Arctic Great Game in Alaska missile deployment?

The Pentagon announced plans March 15 to add 14 missile interceptors to its anti-missile system in response to recent nuclear posturing of North Korea. The new interceptors would augment 26 already deployed at Ft. Greely, Alaska, with four others deployed at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. But the system is plagued with technical failures. The last successful hit against a target was in December 2008; test launches have failed to hit their targets since then. The Pentagon is said to have discovered a flaw in the guidance system of the newest Raytheon-made model. (LAT, March 16; Bloomberg, March 15) The ABM Treaty, which barred anti-ballistic missile systems during the Cold War, was pronounced effectively dead in the Bush years

As with the US "missile shield" planned for Europe, there is a great deal of speculation as to who the real enemy is in the new Alaska deployment. Annie Machon, said to be a former "intelligence officer" for Britain's MI5, told Russia Today TV, ever credulous about anti-US conspiracy theories:

It's almost like North Korea is a patsy, used to put up this new missile defense in Alaska. And the key part is that there’s been this covert war to control the diminishing resources of the world, which is waged across continents — between, certainly, the US and China over the last decade. And what we're looking at now is, I think, a very careful geopolitical strategy to control and put bases in Alaska because anyone, who has Alaska can control the Arctic area. And, as the arctic area melts more quickly, more countries are going to fight for the resource-rich area as the ice recedes. America, by having these defenses in Alaska, will be very well-placed to protect its economic interest in that area.

It isn't exactly clear how missile interceptors in Alaska give the US an advantage in the scramble for Arctic resources. However, news of the deployment does come just as a change of government is reported in Greenland—apparently related to suspicions about Chinese designs on the country's subsoil resources. From The Guardian, March 15:

Voters in Greenland feared that ministers were surrendering their country's interests to China and foreign multinationals and called an end this week to the government of prime minister Kuupik Kleist.

London Mining, which has a former British foreign minister, Sir Nicholas Bonsor, on the board, has been at the centre of a row in the country after speculation it could bring in 2,000 Chinese workers to build one of the world's biggest iron ore mines expressly to serve steel mills in Beijing.

The activities of Edinburgh-based Cairn Energy, which drilled for oil off Greenland's south-west coast in 2011, had also polarised opinion between those who welcomed the potential for a hydrocarbon strike bringing huge economic wealth and those worried about spills.

The Siumut party in Greenland, led by Aleqa Hammond, has just won 42% of the vote, allowing it to form a coalition government in place of the current ruling party led by Kleist.

The election campaign was dominated by a debate over the activities of foreign investors and concerns among the 57,000 population that Greenland's future could be dictated by the demands of potentially polluting new industries such as mining and oil rather than traditional Inuit trades of fishing and hunting.

The Inuit way of life is already threatened by Greenland's recent ice loss, apparently due to climate change. We've noted before that receding sea ice has opened up the long-sought Northwest Passage, thereby allowing exploitation of far-north oil (which will accelerate the greenhouse effect, opening up yet more formerly ice-bound resources, in a particularly perverse manifestation of the genius of capitalism). Russia, another US rival, stands to reap the immediate gains.

The US has also recently sought to install anti-ballistic missiles in Greenland, sparking protests there.

We don't doubt that the Alaska missile deployment is intended in part to send a message to China—but the more immediate concern is probably (sorry) the most obvious one: pressuring Beijing to bring the ongepotchket North Korean leadership to heel.

  1. The North Pole is now a lake…
    Apparently a lake of melted sea ice has formed at the North Pole. Boing Boing yesterday linked to an NOAA page of time-lapse photography showing how the lake has developed since April. Scientific American notes that this melt has actually become an annual affair, and causing the location of the North Pole to shift—since 2005, it has moved several centimeters east, toward Greenland. This is rather not good…

  2. Greenpeace incident in struggle for Arctic
    We’ve noted before how the opening of new Arctic waters to oil exploitation by climate change has in turn opened international rivalries over which powers will control those waters. Greenpeace now seems to have stepped right into the middle of it. Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB, the old KGB) on Sept. 19 seized a Greenpeace International ship and its crew after a series of protests at an offshore oil rig in the Arctic Ocean, and towed the vessel to port in Murmansk to “conduct an investigation.” Writes the NY Times:

    The seizure of the ship on Thursday night, which was carried out by armed border guards dropped by helicopter, threatened to escalate into a diplomatic confrontation, since the crew includes citizens of several countries, including one American. Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs had already issued a protest to the Dutch ambassador, because the ship, the Arctic Sunrise, is registered in the Netherlands and Greenpeace International is based there.

