Category: Extreme Environments Security

Militarizing the Chinese New Silk Road (part 1)

There are (more and more) missiles on the road.

What we call here “the great roads” are created as answers to the necessity for Russia and China to connect Asian countries with resources from and markets of Russia and Europe. After having seen the ways the Russian are militarizing their Northern Sea Route (Jean-Michel Valantin, “Militarizing the Great Resources Roads- Part 1 – Russia”, The Red (Team) Analysis Society, February 20, 2017), we shall focus in this article on the militarization of some maritime segments of the Chinese New Silk Road and what it means for the economic and social development of the “Middle Kingdom”. We shall more particularly point out how sections of the maritime New Silk Road become therefore protected in the framework of a tense geopolitical environment brought about by climate change and resource depletion.

Nazarbayev Xi Jinping 2013On 7 September 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping officially launched the “One Belt, One Road” (OBOR) initiative, also called the “New Silk Road” (NSR), in Astana, during a state visit in Kazakhstan.

This Chinese strategy is aimed at creating a planetary-wide “attraction system” from the outside to China. It is necessary to channel in the mineral, energy, and food resources needed by China in order to keep developing itself, while ensuring the social cohesion of its 1.400 billion strong population (Jean-Michel Valantin, “China and the New Silk Road, from oil wells to the Moon … and beyond!”, The Red Team Analysis Society, July 6, 2015).

In this first part, we shall see how the important segment of the maritime New Silk Road, which the South China Sea has also become, is militarized and what it means for business.

The militarization of the maritime New Silk Road

The NSR is a new expression of the Chinese philosophical and strategic thought, grounded in an understanding of the spatial dimension of China as well as of the different countries that are involved in the deployment of the NSR. Space is conceived as a support to spread Chinese influence and power to the “outside”, but also to allow the Middle Kingdom to  “aspirate” what it needs from the “outside” to the “inside”  (Quynh Delaunay, Naissance de la Chine moderne, L’Empire du Milieu dans la globalisation, 2014). This is why we qualify some spaces as being “useful” to the deployment of the OBOR, and why each “useful space” is related, and “useful”, to other “useful spaces”.

A fundamental “useful space” for China is the South China Sea. This sea commands the access of China to the Northern Pacific Ocean, as well as to the Indian Ocean through the Gulf of Malacca, and thus to the Gulf of Bengal, to the Arabian Sea, the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea, finally to reach the Mediterranean Sea.

Karta CN SouthChinaSeaHowever, the South China Sea and its maritime limits are disputed, at times harshly, between the different countries of the area, i.e. China, Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia Malaysia and Brunei.

In this regard, this space plays a major role for implementing and securing the present and the future of the maritime dimension of the OBOR, which must maintain access with and between the Chinese coastal cities and harbours (Helen H. Wang, “China’s triple wins: the New Silk Roads”, Forbes, January 15, 2016). Those harbours are one of the interfaces between the “Belt” and its international reach on the one hand, and, on the other, the Chinese hinterland towards which is directed the flow of resources “vacuumed” internationally by the NSR (Jean-Michel Valantin “The New Silk Road: from oil wells … to the Moon and beyond”, The Red Team Analysis Society, July 6, 2015).

The South China Sea is the trade basis of the exchanges between China and its ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) partners and competitors. The annual global trade value of the South Asian Sea is of more than 5 trillion U.S. dollars and thus plays a crucial role for the maritime New Silk Road (“18 maps that explain maritime security in Asia”, Asia Maritime Transparency in Asia – Centre for Strategic and International Studies, 2014).

If the militarization of the South China Sea by China and the other actors is not new, the current Chinese militarization process knows a new development with the creation of eight artificial islands, some of them enormous, such as the “Mischief reef”, which covers almost 200 km2, in the Spratly Islands, (Steve Mollman “Photos: how a “fishermen’s shelter” became on stilts became a Chinese military base in the South China Sea?Quartz, December 15, 2016). Those artificial islands appear as being militarized, as indicates the analysis of aerial pictures, released by the Centre for International and Strategic Relations (Mollman, ibid).

Spratly Islands by the CIA cartography Center – 2000 2010s section – Public Domain

This on-going militarization is a reinforcement of the already important Chinese military presence in the South China Sea, in a highly militarized area, which is also the area of responsibility of the US Seventh fleet and of the Japanese navy, that led joint naval manoeuvres there with the US Navy in September 2016 (“Japan to boost South China Sea role with training patrols with U.S : minister”, Reuters, September 16, 2016 and

161013-N-SU278-229 (30370258816)Kyle Mizokami, “What makes Chinese fake islands military bases in the South China Sea so dangerous?”, The National Interest, February 12, 2017).

In 2016, the Chinese military also installed Chinese HQ-9 missile batteries on Woody Island, part of the Paracel Islands, in the northern part of the South China Sea. The HQ-9 missiles, which design is close to the Russian S-300 missile, is a radar homing surface to air missile, with a 200 km range (Jon Tomlinson, “More Chinese missiles bound for disputed islands”, Fox News, December 23, 2016).

It is interesting to note that China has bought three regiments of S-400 missiles, meaning 48 launchers and dozens of missiles. Those missile regiments are currently being built and should be delivered in 2018. S-400 batteries are weapons systems able to track up to 100 flying targets and to engage 6 of them simultaneously; they are fully automated and have land and sea variants. Their range reaches 400 km (Wikipedia S-300 missile system). They can disable any kind of modern military aircraft, even stealth ones, with the assumed exception of the American F22-Raptor, and have an anti access/ denial area function, meaning that these weapons are meant to block an attacking flying force to enter into the air perimeter protected by S-400 batteries, as these missiles can be very precisely guided towards their targets. Knowing the cost of military airplanes, and the length and value of military pilots training, the kind of loss so entailed would be very quickly unsustainable for any military on Earth (Dave Majumdar, “No fly zoner: Russia’s lethal S-400 goes global“, The National Interest, December 18, 2015).

Furthermore, the S-400 complex systems are able to coordinate themselves with other surface to air weapons systems, such as the S-300s. As we underlined in our previous article, in practical terms, these weapons systems and the system of systems that integrate them into a single defence system, create an envelope of protection for the forces, the authorities and the territory of those who install and use the system (Dave Majumdar, ibid). Thus, the missiles bought by the Chinese can drastically limit and degrade the operational freedom of any aerial force acting into its perimeter.

9-dashed line

Moreover, since the start of January 2017 the Chinese maritime presence has taken a new dimension with the drills conducted in the South China Sea, which included the Liaoning aircraft carrier escorted by five warships. It is not any more “simply” the presence of combat ships and submarines, because the function of an aircraft carrier is to dramatically expand the capability of force projection of the fleet to which it belongs, through the use of aircrafts . (“Chinese warships enter South China Sea near Taiwan in a show of force”, The Guardian, 27 December 2016). Furthermore, after the contentious exchanges between U.S. president Donald Trump and Taiwan Premier, seeming to question the “One China policy”, the Taiwan Strait has been flown over by a Chinese nuclear-capable bomber, already used to launch nuclear bombs on test sites. As a result the Chinese authorities probably wished to remind notably the U.S., that they have even more capabilities to militarize and to assert their strategic and operational presence in this contended area (Jon Sharman, “China flies nuclear bomber over South China Sea as a “message” to Donald Trump”, The Independent, 11 December 2016).

In other terms, the South China Sea, rife with tensions, knows a new level of Chinese militarization, while the Middle Kingdom is implementing the land and maritime NSR initiative, grounded in the absolute necessity for China to access energy, as well as mineral resources.

Furthermore, it is likely that the South China Sea seabed called the South China Sea platform could hold major oil and gas deposits, with possible reserves of 750 millions of barrels to 2 billions barrels of oil and more than 266 trillion cubic feet of natural gas (Tim Daiss, “Why the South China Sea has more oil than you think?”, Forbes, 22 May, 2016). To these must be added the vast potential reserves of phosphates (of great importance for agriculture to produce fertilizers), and of polymetallic nodules, which greatly attract the interest of heavy industries (Hélène Lavoix, “Deep Sea Resources brief”, The Red (Team) Analysis Society, “China’s lifting pump system for deep-sea mining completed its first test trial”, China Minmetals corporation, 26 June 2016).

Economic Zones in the South China Sea (2008, 2013). Crop of original image to depict only the SE Asia region, intended for use on SE Asian-related articles – Public Domain

The natural resources of the South China Sea also include its fisheries, with consequences in terms of food security. The South China Sea is one of the richest maritime ecological systems on Earth, with more than 3 365 different fish species, very important reef areas, as well as giant clams (Rachaele Bale, “One the world’s biggest fisheries is on the verge of collapse”, National Geographic, August 29, 2016). These biological resources attract the fishing fleets of more than seven nations.

In this regard, China is notably developing a system of joint operability between its coast guard fleet and its 50 000 strong fishing fleet, dubbed the “fishing militia” (Megha Rajagopalan, “China trains “fishing militia” to sail into disputed waters“, Reuters, April 30, 2016). The Chinese government is strongly supporting the modernization of the fleet through heavy subsidies and the replacement of old ships by new ones, with a steel hull. Meanwhile, the owners can equip their vessels with Beido systems, the Chinese Global positioning system, which puts them in direct contact with the coast guard fleet (John Ruwitch, “Satellites and seafood: China keeps fishing fleet connected in disputed waters”, Reuters, 27 July 2014). Fishermen also receive basic military navy training, especially on manoeuvering (Ibid).

The South China Sea plays a major role as far as the Chinese food security is concerned. The depletion of the fisheries near the Chinese coast is driving the fishing fleet farther and farther in the South China Sea, sometimes triggering incidents between ships of different countries.. This problem is compounded by the fact that seafood plays a basic role in Chinese food security considering Chinese culinary tradition and economy: the Chinese people eat more than 35 kg of fish annually, whilst the average global consumption is of 18 kg (“The consumption of fish and fish products in the Asia-Pacific region based on household surveys”, FAO, December 2015.

From militarization to business development

It must be noted that this militarization process is accompanied by another process: Chinese business development in the South China Sea. For example, Sansha City, a city created by China in 2012 on Woody Island, hosts companies that operate in a wide range of sectors, from agriculture to tourism, transport, water management, and finance, such as the mammoth Bank of China and the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (Lee Seok Hwai “Top firms set up shop on disputed South China Sea Island”, The China Post, November 28, 2016).

The Chinese development of the South China Sea is an attractor for Chinese as well as for foreign companies. For example, it can be noted that the company CCCC Dredging, a subsidiary of the state-owned China Communications and Constructions Company, after having built the Chinese artificial islands, has signed a deal for land reclaim with the Filipino government, during a state visit of president Duterte in China in October 2016 (Laura Zhou, “Chinese island-building firm wins contract with South China Sea rival claimant,the Philippines“, South China Morning Post, 27 October 2016).

The militarization process and the geopolitical tensions in this area are also creating direct opportunities for some European companies. For example, companies – for instance German MTU – selling dual use (civil-military) technology such as ship engines, which can be used by Chinese submarines (even though arms sales to China are embargoed by the EU, the sale of dual technologies is authorised), take advantage of this geopolitical uncertainty. (“German companies profiting from rising tensions in the South China Sea“, Facing Finance, 24 August 2016).

Once more, this shows that geopolitical uncertainty is not so frightening once it is properly handled analytically. It may mean loss of business if companies are unable to see beyond superficial news. On the contrary, it may mean new opportunities and to the least a strengthening of policies if the right process is followed. Already, once the crucial building blocks of an anticipation analysis for a specific issue are understood – as done here in the case of the South China Sea – some new elements emerge that may, once the strategic foresight and warning analysis is completed, be injected in the design of a proper answer strategy.

With the second part we shall see how this militarization of the Chinese commodity “attractor” is implemented in the Arabian Sea and what it means in strategic terms for China.

About the author: Jean-Michel Valantin (PhD Paris) is the Director of Environment and Security Analysis at The Red (Team) Analysis Society. He is specialised in strategic studies and defence sociology with a focus on environmental geostrategy.

