Massive geopolitical changes are occurring in the Arctic, because of the rapid warming of this region due to climate change. These geopolitical shifts are particularly important in the Russian Arctic Exclusive Economic Zone, which spans from the Bering Strait to Norway, along the Siberian coast. This is where Russia develops the North East passage known as the “Northern Sea Route”. As we shall see in this article, the warming of this zone is turning this Northern Sea Route into the backbone of a massive Russia – Asia – Northern Europe – Northern Atlantic economic and digital integration process, with massive geopolitical consequences.
It combines the reinforcement of maritime cooperation between Russia and China through “conventional” maritime transport infrastructures with the deeply transformative project of a trans-artic fibre optic cable that could, maybe as soon as 2020, connect China and Japan to Russia and Norway.
In other terms, the Russian zone of the warming arctic is becoming the support of a continental geopolitical and economic shift. Given the fact that the accelerating warming trend is thus “harnessed” to the Asia and Russia development trend, it is necessary to understand what is at stake in this region for Asia, Russia and the North Atlantic region: the encounter between a rapidly, digitally developing China, Russia as a “climate change great power” and the North Atlantic.
In a first part, we shall see how the Northern Sea Route is being developed as a strategic asset by Russia in a time of climate change. Then we shall look at the way the Northern Sea Route is becoming increasingly important for the development of the Arctic’s and Northern Europe’s dimension of the Chinese “Belt and Road”. Finally, we shall anticipate the transformation brought about by the project of data fiber cable, which could be laid down along the Northern Sea route, to Asia, Russia and Northern Europe, in a time of growing interconnection in a warming world.
About the author: Jean-Michel Valantin (PhD Paris) leads the Environment and Geopolitics Department of The Red (Team) Analysis Society. He is specialised in strategic studies and defence sociology with a focus on environmental geostrategy.
Featured image: A Snapshot of Sea Ice – This image was compiled using data gathered by NASA’s Aqua satellite on Sept. 3, 2010. Credit: NASA Goddard’s Scientific Visualization Studio.