    The Federal Security Service, which oversees Russia’s border guards, said in a statement that the ship had been seized under laws governing Russia’s exclusive economic zone and that its activities would be reported to the country’s Investigative Committee for possible criminal charges. The committee’s regional branch, in a separate statement, said it was considering charges of piracy.

    The ship was seized in international waters near the Prirazlomnaya platform in the Pechora Sea, not far from the island of Novaya Zemlya. The platform, owned by the state-controlled energy giant Gazprom, is the first offshore oil rig in the Arctic. It was completed last year and is expected to begin pumping oil next spring. Greenpeace had sent its ship to the area last month to protest what it considers to be the risks of drilling for oil in such an environmentally fragile and largely unspoiled region.

    Greenpeace International has issued a statement rejecting the allegation of piracy as “a desperate attempt to justify the illegal boarding of its ship in international waters.” Some 30 crew members are being held, and 40 international environmental groups have sent a letter to President Vladimir Putin demanding their release. (UPI, Sept. 23)

  3. International tribunal orders Russia to release Greenpeace crew
    The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS)on Nov. 22 ordered the release (PDF) of the Greenpeace International ship Arctic Sunrise as well as the release of the 28 activists and two freelance journalists who were arrested on board the ship, upon payment of a €3.6 million euro bond by the Netherlands. The Greenpeace activists were staging a protest against Arctic oil drilling at a Russian fixed gas platform, where they were arrested and charged with piracy. Upon payment of the bond, the detainees and the Arctic Sunrise will be allowed to leave Russia’s territory and maritime areas for the first time since their initial detention at the end of September.

    Although 29 of the 30 who were detained in connection with the Arctic Sunrise have been granted bail by Russian courts, Greenpeace welcomed the ITLOS ruling, stating “it is time for the Arctic 30 to come home to their loved ones.” Russia’s treatment of the activists has drawn criticism from rights groups such as Human Rights Watch, as well as from other countries. During the plenary session of the Third International Arctic Forum held in Salekhard in September, Russian President Vladimir Putin acknowledged that the activists were not pirates but noted that their actions in trying to take over the Prirazlomnaya platfporm were a violation of international law which could have resulted in an oil spill or other dangers to public lives and health. Putin further stated that Greenpeace members could have attended the Arctic Forum and voiced their concerns at that time.

    From Jurist, Nov. 23. Used with permission.

  4. Russia starts production at Arctic oil field

    Russia's first Arctic offshore field Prirazlomnoye, where Greenpeace activists were arrested in September, has started production of oil, energy giant Gazprom said Dec. 20. The project is almost a decade behind its initial schedule and is seen as perilous by ecologists, who note that the drilling and storage platform is three decades old. "We became the pioneers of Russia's Arctic development," Gazprom's CEO Alexei Miller said in a statement. (Reuters)

  5. The mystery of Greenland’s disappearing lakes

    From CBS News, Jan. 21:

    Two lakes beneath the ice sheets of Greenland have disappeared, developments that scientists fear could signal worrisome changes to a region extremely sensitive to climate change.

    The first lake, which previously held nearly 7 billion gallons of water from melting ice caps, left behind a crater 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) across and around 70 meters (230 feet) deep.

    Ohio State's Ian Howat, who led the team that discovered the cratered lake described in the journal The Cryosphere, said this would suggest that meltwater has started overflowing the ice sheet's natural plumbing system and is causing "blowouts" that simply drain lakes away.

    "The fact that our lake appears to have been stable for at least several decades, and then drained in a matter of weeks- or less–after a few very hot summers, may signal a fundamental change happening in the ice sheet," Howat said.

    The article didn't note possibly related phenomena witnessed in Siberia last year…