Featured image: Subi Reef, Spratly Islands, South China Sea, in May 2015. The source claims it is Mischief Reef, which is clearly wrong when compared with other photos of both reefs. Date 21 mai 2015 – United States Navy – Par United States Navy [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Militarizing the Great Resource Roads – 1 – Russia

There are (Russian) missiles on the roads.

In this new series, we are going to focus on the militarization of the Russian Northern Sea Route and along segments of the Chinese New Silk Road and envision the political, military, industrial and business consequences for Russia, China, and their partners, notably through the installation of Russian missiles. We shall also evaluate the geopolitical consequences of the militarization of these “great roads”, which connect Asian powers and Russia to resources and markets. We shall more particularly point out the way assets are therefore protected in the framework of the potentially tense geopolitical environment brought about by climate change and resource depletion.

Over the last few years, Russia, China, and other Asian countries, have installed massive military capabilities, among them Russian surface to air missiles 9S32 engagement radarS-300 and S-400, along segments of the immense transcontinental or intercontinental land and maritime roads opened in Russia and in Asia. The function of those missiles is to reach and destroy attacking airplanes or missiles, in order to defend the territory where the missiles are based. (Jeremy Bender, “Russia is sending some serious weaponry in the Arctic”, Business Insider, 20 January 2015).

The “roads”, which are militarised, are created as answers to the necessity for Russia and China to connect Asian countries with resources and markets of Russia and Europe. They also result from the opportunity both geophysical and geopolitical, for Russia, that emerges from the warming of the Arctic, which redefines the Russian-Asian political and economic space (Jean-Michel Valantin, “The Warming Russian Arctic: Where Russian and Asian Strategies Interests Converge?”, The Red (Team) Analysis Society, November 23, 2016).

In this series, we shall to explore the geopolitical meaning of the militarization of the transcontinental transport infrastructures in Russia and in Asia and what that implies for a world under the twin pressure of climate change and resource depletion.

In this first article, we shall see how the Russian Northern Sea Route is becoming a vast system of installation of missile capabilities. This militarization accompanies the transformation of the status of this region, which is turned from a forgotten frontier into a major strategic Russian asset. Then, we shall stress that this militarization is emblematic of our new geological epoch, the Anthropocene, defined by the combination of rapid geophysical transformation with the need for countries and various actors to plan ahead to adapt to these new, potentially dangerous, conditions. 

Missiles on the Northern Sea Route

The Russian political and military authorities are both industrially and commercially developing Northern Siberia and its maritime economic exclusive zone. In the same dynamic they are militarizing the new maritime road called the “Northern Sea Route”.

The maritime road follows the Siberian coast and thus links the Bering Strait to Norway, and is being massively developed, because the Russian authorities are turning the effects of climate change into massive opportunities (Jean-Michel Valantin “Strategic Thinking in the Russian Arctic: Turning Threats into Opportunities (part 1 and 2)”, The Red (Team) Analysis Society, 19 December, 2016).

Map of the Arctic region showing the Northeast Passage, the Northern Sea Route and Northwest Passage, and bathymetryIndeed, the warming of the region triggers a progressive retreat of the sea ice that facilitates navigation along the Siberian coast (Atle Staalesen, “Aiming for Year Round Sailing on Northern Sea Route”, The Independent Barents Observer, December 14, 2015). The same geophysical process makes new, and massive, oil and gas deposits more accessible, hence mammoth on- and off- shore industrial new operations, such as the Prirazlomnoya oil rig, which is the first Arctic oil rig (Trude Pettersen, “Prirazlomnoya “zero emission” system launched”, The Independent Barents Observer, April 12, 2016).

The Northern Sea Route is increasingly attractive for the Chinese shipping convoys, because it allows them to avoid the potentially dangerous Strait of Malacca and lanes to the Suez Canal, while three weeks on their journey to Europe can be spared (Atle Staalesen, “COSCO Sends 5 Vessels Through Northern Sea RouteThe Independent Barents Observer, October 10, 2016. These infrastructures and operations are attracting huge interest as well as investments from China, India and Japan.

As seen previously, the Northern Sea Route (NSR) has acquired such a strategic importance for Russia that the Russian political authorities have devoted the Northern fleet to its surveillance, defense and management (Jean-Michel Valantin, “The Warming Russian Arctic: Where Russian and Asian interests and strategies converge?”, November 2, 2016 and “Russian Arctic Oil: a New Economic and Strategic Paradigm?” October 12, 2016, The Red (Team) Analysis Society).

Over the last decade, the Northern fleet has acquired new surface ships, as well as submarine ships of the new class “Borei”, i.e. the fourth-generation of ultra-silent stealth missile-carrying nuclear submarines. This new generation of ships is called “Borei” to clearly indicate the importance given to the Arctic by the Russian military (Globalsecurity.org, Project 935/Project 955 Borei).

Dmitry Medvedev near Yury Dolgorukiy submarine

Meanwhile, an Arctic command has been created. The Joint Arctic command is officially in charge of the coordination of the naval, land and air forces on the Siberian littoral, on the NSR and on the Siberian Archipelago (Jean-Michel Valantin, “Arctic Fusion: Russia and China Convergent Strategies”, The Red (Team) Analysis, June 23, 2014), including Russian islands in the Arctic, e.g. from east to west, the Novaya Zemlya Archipelago, the New Siberian Islands, the Wrangel Island and also Cape Schmidt (“Russia’s Defence ministry establishes Arctic strategic command“, Tass, December 01, 2014).

In parallel to the infrastructural development of the NSR, the Russian Defence ministry is responsible for the maritime development of the Route (Atle Staalesen, “Ministry of defense takes charge of Arctic shipping“, The Independent Barents Observer, July 07, 2016). One of the dimensions of this process is the installation of missile batteries on strategic sites along the road. Since December 2015, the Russian Northern Fleet has positioned a regiment in charge of several units of modernized S-300 missiles with a 400 km range in Novaya Zemlya, in the Kara Sea, north of the Yamal Peninsula, where major on-shore liquefied natural gas operations are developed (Atle Staalesen “Missile complex S-400 on guard in Kola Peninsula”, The Independent Barents Observer, January 11, 2017, and “Russia deploys S-300 in Novaya Zemlya”, The Independent Barents Observer, December 9, 2015).

The S-300s and S-400 missiles batteries are weapons systems able to track up to 100 flying targets and to engage 6 of them simultaneously; they are fully automated and have land and sea variants. The S-300s have an effective maximum range of 250 km, and the S-400’s range reaches 400 km (Wikipedia S-300 missile system). They can disable any May 2011 Parade - S-400kind of modern military aircraft, even stealth ones, with the assumed exception of the American F22-Raptor, and have an anti access/ denial area function, meaning that these weapons are meant to block an attacking flying force to enter into the air perimeter protected by the S-300s and S-400, as these missiles can be very precisely guided towards their targets. Knowing the costs of military airplanes, and the length and value of military pilots training, the kind of loss so entailed would be very quickly unsustainable for any military on Earth (Dave Majumdar, “No fly zoner: Russia’s lethal S-400 goes global“, The National Interest, December 18, 2015).

Thus, these missiles can drastically limit and degrade the operational freedom of any aerial force acting into its perimeter. Furthermore, S-400 complex systems are able to coordinate themselves with other surface to air weapons systems, such as the S-300s or the Pantsir S1 (a performance that the S-300 can not attain). In practical terms, these weapons systems and the system of systems that integrate them into a single defence system, create an envelope of protection for the forces, the authorities and the territory of those who install and use the system (Dave Majumdar, ibid).

This installation is part of the development of multiple Russian missile launch capabilities in the region, especially through the ships of the Northern Fleet dedicated to patrolling the NSR, with cruise missiles carried by destroyers, such as the nuclear patrolled destroyer Pyotr Veliky, and submarines, such as the Borei class Yuri Dolgoruki. Cruise missiles have several hundred km range and are shot at designated land or naval target, while flying at low altitude. Other missile capabilities are installed on the Kotelny Island, on the eastern segment of the NSR, especially anti-aircraft Pantsir S-1 and the anti-ships Termit missiles, have an 80 km range and are used for coastal defence. Those weapons systems have been tested during a series of drills conducted by the Northern Fleet in September 2016 (“Russia’s Northern Fleet conducts large-scale drills”, Arctic News, 26 September, 2016).

It is worth noting that, a few days before the drills on Kotelny Island, the Northern Fleet organised other air, land and sea drills on the western part of the Northern Sea Route, close to the Prirazlomnoya off shore oil and gas operation (Atle Staalesen, “Shooting cruise missiles from the Siberian Archipelago”, The Independent Barents Observer, September 20, 2016 and Thomas Nilsen, “Missiles here, there and everywhere”, The Independent Barents Observer, September 26, 2016).  In October 2016, the Russian navy and the Russian army launched ballistic missiles from the west of the Russian Arctic, to the East, during two drills. Ballistic missiles are weapons able to carry a conventional or a nuclear payload from one continent to the other, and are part of the deterrent arsenal (Thomas Nilsen, “Ballistic missiles across the Arctic”, The Independent Barents Observer, October 12, 2016).

This of a particular importance, because ballistic missiles are not only part of the defence arsenal, but also of the deterrence arsenal. A deterrence strategy is aimed at discouraging any offensive intent from a potential adversary against the actor with deterrence capabilities. These capabilities are meant to impose such damages at the attacking force that an offensive is not only dangerous, but it becomes totally counter-productive (Edward Luttwak, Strategy, the logic of war and peace, 2002).

The Russian military in a warming world

In other words, an immense system of defence and deterrence is now installed along the Northern Sea Route. In the same movement, militarizing the NSR gives a new geopolitical importance to the Russian defence and deterrence policy .

As a matter of fact, during centuries,  the littoral of Northern Siberia could not be said to have such a great strategic importance. It was mired in cold and ice almost all year-long, with a brief relapse during summer, and was mostly inhabited. From the Cold War to present days, the port of Murmansk was mainly devoted to the Soviet then Russian Federation Northern fleet, and its squads of submarines, while the remaining part of northern Siberia was largely unoccupied. The submarine fleet was navigating the national and international undersea and under-ice waters, imposing nuclear deterrence along the coasts of the United States, Canada and Europe and gathering intelligence (Alexandre S. Duplaix, Peter Huchthausen, Hide and Seek- The Untold Story of Naval Espionage, 2009).

The warming of the region, resulting from the current anthropogenic climate change, hasK-560 Severodvinsk (submarine, 2014) deeply changed this state of affairs. As seen, the ongoing opening of the Northern Sea Route and the access to oil and gas on- and off- shore deposits turns Northern Siberia into a major strategic region for Russia. Thus, installing defence and deterrence capabilities is a political and military translation of this new geophysical and strategic situation.

The deterrence principle is the cornerstone of the past and present nuclear strategies: each government that possesses nuclear forces is deterred to use them, because it would imply its own annihilation in return (Fred Kaplan, The Wizards of Armageddon, 1983). Conventional deterrence is much older, and is based on the principle according to which if an armed force attacks a very well defended territory, the loss it will have to sustain will not make the attack worth the effort. Furthermore, the loss will direly weaken the attacker (John Keegan, The History of Warfare, 1993).

As a matter of fact, this huge defence effort, in a challenging time for the Russian economy, given the pressures exerted both by the sharp decline in oil prices since June 2014 and the economic sanctions imposed by the US and by the EU because of the tensions in Ukraine, expresses the major importance of the development of the Arctic for the Russian political, economic and military authorities (see our series, Hélène Lavoix, Crisis and War in Ukraine, The Red (Team) Analysis Society and Colin Chilcoat, “Is Russia the King of the Arctic by Default?”, OilPrice.com, Oct 22, 2015 and Andy Tully,Western Sanctions Halt Exxon’s Drilling in Russia’ Arctic”, Russia Insider, 19 September, 2014) .

It could also be said that this military effort is a message to other Arctic powers, among them the U.S., that Russia is, once again, a very important economic and military power, and must be treated as such.

Defense and economic development on a changing planet

This new strategic status is very complex from a geopolitical point of view. As seen, the Northern Sea Route attracts shipping convoys and investments not only from Russia, but also from China, India, South Korea and Japan. These countries, through their governments, their public and private oil and gas companies and their banks are heavily investing with their Russian counterparts in order to develop oil and gas, as well as transport infrastructures.

