As temperatures rise and ice recedes in the Arctic, uncovering oil, natural gas and mineral untapped resources in the ‘last frontier,’ Arctic Council bordering countries jockey for strategic positioning. This week, Russia announced plans to reorganize military forces in the Arctic, and US Secretary of State John Kerry announced that the State Department “will establish a special representative for the arctic region.”

The Barents Observer reports that Russia will establish Northern Fleet-United Strategic Command (Severny Flot-Obedinyonnoye Strategicheskoye Komandovaniye, SF-OSK) this year, to provide security for its civilian and naval Arctic vessels and protect its natural resources. Barents Observer explains that according to its source for the news, ITAR-TASS:

SF-OSK will consist of the Northern Fleet and units of other military branches located in the northern parts of the country. This will probably include the 200. motorized infantry brigade based in Pechenga close to the border to Norway. This unit became part of the Northern Fleet in December 2012. Also newly formed units on Novaya Zemlya, the New Siberian Islands and Franz Josef Land will also be part of SF-OSK, ITAR-TASS reports.

Although the new association will have military status, it will not be officially so named.

A map of the arctic circle

Map of the Arctic with the Arctic Circle in blue.

Concerning US plans in the Arctic, on February 14, Secretary of State John Kerry issued the following press release statement, describing plans for the US:

The Arctic region is the last global frontier and a region with enormous and growing geostrategic, economic, climate, environment, and national security implications for the United States and the world.

Today I informed my two former Senate colleagues that here at the State Department we will soon have a Special Representative for the Arctic Region, a high-level official of stature who will play a critical role in advancing American interests in the Arctic Region, particularly as we prepare efforts for the United States to Chair the Arctic Council in 2015. President Obama and I are committed to elevating our attention and effort to keep up with the opportunities and consequences presented by the Arctic’s rapid transformation—a very rare convergence of almost every national priority in the most rapidly-changing region on the face of the earth.

The great challenges of the Arctic matter enormously to the United States, and they hit especially close to home for Alaska, which is why it is no wonder that Senator Begich’s very first piece of legislation aimed to create an Arctic Ambassador, or why as Foreign Relations Committee Chairman I enjoyed a close partnership with Senator Murkowski on a treaty vital to energy and maritime interests important to Alaska. Going forward, I look forward to continuing to work closely with Alaska’s Congressional delegation to strengthen America’s engagement in Arctic issues.

Russia and the United States are both members of the Arctic Council. The Arctic Council “is a high-level intergovernmental forum to promote cooperation, coordination and interaction among the Arctic States.” This website is a good starting point for getting to know the Arctic indigenous peoples and their languages and cultures, as well as the climates and environment, oceans and biodiversity. Learn about monitoring and conservation programs and anything else of general interest. The US is set to chair the Arctic Council for a term beginning in 2015.

There are eight countries in the Arctic Council:

Canada
Denmark (representing also the dependencies of Greenland and Faeroes)
Finland
Iceland
Norway
Russia
Sweden
United States

Five of these member countries have Arctic coastlines: Russia, the United States, Canada, Norway and Denmark (via Greenland).

Two major polar shipping routes are the Northwest Passage and the Northern Sea Route.

The Arctic Council website says that increased economic activity and significant changes due to climatic processes are resulting in increased use, opportunities and threats to the Arctic marine and coastal environments.

Public domain image by NASA, on flickr.

Public domain image of the map above by the CIA.

Related:

Russia chooses ‘soft’ approach to the Arctic
“Recent initiatives in the Arctic Council show that Arctic nations have chosen business as a universal language of rapprochement. Russia’s limited military presence should be viewed as an opportunity to build a safer economic environment without prejudicing the security of anyone.”

NOAA Arctic Report Card: Update for 2013

United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea

International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea

Territorial claims in the Arctic

Arctic strategy documents – Russian Arctic strategy
Geopolitics in the High North