systems.
Finally, the shrinkage of the ice pack caused by global warming is also triggering the neighboring or more distant states’ greed, whether through the drilling possibilities for raw materials under the ice floe or the creation of new maritime routes. The latter would notably enable Russia to revitalize its northern flank and offer alternatives to existing transit routes.
This content is also available in French: "Arctique : vers la fin de l’exception ? Enjeux stratégiques, nucléaires et maritimes".