In fact, the militarization of the Northern Sea Route also emphasises the Russian political will to defend the geopolitical entity created by the interlocking of the numerous and massive national and private interests, partnerships and investments attracted by the new geophysical conditions of the Russian Arctic. It also means that the Russian political authorities are fully aware that the resources of the Arctic have the potential to attract conflicting interests in an era of international competition for depleting resources (Michael Klare, The Race for what’s left, the global scramble for the world’s last resources, 2012).

Hence, in this region, Russia defends in the same time its own national interest and the national interests and the investments of the rapidly developing Asian countries, and of the public and private companies that intend to benefit of the Russian potential.

It must be noted that the geophysical and geopolitical changes in the Russian Arctic express a deeper layer of political meaning, which is of interest to governments to the military and to the business communities: in the 21st century, the rapidly occurring geophysical changes are transforming the political, strategic and industrial conditions that were defined during the 20th century (Jean-Michel Valantin, “The Planetary Crisis Rules, part 1 and 2”, The Red (Team) Analysis Society, January 25 and February 15, 2016). They do not imply simple “adjustments” but, as we see in the Russian Arctic case, a full mobilisation to adapt and to turn them into assets. And assets need to be protected.

The next article will focus on the way Russian missiles are installed along segments of the Chinese New Silk Road, and what this means from a political, strategic and business point of view.

About the author: Jean-Michel Valantin (PhD Paris) is the Director of Environment and Security Analysis at The Red (Team) Analysis Society. He is specialised in strategic studies and defence sociology with a focus on environmental geostrategy.

Featured image: Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation – Tactical exercise of the Air Defence Regiment of the Eastern MD (Khabarovsk Krai) – 22.11.2016 – licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0.

 

Strategic Thinking in the Russian Arctic: When Threats Become Opportunities (2)

This article is the second part of our series focusing on the current development of the Russian Arctic region, while explaining and demonstrating the importance of using strategic thinking for governments as well as for business actors to understand current dynamical changes and to develop adequate strategies to face related geopolitical uncertainty.

In the first part, we established that the paradoxical logic of strategy turns threats into opportunities, while constraints become drivers and systems of challenges are transmuted into powerful attractors.

Here, continuing using strategic thinking, we shall see first how the implementation of the Arctic Russian strategy triggers different kinds of resistance: i.e. Clausewitz’s “friction”. The way this friction is absorbed, or not, by the implementation process determines the future degree of success of the strategy.

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Then, we shall explain how the Russian authorities are redefining the Russian national interest in a time of climate change – an evolution that is here to last – thanks to the understanding of the paradoxical logic of strategy as developed in part 1 and of the dialectics between the implementation of the Russian strategic project and the friction it triggers.

A strategic imperative: thinking friction

As Edward Luttwak (Strategy, the Logic of War and Peace, 2002), following Carl von Clausewitz (On War, 1832), points out, there is strategy when will is applied against a resisting and reacting object, as during a war. Hence, the strategic nature of the Arctic endeavour is also revealed by the way the adverse, resisting and reacting Arctic extreme environment triggers different levels of “friction” through the building of the infrastructures End less Franz Joseph Land for energy extraction, as well as for transport, and shipping on the Northern Sea Route and from the Siberian coast to Central Asia. This friction comes from the systems of difficulties inherent to the region, which always threaten the material organisation and implementation of the Arctic development. As a result the different operations constituting the development of the Arctic are forced to be able to absorb a very high level of friction to avoid disruption.

For example, in the Yamalo-nenets province, the Siberian heat wave of the 2016 summer melted dead carcasses of reindeer, infected with the dangerous, and potentially deadly Anthrax bacteria. More than forty people were infected, and, sadly, a 12 years old child passed away, while 2300 reindeer also died, triggering a major health alert and sanitary response. This alert was particularly important, because an epidemic in the north of Siberia would be both dangerous for the people and the animals and disruptive for the Russian Arctic strategy through the disorganisation of the workforce used to build the infrastructures necessary for the creation of the Yamal LNG plant, and for the related railways and ports (Rebecca Joseph, “”Zombie” Anthrax not only deadly disease that could re-emerge as Siberia permafrost thaws”, Global News, August 16, 2016).

The violent storms, which interact with the multiplication of icebergs coming from the melting and breaking of the ice cap, are another major driver of friction, at sea this time. This is the case, for example, for the vastly expensive Prirazlomonoye offshore oil rig in the glacial Pechora Sea (Michael Klare, The Race for What’s Left, 2012). TafeleisbergHowever, the Russian scientists and engineers have found two categories of answers to this challenge. First, they have studied ways to divert the icebergs by towing them. Second, they have invented floating barriers able to protect the infrastructures (Atle Staalesen, “Rosneft Moves 1 Million Ton Big Iceberg”, The Independent Barents Observer, October 11, 2016).

Furthermore, the friction known by the Prirazlomonoye operation is not only environmental, but also political: in 2013, during a media campaign aimed at raising international awareness about the industrial development of the Arctic, Greenpeace activists attempted, without authorisation, to climb on the rig in order to protest against the industrial exploitation of the pristine Arctic environment (“Freed Greenpeace Arctic detainees home from Russia”, BBC News, 27 December, 2013).  Activists were arrested and detained in Murmansk for three months by the Russian authorities, after having been condemned for piracy (Ibid.).

Since then, Rosneft has emphasised that the rig has not only been designed to be protected from the “friction” imposed by its extreme environment, but also to protect this very environment (“The Prirazlomonoya rig details – part 1″, Marine Technology news, December 27, 2013; Gazprom, “Environmental and occupational safety of Arctic shelf development“). This is done through the invention of a system of absorption of the industrial Igor Sechin wastes on the platform, which are recycled and reused in the industrial process in order to avoid any spill in the fragile ecosystem. This system is also much more cost-effective, because the wastes do not have to be shipped on shore. As a result, the Prirazlomonoye platform is the first Russian “zero emission” oilrig. (Trude Pettersen, “Prirazlomnoya “zero emission” system launched”, The Independent Barents Observer, April 12, 2016).

As such, “friction” becomes a driver for innovation and thus a support for marketing the new Russian energy technology, when, at long last, ecological issues have become a real international concern as well as an economic imperative (Charles Emmerson, A Future History of the Arctic, 2010).

Thus, this new generation of Russian oil rigs not only overcomes the environmental and political friction it triggers with an extreme and fragile environment, but is also a political and media tool to reinforce the legitimacy of the Russian Arctic strategy on the international scene, in a period of evolving tensions between Russia, the European Union and the United States. Advertising the technological response to industrial-environmental friction is strategically used to ease some of the geopolitical and commercial frictions triggered by the international political situation while supporting the marketing of the Russian innovative technology.

Understanding the strategic nature of the Russian Arctic development and how it absorbs the friction engendered by the contact between its operations and an extreme environment leads us to the third level of strategic understanding: the nature of the political and economic project that is being implemented and its time-scale.

Developing the Russian Arctic: an emerging “Russian grand strategy for a warming world”

The combination of the warming of the Arctic and of the Russian political, industrial, military, infrastructural, and commercial projection of power in order to develop this region has a multitude of national and international consequences, notably through the multiplication of Chinese investments, and the signature of high-level technical, commercial and energy partnerships with India, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, and Singapore (Atle Staalesen, “Japanese, French credits for Yamal LNG”, The Independent Barents Observer, 02 December, 2016).

The international impacts of the Russian Arctic project unfold at the international level, in the political, industrial and business spheres and interact with each other. For example, the Chinese shipping convoys of the COSCO Company or of South Korea have led the Indian government to sign investment deals in the Arctic with the Russian government (Atle Staalesen, “A Role for India in Russian Arctic”, The Independent Barents Observer, October 18, 2016 and  President of Russia, Russian- Indian Talks). A similar phenomenon is at work with Japan (Wrenn Yennie Lindgre, “Energising Russia’s Asia Pivot: Japan-Russia Relations, Post Fukushima, Post-Ukraine“, Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, 4/2015).

Arctic Circle

The immense Russian Arctic endeavour projects its influence on the whole of Asia and Europe, while turning Russia into a power base in the age of global warming. Our analytical strategic approach makes us understand that, through its Arctic project, Russia installs itself as an essential driver of the Asian development and growth (Jean-Michel Valantin, “The Warming Russian Arctic: Where Russian and Asian Business and Strategies Converge?“, The Red (Team) Analysis Society,  November 23, 2016). In other terms, the integral nature of the Russian Arctic development makes it a “grand strategy”, allowing its supporters to wield geopolitical influence. Russia works at becoming one of the great world powers by using the current planetary crisis as a power and economic basis.

For those political, industrial, financial and other business actors (Anne Ackerley, “Long term thinking in a low return world”, Black Rock, October 17, 2016), which are looking for new, sustainable and long-lasting “success frontiers” in a world of growing uncertainties, this is an essential point to understand. This is all the more important that these rising uncertainties are generated and intensified by the rapidly shifting state of international political and economic current conditions and by their interactions with the changing planetary conditions (Jean-Michel Valantin, “Planetary Security, or the Subversion of Collapse”, The Red (Team) Analysis Society, October 26, 2015).

So, the Russian Arctic is becoming a region where these extreme changes and risks are being strategically turned into conditions for industrial and business success for Russian actors. Furthermore, this is also highly likely to be true for Russia’s partners, as these are going to partake not only in the costs but also in the benefits of the medium and long-term effects of this grand strategy. In fact, industrial and business success is now the very glue of the Russian strategy for a long-lasting success in terms of national interest, which integrates political, strategic, economic and business interests in a common grand strategy (Jude Clemente, “Russia’s Oil Production Won’t Falter“, Forbes, June 29, 2016).

This can be seen, for example, in the case of the Yamal LNG plant, developed by the Russian Novatek, Rosneft and Gazprom, French Total and the Chinese CNPC and Silk Road Fund. These industrial actors are all confronted with the friction triggered by the specific conditions of the Arctic. The frozen ground – the permafrost – is rock solid in winter but melts during summer. The technological answer to face these changing conditions, in normal Arctic weather, i.e. not considering climate change, is the installation of the plant on metal poles, which will partly sink in the melting permafrost during summer, thus allowing for maintaining the stability of the structure (Anne Feitz, “Dans le grand nord Russe, le projet gazier géant de Total sort de terre”, Les Echos, 22/05/16).

However, climate change must now be considered. The Novatek company, in charge of the implementation of the project, has thus willingly launched itself into a race against time: its executive officers are perfectly aware that the warming of the region will warm the permafrost too much and that the infrastructures will not be able to maintain their integrity, while the rising of the sea level will put the flat peninsula under water and the industrial operation will not be technically sustainable anymore. Thus, in order to prevent these emerging risks, the industrial operations will have to be operational before the new impacts of climate change develop. Meanwhile, in order to see the operations remain sustainable, executives will certainly have to engage in important adaptation measures (Atle Staalsen, “Climate change could jeopardize Yamal gas development, Government fears”, The Independent Barents Observer, September 15, 2016).

Arctic year long anom HR

In other words, the Yamal project is a part of the Arctic – i.e. territorial – Russian strategy, which is also now a climate change-based strategy. Hence, the gas operation must be implemented and its benefits must be reaped before the next phase of the climate destabilization. Time – and not any time – becomes a crucial element. Indeed, this project is developed according to a time frame which is dependent upon the very conditions of the project: before the moment when the friction due to climate change will make it unsustainable. This anticipation supports the Russian power of attraction because it turns the current degree of climate change into an opportunity for the Russian industry and for Russia, as well as for their numerous Asian and European partners.

Here again, a strategic analysis points out how the Russian authorities identify and use the current phase of climate change as an industrial window of opportunity and how they behave accordingly, in order to make this project profitable for its national and international investors.

However, the Arctic – as well as the entire Human-Earth system – is still highly likely to evolve quickly. In other words, the success of tomorrow must remain sustainable, while its original conditions are highly likely to keep changing.

For example, the way the accelerating melting of the Arctic polar pack ice is going to create more and more icebergs could generate such a new potential danger, which would need to be analysed in-depth through scenario analysis. These icebergs, through their sheer number, would be highly likely to threaten the security of the offshore drilling operations, as well as of the shipping convoys using the Northern Sea Route. This would imply that, for example, a LNG ship leaving the Yamal peninsula for China, Japan or India could be slowed, and the energy supply chain of entire countries could be under pressure. This would paradoxically turn the success of the Russian Arctic development into a new risk for Russia and for its partners.

To prevent such a type of dangers, as well as the related uncertainties, it is necessary to think strategically, thus to recognise how the friction created by an endeavour can turn a success into a failure, or, more precisely, into a system of cascading failures. To achieve this kind of thinking, it is of paramount importance not to deny reality, but on the contrary, to fully accept it.

That is why, for example in answer to the risk evoked above of multiplying icebergs, the Russian Gazprom and Rosneft, as well as Chinese and South Koreans, are building new generations of nuclear icebreakers, which will be able to protect the shipping convoys of the “friction” induced by changing sea conditions (Atle Staalesen, “Aiming for Year Round Sailing on Northern Sea Route”, The Independent Barents Observer, December 14, 2015, RT, “Russia Floats Out Arktika Icebreaker, set to be world’s largest”, 16 June, 2016, Atle Staalesen, “COSCO Sends 5 Vessels Through Northern Sea Route”, The Independent Barents Observer, October 10, 2016, and Jean-Michel Valantin, “Arctic China (1) – The Dragon and the Vikings”, The Red (Team) Analysis Society, 24 May, 2014).

As we have seen, the strategic analysis of the Russian Arctic development is a thinking that is absolutely necessary to be able by integrating it within the proper methodology to produce diagnostics that integrate the new dynamics enforced on government and business actors by the current planetary crisis.

These methodological tools allow us to anticipate major uncertainties, which are currently happening through the combination of historically powerful environmental, political and economic factors, and which have a very high potential of disruption for governments as well as for business. As a result, the best possible adaptation to survive and even to thrive may follow.

About the author: Jean-Michel Valantin (PhD Paris) is the Director of Environment and Security Analysis at The Red (Team) Analysis Society. He is specialised in strategic studies and defence sociology with a focus on environmental geostrategy.

Featured image: “During a staged naval performance to mark Navy Day.” President of Russia Trip to Severomorsk. Navy Day celebrations – July 27, 2014 Severomorsk.  Kremlin website.

Strategic Thinking in the Russian Arctic: When Threats Become Opportunities (1)

This series of two articles focuses on the current development of the Russian Arctic region, while explaining and demonstrating the importance of using strategic thinking for governments as well as for business actors. Indeed, the international dynamics of geopolitical and environmental changes, including their interactions, are becoming so rapid and powerful that political and business actors have to integrate them, in order to be, or to remain, successful. In this first part, using strategic thinking, we shall notably establish how threats can be – and are – turned into opportunities, while constraints become drivers and systems of challenges are transmuted into powerful attractors. This approach dramatically alters the way actors could and should handle issues and uncertainties so far perceived as mainly negative.

For that purpose, we shall study the current development of the warming Russian Arctic through the perspective of strategic thinking, i.e. by using the tools devised to understand the way strategic choices are implemented in the geopolitical arena, the opposition they meet and how the related counter-actions make them evolve (Edward Luttwak, Strategy, the Logic of War and Peace, 2002).

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Understanding what is at stake with the current massive industrial, military, infrastructural, and commercial development of the warming Russian Arctic is a particularly good example of the crucial importance of strategic thinking. In effect, nowadays, our world is changing very rapidly, because of the permanent interactions between the domestic and international political, economic, social and technological situations and planetary climate change, while furthermore natural resources are overused (Jean-Michel Valantin, “The Planetary crisis Rules, part 1 and 2”, The Red (Team) Analysis Society, January 25 and February 25, 2016).

Red (Team) Analysis Society, strategic foresight, strategy, Russian Arctic, paradoxical logic
Circum-Arctic Resource Appraisal: Estimates of Undiscovered Oil and Gas North of the Arctic Circle – USGS [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This change can appear as unexpected if one does not use an efficient methodology to anticipate the coming changes (Helene Lavoix, “Business and Geopolitics, Caught up in the Whirlwinds?”, The Red (Team) Analysis Society, November 23, 2016). Strategic thinking allows us to understand the consequences of these new combinations to anticipate, adapt and, most importantly, to do so successfully.

Strategic thinking allows us to understand how and why the Russian political, military, industry and business authorities are turning the current and rapid warming of the Arctic ocean and land into a massive strategic opportunity for themselves and for their Asian and European industrial, financial and business partners (Jean-Michel Valantin, “The Warming Russian Arctic: Where the Russian Asian Business and Strategies Converge?fifty years of victory at North Pole, Red (Team) Analysis Society, strategic foresight, strategy, Russian Arctic, paradoxical logic”, The Red (Team) Analysis Society, 21 November 2016). With these partners, the Russians are transforming Northern Siberia and the Arctic Ocean into an immense attractor for international trade as well as for energy companies, despite and thanks to the massive risks emerging from the current planetary geophysical destabilization (Jean-Michel Valantin, “The Russian Arctic Oil: a New Economic and Strategic Paradigm?”, The Red Team Analysis Society, October 12, 2016).

Given the sheer scale and complexity of this massive endeavour, it is necessary to use strategic thinking to understand what it means for governments, as well as for businesses, to be able to anticipate how the uncertainties, risks and opportunities related to the development of the Russian Arctic, are getting combined on the short and the middle term by the Russian political and business authorities, in order to achieve success. This understanding is necessary for, among others, energy, trade, shipping and trade industries and companies that are attracted by the new Russian Arctic potential, which emerges from the industrial and commercial transformation of what used to be an extreme and deeply hostile environment but is today profoundly altered by climate change, if these actors are to successfully operate.

This first part focuses on identifying and using the paradoxical logic necessary to assess strategic situations, thus  building upon the interactions between the main levels of strategic thinking.

Thinking strategically: turning climate change into an opportunity

First of all, to understand the Russian Arctic development from a strategic point of view, we have to realise that this development is literally immersed in the paradoxical logic of strategy. Indeed, developing a project, be it political, commercial, military, or of any other nature, creates the emergence of situations that are driven by a paradoxical logic: the implementation of a given project attracts opposing forces, which can even use violence, or difficulties, which threaten the very project that created them with failure (Luttwak, ibid). Understanding this attraction of the opposites and the necessity to use them in order to attain success is the very essence of the strategic approach.

In the case of the development of the Russian Arctic, this paradoxical logic is revealed by the fact that an immense industrial and commercial project is implemented because of, and despite, its particularly adverse environmental and economic context.

To be precise, the whole Arctic region is deeply destabilised by its rapid warming stemming from anthropogenic climate change, which is triggered by the global emissions of greenhouse gas resulting from the use of coal, oil and gas. Climate change is currently warming the whole planet and, in particular, the NASA Arctic temperature change 1981-2007, Red (Team) Analysis Society, strategic foresight, strategy, Russian Arctic, paradoxical logicArctic (Charles Emmerson, A Future History of the Arctic, 2010). The warming of that region, one of the coldest on Earth, involves the melting and breaking of the ice pack. The excess of accumulated heat in the atmosphere warms the ocean and the land during the summer months. Thus, it drives a disruption of the winter ice pack and weather patterns, hence the emergence of geophysical conditions in this region, so far unknown by humans (Joe Romm, “Arctic Death Spiral Update: What Happens in the Arctic Affects Every Where Else”, Think Progress, May 3, 2016). However, what must be very clearly understood is that this warming does not turn the Arctic into a “less” extreme region. On the contrary, it adds a new diversity and complexity to the environment and accelerates the evolution of its geophysical conditions.

Nonetheless, the current warming makes now possible to reach and exploit the enormous oil and gas reserves of the region, because of the relative retreat of the ice. Thus, the fact that the whole Arctic region could have reserves of almost 90 billion barrels of crude and a staggering 1669 trillion cubic feet of natural gas (Energy Information Agency « Russia », July 28, 2015), comes to mean that the development of the warming Arctic could add new and major reserves to the existing Russian diminishing ones. Because of the relative, but accelerating, retreat of the ice, it also opens up a new passage between the Bering Strait and Norway, along the Siberian coast: the “Northern Sea Route”.

In strategic terms, this creates a paradoxical situation, because the Russian Arctic industrial project is in fact defined by the interactions of the very Russian Arctic industrial project with extreme and changing environmental conditions, which are both at the origin of the project, while putting it under extreme pressure (Valantin, The Warming Arctic: a hyper strategic crisis, January 20, 2014).

Thinking strategically: turning economic constraints into a strategic driver

In terms of adversity, from the point of view of Russia, the geophysical change of the Arctic is combined with the fact that, since 2014, the U.S. and the European Union have imposed economic sanctions upon Russia, because of the incorporation of Crimea in the Russian federation and of the tensions in Ukraine (see our series, Hélène Lavoix, Crisis and War in UkraineThe Red (Team) Analysis Society). The sanctions also forbid technically advanced Western oil companies to develop industrial partnerships with Russian companies (Colin Chilcoat, “Is Russia the King of the Arctic by Default?”, OilPrice.com, Oct 22, 2015 and Andy Tully, “Western Sanctions Halt Exxon’s Drilling in Russia’ Arctic”, Russia Insider, 19 September, 2014) .

These sanctions combine with the simultaneous dramatic plummeting of oil prices, which results in diminishing the vital Russian oil and gas revenues (Jean-Michel Valantin, “Oil Flood (2)- Oil and Politics in a (Real) Multipolar World”, The Red (Team) Analysis Society, January 12, 2015). This blend of economic adversities is impacting the Russian economic growth, when the Russian political and economic authorities decide, against these environmental and economic odds, to develop the Russian Arctic.

In other terms, one can identify, thanks to and through the use of the paradoxical logic of strategy, that the economic and political pressure exerted on Russia is, in fact, a key driver of the Russian decision to reinforce and accelerate the development of Northern Siberia and Prirazlomnoye tanker, Red (Team) Analysis Society, strategic foresight, strategy, Russian Arctic, paradoxical logicof the Arctic Ocean (Irina Slav, “Why Arctic Oil is Crucial for Russia’s Future”, OilPrice.com, September 2, 2016). By doing so, the Russian authorities may find another way to reinforce the security, power and economic attractiveness of their country. Thus appears the fully strategic nature of the Arctic project, i.e. a project decided and supported by a (geo)political will that is exerted “against a living and reactive force” (Clausewitz, On War, 1832). In our case, it means that the Russian political will is exerted to bolster its Arctic project despite, and against, the adverse political and economic forces of the sanction regime and of the “natural” difficulties inherent to a changing and extreme Arctic… as well as because of them.

In terms of strategic foresight and warning, including monitoring, this means that we have here identified crucial indicators, and how they are dynamically related, which will allow for a better anticipation and thus navigation of uncertainty.

The result of the paradoxical strengthening of this political will by the opposing forces that it encounters takes the form of a geopolitical project defined by one of the most extreme and destabilised regions of the planet’s industrial development, notably through the offshore oil and gas platforms, the opening of the Northern Sea Route along the Siberian coast, from the Asian side of the Bering Strait to Norway, and through the building of maritime infrastructures, and of the giant the LNG Yamal project (Thomas Nilsen, “Arctic Russia Warms 2.5 Times Faster Than the Rest of the Globe”, The Independent Barents Observer, November 29, 2015, Atle Staalesen, “No Pause in Arctic Exploration – Igor Sechin”, The Independent Barents Observer, July 18, 2016, Atle Staalesen, “Moscow invites Beijing to take part in Arctic sea route project”, RT, 7 December, 2015), “Aiming for Year Round Sailing on Northern Sea Route”, The Independent Barents Observer, December 14, 2015). To these must be added the new north-south railroads network that connects the various Northern Sea Route vs Southern Sea Routeindustrial projects to the railroads networks of Russia and of Central Asia, and thus to Europe and China (“Russian Railways to Complete Latitudinal Railway project to the Arctic”, Think Rail Ways, November 19, 2015, Atle Staalesen, “Grand Railway Deal for Yamal”, The Independent Barents Observer, October 20, 2016). In the same dynamic the Russian military Navy has been put in charge of the surveillance and monitoring of the whole region and its projects, and installs bases all around the Siberian coast as well as on the islands of the Russian Arctic Ocean.

As the paradoxical logic of strategy let us expect, the environmental and economic constraints outlined previously have driven the Russian authorities to facilitate the emergence of industrial and human resources’ innovations, through the recruitment of young Russian engineers in the energy sector. Those are tasked to compensate the brutal loss of western technological know-how since 2014 and the start of the sanctions regime. Those engineers are encouraged to be innovative and thus to reduce quickly the gap between the technological needs of the Russian companies and their capabilities in the Arctic (Irina Slav, ibid). Thus, the new potential for the energy exploitation of Northern and maritime Siberia, which emerges, is so attractive that, despite the sanctions regime, some western companies, such as Total and BP, have continued or reactivated their partnerships with their Russian counterparts (Jean-Michel Valantin, The Warming Russian Arctic: Where Russian and Asian Business Converge?”, The Red (Team) Analysis Society, 21 November, 2016).

Thinking strategically: turning a system of constraints into power (of attraction)

Once again, the Russian political and business authorities have been able to harness the “power of attraction” of Northern Siberia, literally reinforced by the very pressure that are exerted upon them.

In other terms, analysing these dynamics in strategic terms leads us to realise that Russia is projecting a staggering amount of political, economic, industrial, military and business power in Northern Siberia and upon the Arctic Ocean. This projection of power reaches such a scale, because it is aimed at creating what we call the “Russian arctic power of attraction”, which is felt throughout Central, South and Eastern Asia.

This attraction is expressed, for example, by the multibillion dollars Chinese investments in the Yamal peninsula and in the Arkhangelsk port, or by the sales of Siberian LNG to Japan, or by the use of the Siberian ports and railroads by South Korean Tor icebreaker, Red (Team) Analysis Society, strategic foresight, strategy, Russian Arctic, paradoxical logicshipping and industry companies to export industrial machines in Kazakhstan (Jack Farchy, “Chinese Lend $12 Bn for Gas Plant in Russian Arctic”, Financial Times, April 29, 2016, (Atle Staalesen, “Grand Railway Deal for Yamal”, The Independent Barents Observer, October 20, 2016, (“First Chemical reactors shipped to Kazakhstan from South Korea”, The Astana Times, 26 July 2016).

This strategy is grounded in the political, economic and strategic history of Russia, which has built the bulk of its industrial base between the end of World War I and the 1930s, during the immensely violent period of the Soviet A battery of Katyusha during the 1941-1945 Great Patriotic War, Red (Team) Analysis Society, strategic foresight, strategy, Russian Arctic, paradoxical logicrevolution and of the installation of Stalinism (Moshe Lewin, The Soviet Century, 2005). Then, during the savage German onslaught of 1941, Russia moved its western industrial capability to the Ural and Siberia, where it was reassembled, before overwhelming the Wehrmacht and the Nazi military industry with its sheer production capability and strategic sense (Adam Tooze, The Wages of Destruction, 2006).

Then, came the long years of reconstruction. Finally, during the 1990s, the end of the Soviet Union saw the terribly destructive economic crisis that ravaged entire sectors (Stephen Kotkin, Armageddon Averted – The Soviet Collapse 1970-2000, 2008) of the Russian industry, before the beginning of the 2000s witnessed the starting of the Russian industrial rebuilding.

The current Russian Arctic endeavour seems to be a new phase in the industrial development of Russia, led by a strategy that is aimed at renewing the status of Russia as an international economic power at the time of climate change, which combines itself with the energetic needs of Asia and the tensions with Europe and the U.S. (Anna Andriovana, Elena Mazneva, “Japan makes Arctic gas Move with $400 million Yamal LNG Loan”, Bloomberg, September 2, 2016).

This capability to implement a project despite the fact that it attracts and trigger opposite political and environmental forces is the very essence of the paradoxical logic of strategy.

Continuing building upon and using strategic thinking, we shall turn to the inner workings of the Russian Arctic development with the next article. We shall notably see how the latter’s different aspects, mainly the industrial operations and the changing environment, are interacting, creating a certain level of “friction”, an essential dimension of strategy. This level of friction is a crucial element for the successful dynamics of this mammoth project. Then, we shall study how the Russian authorities identify and use the current phase of climate change as an industrial window of opportunity and how they behave accordingly, in order to make this project profitable for domestic and international investors.

About the author: Jean-Michel Valantin (PhD Paris) is the Director of Environment and Security Analysis at The Red (Team) Analysis Society. He is specialised in strategic studies and defence sociology with a focus on environmental geostrategy.

Featured image: МЛСП «Приразломная» на карте российской Арктики, 2014 by By Krichevsky (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The Warming Russian Arctic: Where Russian and Asian Business and Strategies Converge?

In this new article about the current development of the warming Russian Arctic, The Red (Team) Analysis Society studies how Russia is currently devising an industrial and business grand strategy. This strategy is created through new oil and gas exploitations and the constant opening of the Siberian Northern Sea Route. These new activities are made possible by the rapidly intensifying climate change, which is transforming the Arctic into a continental attractor for energy, business, shipping, land transport, from everywhere in Asia (Jean-Michel Valantin, “The Russian Arctic meets the Chinese New Silk Road”, The Red (Team) Analysis Society, 31 October, 2016).

Arctic mapThe Russian Arctic power of attraction can be identified from the fact that numerous Asian countries are attracted by the Russian Northern Sea Route and by the exploitation of the oil and gas deposits of the Arctic Ocean and of the Siberian ground. The production of liquefied natural gas (LNG), notably, acts as a magnet for the industrial, financial and strategic interest not only of China, India, Japan, South Korea, but also Viet Nam, Singapore and Thailand (US Energy Information Administration, (“Chapter 3. Natural Gas”, International Energy Outlook 2016”). In effect, the Asian countries’ consumption of LNG knows a regular growth, considering their will to enlarge their energy sources while diminishing their coal use (Jean-Michel Valantin, “The Arctic, Russia, and China’s Energy transition“, The Red (Team) Analysis Society, 2 February, 2015).

The massive Russian Arctic maritime and coastal development supports the deployment of an immense industrial, transportation and trade land infrastructure, through the building of railroads and the renewed use of Siberian rivers, from the Siberian coast towards Norway and Central Asia. Some of these new railways are built from Kazakhstan and Mongolia, to connect with the new railroad network that connects western China with Europe through gigantic supply chains, which are deeply interlocking the Russian and Chinese developments (Jean-Michel Valantin, “China, Russia and The New Silk Road in Central Asia: the Great Co-Empowerment”, The Red Team Analysis Society, March 7, 2016).

In other words, the warming Russian Arctic and its industrial and trade development are supporting the development of the Central, Eastern and South Asia countries, by attracting the actors of these Asian developments.

Here, we are going to focus upon the way the warming Russian Arctic is thus becoming the driver of a deep reorganisation of the Asian energy and industrial markets. We will also see how this entails the emergence of continental size maritime and land new supply-chain, while connecting it to China and “arcticised” Asian actors and interests.  At the end of the article we shall present a new feature: a brief summary of some of the major impacts foreseen.

The emerging Russian continental supply-chain: from the Siberian Coast to Kazakhstan … and beyond

The warming of the Russian Arctic is having gigantic geopolitical and business consequences, because the very effects of climate change are turned into an engine of the Russian power of attraction (Joe Romm, “Arctic Death Spiral Update: What Happens in the Arctic Affects Everywhere Else“, Think Progress, May 3, 2016).

In effect, the Russian political, economic and business authorities are turning this immense region into a new energy and minerals development area. Furthermore, the warming of the atmosphere and of the ocnorthernsearouteean stemming from climate change, and the relative retreat of the sea ice it entails, are used to open the Northern Sea Route, which goes from the Bering Strait to Norway along the Siberian coast, with considerable impacts on logistics and trade (Jean-Michel Valantin, “The Russian Arctic: a new Economic and Strategic Paradigm?”,The Red (Team) Analysis Society, October 12, 2016).

A first element of the Arctic Russian attractor is the building of the strong inter-connections between the off- and onshore oil and gas operations and the Northern Sea Route, through the creation of maritime and land industrial and transport infrastructures. Meanwhile, as we have seen “Russian Arctic Oil” and “The Russian Arctic Meets the Chinese New Silk Road”, there is a strong link between the energy, maritime and military offshore development of the Russian Arctic, which are the different drivers of the “Russian attractor”.

This energy and industrial development also takes place onshore, and is pivotal in the intensification of the Russian Arctic power of attraction.

gulf_of_obNotably, in order to turn the Russian Arctic into a sustainable attractor for energy and business partners, the glacial and desolated Yamal Peninsula is industrially developed and transformed into the hub where the energy interests, the Northern Sea Route and the land network of Russian infrastructures are interlocked.

In effect, the Russian energy company Novatek is building the enormous Yamal LNG plant, aiming at producing more than 16,5 millions of tons of LNG annually (Oksana Kobzeva, “Russia’s Yamal LNG is on track and on budget, says Novatek”, Reuters, September 5, 2016). This mammoth project, developed in a glacial region, except during the short summer, is an industrial challenge: it necessitates partnerships with French Total, Chinese National Petroleum Company and the Silk Road Fund. The project has already benefited of more than 12 billions dollars from Russian Banks and 12 billions dollars from Chinese banks (Jack Farchy, “Chinese Lend $12 Bn for Gas Plant in Russian Arctic”, Financial Times, April 29, 2016). Thanks to it, Russia will become one of the main producers of LNG on the international market.

Sabetta, Russia, Arctic, LNG
From “Arctic – Russia’s perspective” – 2014 by Andrey Bondarev, Deputy Head of Economic Office, Embassy of the Russian Federation

This project goes with the rapid development of the Sabetta port on the Yamal coast, located on the Ob river bay, from where LNG carriers will transport the anticipated 16,5 millions annual tons of gas, produced by the Yamal LNG plant, to their destinations in China, India, Japan, and Viet Nam, among others (Atle Staalesen, “This could soon be the world’s biggest Arctic”, The Independent Barents Observer, February 16, 2016). Furthermore, Sabetta will have to be able to handle at least a yearly 30 million tons traffic.

In the same time, Rosneft and Gazprom develop oil and gas projects in the Peninsula, especially the “Novy Port oil field” (Atle Staalesen, “Preparing the Ground for Second LNG Plant in Yamal”, The Independent Barents Observer, November 02, 2016). More than 13000 people have worked for it during the 2015-2016 winter and more than 18000 during the 2016 summer (Atle Staalesen, “Sabetta on Schedule”, The Independent Barents Observer, April 28 2016).

The Novy Port, installed at the mouth of the Ob River, complements the Sabetta port to load and unload the tankers, which navigate this giant river and its affluent throughout the Russian hinterland (Atle Staalesen, “Government opens Ob Bay for foreign vessels”, The yamal_and_other_russian_icebreakers_19593040886Independent Barents Observer, January 8, 2016). The Gulf of Ob and its opening on the Kara Sea and thus on the Northern Sea Route will be kept open in winter thanks to the two icebreakers ordered by Rosneft to the Finnish company Aker Yards. These vessels will be dedicated to the constant opening of the Ob Bay, in order to ensure the permanent continuity between the Northern Sea Route and the river (Atle Staalesen, “First Icebreaker for New Arctic Oil Field”, The Independent Barents Observer, November 03, 2015).

The strategy that consists in making the Yamal project one of the drivers of the Russian Arctic attraction on the rest of the country and on Asian countries goes with the creation of a rail line between the LNG plant, the Gazprom gas hub of Bovanenkovo and Sabetta (Atle Staalesen, “Railway for Sabetta”, The Independent Barents Observer, December 22, 2015).

This railroad is conceived as a part of the planned 707 km long “Northern latitudinal passage” (see map below), which will connect the Yamal Peninsula with the Ural and Western Siberia (“Russian Railways to Complete Latitudinal Railway project to the Arctic”, Think Rail Ways, November 19, 2015). In other words, these new railroads will connect the Yamal LNG plant with the Sabetta port, and with existing railroad networks, which connect the Ural and Western Siberia with the rest of Russia, Kazakhstan, China and Europe, meanwhile also linking these regions and countries with Russia’s Northern Sea Route (Atle Staalesen, “Grand Railway Deal for Yamal”, The Independent Barents Observer, October 20, 2016). As a result, the Northern Sea Route becomes joined with the Russian and Asian hinterland, and thus acquires a continental scale.

Northern Latitudinal Route, railway, Russia, NSR
Northern Latitudinal Route railway ‐ expanded access for Russian regions to the NSR – From “Arctic – Russia’s perspective” – 2014 by Andrey Bondarev, Deputy Head of Economic Office, Embassy of the Russian Federation

The company Russian Railways is already committed to this project, besides the giant national Gazprom, and numerous Russian investors. The Prime Minister and the President oversee those deals themselves, because they are considered strategic projects for Russian national development, as well as for the many partners it attracts (Atle Staalesen, “These are Russia’s top Arctic Investments”, The Independent Barents Observer, March 22, 2016).

The Warming Russian Arctic power of attraction (on Asian business)

The powerful attraction exerted by the Russian strategic combination of the Arctic oil and gas extraction operations and of the development of the Northern Sea Route with its continental integration is felt throughout Asia.

In effect, the combination of access to new energy resources with the Northern Sea Route is turning the Russian Arctic into an immense attractor for energy, shipping, railroad and other business actors, and among them investors from China, India, Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Vietnam.

president_putin_and_pm_modi_in_goa_indiaFor example, during the eighth BRIC’s summit, hosted by India in Goa, more than 20 bilateral deals were signed, among them the acquisition by Oil India Ltd of 23,2 per cent of Vankor Neft, the Rosneft controlled company in charge of the exploitation of the Vankor oil field in Siberia.

At this occasion, the two heads of state talked about the opportunities opened by the exploitation of the Arctic oil and gas, summed up in a common declaration stating that:

“In order to further strengthen our bilateral cooperation in the oil and gas industry, the Russian side expressed its interest in attracting Indian companies to participate in joint projects on the development of the Arctic shelf » (Atle Staalesen, “A Role for India in Russian Arctic”, The Independent Barents Observer, October 18, 2016 and  President of Russia, Russian- Indian Talks).

This Indian interest in and attraction for Northern Russia and the Russian Arctic is no less than the one felt by South Korean government and business. The South

Amanzholov

Korean involvement in the Russian Arctic is expressed, among others, by the shipping of two chemical reactors ordered by the Pavlodar oil plant in Kazakhstan to Hyundai Industries (“First Chemical reactors shipped to Kazakhstan from South Korea”, The Astana Times, 26 July 2016). The supply-chain has been organized by shipping the two reactors from South Korea to Sabetta through the Northern Sea Route, then loaded on barges navigating the transcontinental Ob River to Pavlodar, in Kazakhstan.

South Korea has also officially asserted its interest in an Arctic cooperation with Russia during the first bilateral summit on Arctic issues. 320px-kola_bay_in_murmanskThis summit took place in Murmansk, the home harbour of the Russian icebreakers fleet, on 17 June 2016. Indeed, South Korean industrial, shipping and business actors are most interested in the access offered by the Russian Arctic to Central Asia as well as by the much shorter trip to Europe than through the Red Sea and the Suez Canal (Lee Haye-Ah, “South Korea turns to Arctic for new biz opportunities”, Yonhap News Agency, 17 June 2016).

Prior to South Korea’s moves, Vietnam and Russia agreed to develop partnerships between Petrovietnam and Gazprom Neft to explore together the Arctic Pechora sea to find oil and gas, while the Russian company “tentatively agreed to buy 49%” of Vietnam only refinery (Andy Tully, “Russia reaches oil and gas agreement with Vietnam”, Oil Price.com, April 07, 2015).

As we can see, the Russian Arctic is attracting different Asian powers, and none wants to be left behind the current Arctic race for resources (Michael Klare, The Race for What’s Left, 2012).

Indeed, the Russian Arctic attractiveness is also felt by Japan. For example, the Japanese ambassador for the Arctic stated in March 2016 in Moscow, the interest of its country for an economic, as well as scientific cooperation with Russia, especially about research on climate change and for the Yamal LNG project. At this occasion, the Russian 240px-northern_sea_route_vs_southern_sea_routegas company Novatek, owner of the Yamal LNG plant, has suggested to Japan investors to explore the possibilities offered by its new Yamal project, named “Arctic LNG”, in the Gydan Peninsula (Anna Andriovana, Elena Mazneva, “Japan makes Arctic gas Move with $400 million Yamal LNG Loan”, Bloomberg, September 2, 2016). This takes place in a context defined by growing Japanese imports of Russian oil and LNG (Wrenn Yennie Lindgre, “Energising Russia’s Asia Pivot: Japan-Russia Relations, Post Fukushima, Post-Ukraine“, Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, 4/2015).

However, as we have seen in “The Russian Arctic meets the Chinese New Silk Road” it must be noted that China has taken a significant lead on the other Asian countries in the Russian Arctic.

Chinese companies and financial actors are heavily committed in the Yamal LNG operation and other projects (Atle Staalesen, “More Chinese money for Yamal”, The Independent Barents Observer, 7 January, 2016). This involvement keeps on deepening, through massive Chinese investment in the development of the new Archangelsk deep water port, in order to make it a major maritime hub of the Northern Sea Route (Atle Staalesen, “Chinese money for Arkhangelsk rail and port”, The Independent Barents Observer, December 10, 2015 and “Chinese mega-deals in Yamal LNG”, The Independent Barents Observer, May 02, 2016).

The building of the port will be accompanied by the construction of the Belkomur railway line, which will link the harbour to the mining areas of the south of the Ural, as well as to the existing railway network including the trans-Siberian that connects Russia to China and Europe (Thomas Nilsen, “New mega port in Arkhangelsk with Chinese investments”, The Independent Barents Observer, October 21, 2016).

Hence, it appears that it will soon be easier for Russian oil, gas and mining companies to transport their products to Archangelsk, and from there, to, for example, China. Meanwhile, Chinese trade, as well as other countries shipping and trade companies, will be able to use the Russian maritime and railways infrastructures to reach the Russian, Central Asia and Europe markets (Atle Staalesen, “New tankers for Arctic field”, The Independent Barents Observer, December 23, 2015).

The exponential “Russian Arctic power of attraction”

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Charts of ice conditions – 13 to 15 Nov 2016 by Russia Federation – Northern Sea Route Administration – click to access original

As we have shown, the development of the “Russian Arctic power of attraction” is largely based on the geophysical changes wrought in the Arctic by anthropogenic climate change (Jean-Michel Valantin, “The Planetary Crisis Rules (1)“, The Red (Team) Analysis Society, 25 January 2016). This “power of attraction” is grounded in the Russian capability to exploit not only its oil and gas deposits in the Arctic region, but also to combine it with the implementation of the Northern Sea Route infrastructures with transcontinental land linkages. It goes with a strategic vision that turns the immense Russian continental situation into a space needed by its Asian Partners to access Russia as well as to each other, while answering their growing needs in energy and commerce.

Furthermore, Russia thus obtains to be identified as such a solid and reliable partner that  developing and securing deals with it becomes worthwhile. For example, we have the LNG deals, which are signed for long periods of times (Michael Klare, Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet, 2008 and The Race for What’s Left, 2012). In other words, Russia positions itself as “the necessary partner” for Asian countries in search of energy, commercial, and political stability, in a period of wide geopolitical and geophysical instability (Charles Emmerson, The Future History of the Arctic, 2010). In effect, the way Russia industrially develops the current geophysical changes happening in the Arctic literally creates the need of its Asian partners to access the Arctic, or, as Central Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, to be accessed from the Arctic.

In other terms, the development of its Arctic region helps the Russian political authorities and business community to become “the necessary partner” at a continental scale. This creates a “business partnerships positive feedback loop” because the more investors are attracted to the Russian Arctic, the more the Russian Arctic becomes attractive for business and investment actors, reinforcing the “Russian Arctic power of attraction” on businesses, notably but not only shipping and land transportation companies.

It now remains to be seen how the combination of the intensifying climate change and of the “Russian Arctic power of attraction” is perceived in Northern Europe countries, in the Arctic Council and in Canada, and how the links between these new geophysics and geoeconomics are currently developing.

To be (soon) continued.

Some Foreseen Impacts (short and medium term)

Countries
  • Egypt, because of the very likely competition between the Suez Canal and the Northern Sea Route to attract Asian shipping convoys.
  • Singapore, for the same reasons, knowing that the Malacca Strait could lose part of its traffic due to the use of the Northern Sea Route.
  • Central Asia, connected to the Russian Arctic.
Some business sectors likely to be impacted
  • Shipping companies (including river): among others, they are going to observe if their competitors gain or lose by using the Northern Sea Route, especially the Chinese ones (COSCO has already announced its intent to raise its Arctic traffic).
  • Natural resources extraction and processing
  • Oil and gas field services companies, because of the gigantic challenges related with development of that extreme region.
  • Nuclear sector, because of the development of floating nuclear devices in order to power the new on and off shore energy and maritime infrastructures, as well as the rapid growth in nuclear icebreakers, built by Russia, Finland, South Korea, for Russia and China.
  • Port and logistical infrastructure
  • Railways
  • Sea, air and space companies specialized in observation and navigation services.
  • Agriculture
  • Logistics and transportation
  • Accommodations and Hotels
  • Banking and loans
  • Scientific research

About the author: Jean-Michel Valantin (PhD Paris) is the Director of Environment and Security Analysis at The Red (Team) Analysis Society. He is specialised in strategic studies and defence sociology with a focus on environmental geostrategy.

Featured image: Fair Use – © Sputnik/ Anna Yudina  from article “Finland Equips Arctic Rescue Teams Based on Russian Experience“, Sputnik, 8 Nov 2016.

The Russian Arctic meets the Chinese New Silk Road

In this article on the development of the energy, business and military nexus of the Arctic by Russia, the Red (Team) Analysis Society studies how the Russian Arctic is becoming a new crucial business and strategic “centre” in the world, through the creation of numerous energy and infrastructure projects and operations, which attract Chinese companies (Jean-Michel Valantin, “Russian Arctic Oil: a New Economic and Security Paradigm?”,The Red (Team) Analysis Society, October 12, 2016).

In effect, the Russian political, industrial and business authorities turn this immense extreme scenario, warning, anticipation, Russia, Arctic, Red (Team) Analysis Society, uncertainty, geopolitics, China, Norwayregion into an international attractor, thanks to the combination of the consequences of climate change and of the natural resources, which become accessible because of the warming of the region and thus relative retreat of ice (see below in part 1, the 28 Oct 2016 NASA video visualising the retreat of the Arctic ice since 1984).

The Russian strategy is efficient with, among others, the Chinese and Norwegian business and strategic actors, as well as interests. The Russian Arctic attractor is deeply dominated by Russia’s understanding and strategic vision of a quickly and massively changing planet (Jean-Michel Valantin, “The Arctic, Russia and China’s Energy Transition“, The Red (Team) Analysis Society, 2 February, 2015) and “The Planetary Crisis Rules (Part 1)”, The Red (Team) Analysis Society, 27 January 2016).

China is sharing with Russia the understanding of the very practical consequences of the current planetary change upon politics and the economy. Consequently, the Chinese political and business authorities take action to turn these changes to their advantage (Valantin, “The Chinese Shaping of the North”, The Red (Team) Analysis Society, 9 June 2014). This goes with the development of commercial and strategic negotiations and partnerships with Russia, the dominant power of the Eurasian Arctic region.

This phenomenon is typical of the new convergence between the current economy, geopolitics, and the emergent “Anthropocene” geological era. (Jean-Michel Valantin, “The Anthropocene Era and economic (in)security”, The Red (Team) Analysis Society, 19 September 2016). The international geophysics community thus qualified this new era because humankind has become the main geological and biological force on the planet, and this immense force is driving a planetary change that affects the atmosphere, the lithosphere, the hydrosphere, the cryosphere and the biosphere (J. R. Mac Neill, Something New Under the Sun, 2000).

In this article, we shall more particularly focus upon the way the current energy, industrial and military development of the Russian changing Arctic is attracting public and private Chinese sectors, meanwhile becoming the new and long-term giant support of economic, business and security development for these two countries. We shall thus see the resulting interlocking of the Russian Arctic strategy with the Chinese “New Silk Road” initiative.

Creating a Russian Eurasian corridor on an extreme planet

Over the last few years, Russia has been accelerating and intensifying the energy, commercial and military development of its land and sea Arctic region. The Russian political, industrial and trade authorities are creating an energy, industry and maritime trade corridor, which connects Asia to Europe. By the same operation, they are turning their Arctic zone into a new oil and gas Eldorado (Charles Emerson, The Future History of the Arctic, 2010).

scenario, warning, anticipation, Russia, Arctic, Red (Team) Analysis Society, uncertainty, geopolitics, China, Norway

What makes this extreme endeavour possible is the fact that this immense region is profoundly affected by the warming wrought by anthropogenic climate change. In effect, during the last fifty years, the Arctic region has known the most rapidly warming on the planet, with a 3° to 4° degrees increase in average temperatures (Thomas Nilsen, “Arctic Russia Warms 2.5 Times Faster Than the Rest of the Globe”, The Independent Barents Observer, November 29, 2015).

The disappearance of the Arctic sea ice is most strikingly shown in this 28 October 2016 animation gathering latest research by NASA below, where “Dr. Walt Meier of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center also describes how the sea ice has undergone fundamental changes during the era of satellite measurements.” (NASA, “See How Arctic Sea Ice Is Losing Its Bulwark Against Warming Summers “, 28 Oct 216).

This mammoth change is profoundly altering the geophysics of the region, and goes with a decrease of the time, extent and thickness of the sea ice and of the land glacial conditions. In thirty years, between the half and two-thirds of the summer Arctic sea ice have disappeared, setting up the conditions for a thermal feed back loop that keeps the ice increasingly melting, while the Arctic ocean absorbs more and more solar radiation, and heats up. This feed back loop is now qualified as “the Arctic death spiral”(Joe Romm, “Arctic Death Spiral Update: What Happens in the Arctic Affects Every Where Else”, Think Progress, May 3, 2016; see also video above).

The Russians translate into geoeconomic and geopolitical opportunities those geophysical changes. Consequently, this extreme region becomes accessible for industrial development, and, as we have seen in “Russian Arctic Oil: a New Economic and Security Paradigm?” (The Red (Team) Analysis Society, October 12, 2016), the Russian oil and gas companies have started to implement onshore and offshore operations for extracting oil in the extreme conditions resulting from the meeting of cold and extreme weather, sea ice and the warming effects of climate change.

Among many examples, a subsidiary the National oil company Rosneft, has started drilling in the Okhotsk Sea, while scenario, warning, anticipation, Russia, Arctic, Red (Team) Analysis Society, uncertainty, geopolitics, China, Norway, Sechin, Rosneft, KremlinRosneft keeps on exploring the area (Atle Staalesen, “No Pause in Arctic Exploration – Igor Sechin”, The Independent Barents Observer, July 18, 2016). Meanwhile, Rosneft continues to buy exploitation licenses. The last to date, but not the least, is the Lisiansky one, which should be operated through a partnership with the Norwegian Statoil, while the drilling itself is done by the Chinese rig “Nanhai 9” (Staalesen, ibid).

If the warming of the Arctic makes the latter more accessible, the summer disaggregation of the ice cap gives birth to numerous icebergs, which are a vital danger to the oil rigs operating in the Russian economic exclusive zone. In order to prevent this risk, Rosneft is investing in systems of protection, while developing systems to “move away” the icebergs from the oil rigs. During the summer 2016, an expedition led to create a scientific basis in the Laptev Sea allowed experimenting with 18 different ways to tug icebergs ( Atle Staalesen, “Rosneft Builds Base on Laptev Sea Coast”, The Independent Barents Observer, August 10, 2016). A one million tons iceberg was moved at one occasion (Atle Staalesen, “Rosneft Moves 1 Million Ton Big Iceberg”, The Independent Barents Observer, October 11, 2016). This operational approach aims at guaranteeing the technical sustainability of the Russian Arctic strategy.

The current relative retreat of the sea ice also incites Russian shipping companies to build a whole new generation of diesel and nuclear giant icebreakers. Those are devoted to the constant opening of the Northern Sea Route (RT, “Russia Floats Out Arktika Icebreaker, set to be world’s largest”, 16 June, 2016).

scenario, warning, anticipation, Russia, Arctic, Red (Team) Analysis Society, uncertainty, geopolitics, China, Norway, claim, border
Latest map (5/8/2015) of Russian claims in the Arctic, as maintained by IBRU: Centre for Borders Research of Durham University.Click here (pdf) to access large map with details and here to access IBRU Center.

However, the Arctic remains an extreme region, with a fragile environment, necessitating the capability to coordinate shipping convoys, harbours and infrastructure security in the context of extreme weather. In order to achieve maximum security and coordination in this extreme environment, the Kremlin decided to put the Russian ministry of Defence in charge of the whole Arctic shipping operations in the Russian Arctic economic exclusive zone. This decision is fully involving the military in the development of the region. To implement this decision, the Ministry of Defence notably created the Oboronlogitika Company in 2011. The company is owned by the Russian ministry of Defence and is in charge of all the civilian and military shipping operations in the area (Atle Staalesen, “Ministry of Defence Takes Charge of Arctic Shipping”, The Independent Barents Observer, July 07, 2016).

scenario, warning, anticipation, Russia, Arctic, Red (Team) Analysis Society, uncertainty, geopolitics, China, Norway, northern fleet, bases

The Arctic space is also developed by the Russian military through the creation of new bases on the Wrangel Island, North of the Bering Strait at the extreme east of the Northern Sea Route as well as on the archipelago of the Franz Joseph Land – north of the Barents Sea – on the north-west coast of Siberia and thus of the Northern sea route (Atle Staalesen, “Arctic Brigade Advances on Franz Joseph Land”, The Independent Barents Observer, October 03, 2016 and (Mathew Bodner, Alexey “Russia Starts Building Military Bases in the ArcticThe Moscow Times, 8 Sept 2014). Meanwhile, the Russian political and economic authorities are using the military in order to push for the creation of new land and sea infrastructures along the Siberian coast, on the islands and on the coasts of the Siberian Archipelago in the Barents Sea, the Kara Sea, the Laptev Sea, the terribly cold and dangerous Chukchi Sea, the Eastern Siberian Sea and the Strait of Bering (Atle Staalesen, “Rosneft Prepares Seismic Mapping of eastern Arctic Waters”, The Independent Barents Observer, April 15, 2016).

The infrastructures, especially harbours, coast guards, and environmental survey, among others, which are needed on the Siberian coast in order to develop the Northern Sea route, also necessitate to bring much more power to the cities, harbours and industries on these northern zones, which were so far quite isolated.

scenario, warning, anticipation, Russia, Arctic, Red (Team) Analysis Society, uncertainty, geopolitics, China, Norway, PevekFor example, the harbour city of Pevek, on the East Siberia Sea, the northernmost Russian city, is preparing the infrastructures that are going to host the first floating nuclear reactor (Atle Staalesen, “Russia’s Northernmost Town Prepares for Nuclear Future”, The Independent Barents Observer, October 04, 2016). This reactor is being built at the Baltic Yards in St. Petersburg, by Rosernergoatom, a subsidiary of the mammoth national company Rosatom (Nick Cunningham, “Russia to Power Arctic Drilling with Floating Nuclear reactors”, OilPrice.com, April 27, 2015). After a whole year of test, the nuclear reactor, the “Akademik Lomonossov” will be transported to Pevek, where it is expected to power the city (Staalesen, ibid).

This floating nuclear reactor, the first of a series, is meant to have the capability to power a 200.000 people city, when Pevek hosts less than 5000 inhabitants. This discrepancy shows the strategic importance given to this city close to the Bering Strait. In effect, Pevek is destined to grow with the increasing number of the international shipping convoys, which will be using the Route (Atle Staalesen, “Aiming for Year Round Sailing on Northern Sea Route”, The Independent Barents Observer, December 14, 2015). Other floating nuclear reactors are meant to be built and used in order to power the numerous onshore and offshore new Russian infrastructures, which are rapidly structuring the Russian Arctic space (Staalesen, ibid).

In other terms, with the development of the Arctic, Russia installs itself into a long game of business and strategy (Emerson, ibid). This goes with the rapidly developing Russo-Chinese cooperation in the Arctic.

The Russo-Chinese energy, industrial and business partnerships in the Arctic

In effect, over the last few years, China has started becoming an important Arctic actor, through its membership as permanent observer at the Arctic Council as a “near-Arctic nation”. China is signing bilateral agreements with all the members of the Arctic council and is particularly interested by the energy and trade potential of the Russian Arctic (Valantin, “Arctic China (2) – The Chinese shaping of the North“, 9 June 2014”, The Red (Team) Analysis Society, 9 June 2014). China is projecting its gigantic influence in the Arctic, through scientific expedition, cargo convoys, trade and science partnerships, as well as financial investments, and has built its first own nuclear icebreaker, the Snow Dragon.

An illustration of this strong dynamic is the fact that, during the summer 2016, the Chinese streamer seismic vessel Hysy 720 has completed an undersea seismic mapping operation, after having been chosen for this task by the Russian giant oil company Rosneft. This operation maps in 3-D images the underground formations through the use of sound waves, in order to identify their geological content, and thus their oil and gas potential. The marine underground is divided into blocks, which are then bought by the energy companies that wish to explore and exploit them. The Chinese ship Hysy 720 is the first grand deepwater seismic vessel not only built in China, but also owned by Chinese oilfield Services Ltd. Rosneft decided to hire this company in April 2016 in order to accomplish the mapping operation of two blocks during the summer 2016, before the return of the winter night and cold. (Atle Staalesen, “Russians Choose Chinese Explorers for Arctic Oil”, The Independent Observer, April 27, 2016). In order to prepare its campaign, the Chinese ship docked in Kirkenes, i.e. the northernmost Norwegian harbour city, and signed a docking agreement with the local Henriksen shipping company.

We should note that the mapping of the second block was done in partnership and close cooperation with the Norwegian Statoil Company for the Norwegian side of the Barents Sea (Atle Staalesen, “First Arctic Summer for Chinese Oil men“, The Independent Observer, September 05, 2016). This shows, as other binational partnerships, the good Arctic relations between Norway, Russia and their companies, regarding the combination of energy development with changes in the Arctic environment.

The Arctic Russian-Chinese partnership of the summer 2016 is just one among many others energy partnerships between Russia and China, as, shows the example of the Yamal LNG plant where the Chinese invested a massive 12 billion dollars along Russian banks which input another 12 billion dollars  (Valantin, “Russian Arctic Oil”, ibid). These partnerships reveal how the energy, shipping, industrial, business and strategic interests of Russia and China are converging in the Arctic.

These operations are only one example of the way Russia, in the current Anthropocene Era, is developing its Arctic region, changed by anthropogenic global warming, while developing partnerships with China as well as Norway and many other countries. scenario, warning, anticipation, Russia, Arctic, Red (Team) Analysis Society, uncertainty, geopolitics, China, Norway, 50 years victory, North PoleAs we observed previously, China’s business operators are gearing towards the Arctic, (See “Jean-Michel Valantin, “Arctic China (1)- The Dragon and the Vikings and Arctic China (2) ibid ”), while Russia is becoming a critical actor in a time when climate change is deeply altering the trade, energy and strategic status balance of the whole Arctic region (Marc Lanteigne, “Policy Brief-One of the Three Roads: The Role of the Northern Sea Road in the Evolving Sino-Russian Strategic Relations”, Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, 2/ 2015).

The Chinese New Silk Road meets the Russian Arctic Long Game

The partnerships between Chinese and Russian businesses are encouraged at the highest level by Russian political authorities, as shown by Russian Deputy Prime minister Dmitri Rogozin 7 December 2015 statement, given in Beijing, when he invited Chinese involvement in the Northern Sea Route (“Moscow invites Beijing to take part in Arctic sea route project”, RT, 7 December, 2015). This invitation is rooted in the nexus of Russo-Chinese political, logistical and business partnerships, heightened by the Chinese “New Silk Road” strategy (Lanteigne, ibid).

The “New Silk Road” is an immense process for the development of land and maritime transportation, as well as energy, mineral and cyber infrastructures, officially launched by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013. It is accompanied by legions of commercial contracts and political deals between the Chinese public and private sectors and their counterparts in the different countries and continents belted by the “One Belt, One Road” initiative (Shannon Tiezzi, “China’s New Silk Road” vision revealed – a new series in Xinhua offers the clearest vision yet of China’s ambitious “New Silk Road””, The Diplomat, May 09, 2014). The New Silk Road is conceived as being a gigantic “loop” spanning from the centre of the “Middle Kingdom” to Rotterdam and from the port of Quanzhou in Fujian to Kenya, Egypt and Europe (Tiezzi, ibid). It goes with massive investments made by the Chinese-led Asian Investment and Infrastructures Bank (AIIB).

An example of the involvement of the actors of the maritime New Silk Road in the Russian Arctic is the way the China Shipping Ocean Company (COSCO) has sent more than five of its ships on several voyages along the Northern Sea Route in 2016. Mr Ding Nong, CEO of COSCO, one of the biggest shipping company in the world, announced in October 2016, at the Arctic Circle conference in Reykjavik, capital city of Iceland, that

“As the climate becomes warmer and polar ice melts faster, the Northeast Passage has appeared as a new trunk route connecting Asia and Europe” … “COSCO Shipping is optimistic about the future of the NSR and Arctic shipping” (Atle Staalesen, “COSCO Sends 5 Vessels Through Northern Sea Route”, The Independent Barents Observer, October 10, 2016, and Jean-Michel Valantin, “Arctic China (1)- The Dragon and the Vikings”, The Red (Team) Analysis Society, 24 May, 2014).

scenario, warning, anticipation, Russia, Arctic, Red (Team) Analysis Society, uncertainty, geopolitics, China, Norway

It is interesting to note that, for such an important business actor, climate change is fully recognized and turned into an opportunity, and that climate disruption is in fact turned into a massive commercial advantage.

In other terms, Chinese interests and needs meet the Russian Arctic strategy, and are turning this warming region into a continental-wide hub of commerce, energy and natural resources development, while reinforcing each other: the Russian Arctic becomes the basis for a long game energy, business and military strategy, while the Eurasian corridor it creates becomes a new and essential segment of the New Silk Road.

The strategic convergence of these two Eurasiatic giants is based on the new alliance of the oil, gas, nuclear and finance sectors, and on the will to turn the potentially catastrophic consequences of climate change into a large spectrum support. This shows that potential threats, if understood and anticipated early enough, can be transformed into strategic opportunities (Helene Lavoix, “Business and Geopolitics: Caught Up in the Whirlwinds?”, The Red (Team) Analysis Society, 19 October, 2016).

This convergence has deeply transformative consequences, because it is starting to attract other actors, for example in East Asia, such as Viet Nam, South Korea and Japan to the Arctic, besides historical Arctic actors such as European Norway. Furthermore, railroads are built, through investments and development, to link Russian Arctic harbours to Central Asia (Atle Staalesen, “Chinese money for Archangelsk rail and port”, The Independent Barents Observer, December 10, 2015 and “This Arctic Shipping makes it into the history books: From South Korea to Kazakhstan through the Northern Sea Route”, The Independent Barents Observer, July 25, 2016).

Is the warming Arctic becoming the “centre” of an emerging Eurasian market with related security shift, while the Arctic keeps on warming?

It is the issue the Red (Team) Analysis Society will study in the next part of this series, by continuing to underline how geopolitical and environmental changes are of importance to the business and security communities.

To be (soon) continued.

About the author: Jean-Michel Valantin (PhD Paris) is the Director of Environment and Security Analysis at The Red (Team) Analysis Society. He is specialised in strategic studies and defence sociology with a focus on environmental geostrategy.

Featured image: 50 Years of Victory at North Pole by Christopher Michel 50 Years of Victory North Pole Icebreakers, 12 July 2015, CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), via Wikimedia Commons and Flickr.

Russian Arctic oil: a New Economic & Strategic Paradigm?

This article is the second of our series on the Anthropocene and security. Previously, we presented the larger dimensions and general elements framing the new (in)security. Here, we shall focus on latest developments regarding Russian Arctic oil.

Between April and July 2016, the current Russian energy conquest of the Arctic led to the shipment of more than 230.000 barrels of oil from the Russian Arctic.

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They came from two recent on-shore fields, and from the Gazprom Prirazlomonoye off-shore oil rig (Irina Slav, “Russia Ramps Up Arctic Oil Production”, OilPrice.Com, July 21, 2016). The latter is the first of the glacial Barents Sea.

The 2016 flow from the Russian Arctic almost doubled compared with 2015.

In the meantime, the Russian ministry of Defence is driving a massive process of militarisation of the Arctic, through the creation of the Joint Strategic Command North (Jonathan Wade, “Russia’s Joint Strategic Command North (JCSN)“, The Sentinel, November 26, 2015).

The military manoeuvres in the Novaya Zemla and Franz Joseph Land Archipelago, as well as in other Arctic and Far East regions, such as Kamchatka and the Sakhalin Islands, and Southern Siberia are recespecial_forces_military_of_russia_02nt witness to this militarisation. Between the 12 and the 17 March 2015, they gathered more than 38.000 service men, including 3.000 Special Forces, more than 50 surface ships and submarines, and 110 aircraft, during five days,  (Vladimir Isachenkov, “Russia’s Arctic Military Drills Are Truly Massive”, Russia Insider, March 18, 2015).

We shall see that this massive financial, industrial, technical, military and political effort behind the development of the Russian Arctic is in fact the driver of a new way to transform present Russian economic and strategic uncertainties into new opportunities for economic development and national security (Charles Emmerson, The Future History of the Arctic, 2010). In order to accomplish this, the Russian authorities are using the deep consequences of climate change as a support for their energy strategy.

This is typical of the new convergence between current economics, geopolitics and the emergent “Anthropocene” geological era. (Jean-Michel Valantin, “The Anthropocene Era and economic (in)security”, The Red (Team) Analysis Society, 320px-nasa-28yrs-arctic-warming19 September 2016). The international geophysics community thus qualified this new era because humankind has become the main geological and biological force on the planet, and this immense force is driving a planetary change that affects the atmosphere, the lithosphere, the hydrosphere, the cryosphere and the biosphere (J R Mac Neill, Something New Under the Sun, 2000).

The global driver behind this change is the permanent growth of the human-driven technosphere, which encompasses and alters the whole planet (Mark Williams, Jan Zalasiewicz, PK Haff, Christian Schwargl, Anhtony Barnofsky, Erle Ellis, “Extreme Make Over : Human kind’s unprecedented transformation of the Earth”, University of Leicester Press, 29 June 2015”.

Then, we shall focus upon the way the Russian Arctic’s endeavour also allows Russia to become a first class actor of the new energy and maritime Northern market, opened by the combination of climate change and resource competition. This mammoth economic, industrial and military strategy is quickly becoming a giant magnet for technological innovation and Asian investments.

The Russian Arctic answer to economic and strategic uncertainties

Given the current state of economic and geopolitical affairs in Russia, the current conquest of the Arctic could easily appear as a political, industrial and financial dead-end. In effect, since 2014, the U.S. and the European Union have imposed upon Russia economic sanctions, because of the incorporation of Crimea in the Russian federation, and because of the tensions in Ukraine (see our series, Hélène Lavoix, Crisis and War in Ukraine, The Red (Team) Analysis Society).

They also forbid technically advanced Western oil companies to develop industrial partnerships with Russian companies (Colin Chilcoat, “Is Russia the King of the Arctic by Default?”, OilPrice.com, Oct 22, 2015 and Andy Tully, “Western Sanctions Halt Exxon’s Drilling in Russia’ Arctic”, Russia Insider, 19 September, 2014) . These sanctions are impacting the Russian economic growth.

In the same time, oil prices have plummeted, dramatically diminishing the vital Russian oil and gas revenues (Jean-Michel Valantin, “Oil Flood (2)- Oil and Politics in a (Real) Multipolar World”, The Red (Team) Analysis Society, January 12, 2015).

Furthermore, since September 2015, the Russian military is involved in Syria, and has to sustain politically and logistically this endeavour.

Last, but not least, the Arctic remains one of the most extreme environments on the planet, even if it is quickly warming and is physically disrupted, which is one of the strongest signals of the emergence of the Anthropocene (Waters, Zalasiewicz et al., “The Anthropocene is functionally and stratigraphically distinct from the Holocene”, Science, 08 January 2016).

In effect, the Arctic and subarctic region is going through a major atmospheric warming of more late_spring_ocean_ice_8429843175than 4° in less than a century (Joe Romm, “Arctic Death Spiral Update: What Happens in the Arctic Affects Every Where Else”, Think Progress, May 3, 2016). As a result, it becomes increasingly more attractive for industrial investment, especially because the Arctic could contain more than 13% of the world’s undiscovered oil reserves and 30% of the undiscovered gas reserves, as well as other important mineral deposits, without forgetting fishing potential, and the opening of new trade routes.

Thus, Russia, while facing economic difficulties would try to find economic salvation in an endeavour that is, however pregnant with new possibilities, complex and costly, which might question the way forward chosen, as well as the likelihood of success.

However, after delays in Arctic projects were announced in 2014, interpreted as hesitation (Colin Chilcoat, “Is the Arctic Dream Dead?Russian Insider, Dec 02, 2014), Russian companies, chief among them the national companies Lukoil, Rosneft and Gazprom and their client companies, restarted their Arctic efforts and, as mentioned above, began on-shore and off-shore oil and gas exploitation. In parallel, the Russian military has seen its budget rising by more than 20% (SIPRI Yearbook, Armaments, Disarmement and International Security, 2016). The Joint Strategic Command North and a military arctic fleet were created, while giant sea-land manoeuvres took place in Northern Siberia (Wade, ibid).

Dominating the future Arctic economic and geopolitical opportunities

This impressive Russian effort is even more important to understand that Russia is a global energy giant, and works at keeping this status. Currently, Russia possesses vast reserves of oil and gas, with more than 80 billions barrels of proven reserves and 44,6 trillion cubic metres of natural gas reserves, superior to those of Iran (US Energy Information Agency, “Russia”, July 28, 2015).

Yet, according to the International Energy Agency, the Russian oil production is nearing its peak and could know a phase of decline, from a current daily production of 10,4 million barrels to 9,5 millions, as soon as 2020 (Selina Williams and James Marson, “Russian Oil: Output Grows as Prospects Shrink”, The Wall Street Journal, January 24, 2016). This will be followed by a continuous decrease.

Thus, the fact that the whole Arctic region could have reserves of almost 90 billion barrels of crude and a mammoth 1669 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, when Russia owns an important part of the region (Emmerson, ibid), means that the development of the Arctic could add new and important reserves to the existing dwindling ones.

So, the warming Arctic becomes a mammoth opportunity for Russia.

However, the related industrial and military development of this immense, extreme and changing region needs to go with a profound transformation of the technical approach if it is to succeed  (Emmerson, ibid).

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Accessing and exploiting the oil and gas reserves is only one part of the Russian development strategy of the region. Opening the Northern trade route is also part and parcel of the Russian strategy.  Thus, in the same time, the civil Arctic fleet of icebreakers is acquiring a new diesel icebreaker and three new giant nuclear icebreakers of the new “Project 22220 series” generation. One of them is the enormous “Arktika”, capable to break 3 metres thick ice. The three vessels are added to the Rosatomflot, the maritime arm of the giant nuclear company Rosatom (RT, “Russia Floats Out Arktika Icebreaker, set to be world’s largest”, 16 June, 2016).

Those giant ships have six months autonomy, and are meant to open the passage to the Russian and Chinese cargo convoys along the Northern route all over the year. This maritime road follows the Siberian coast to and from the Bering Strait to the Russian and European northern ports from Norway to Rotterdam (Jean-Michel Valantin, Arctic fusion: Russia and China convergent strategies, The Red (Team) Analysis Society, June 23, 2014).

It must be kept in mind that the Northern route is becoming less difficult to navigate, because of the effects of global warming on the extent, mass and periodicity of ice. These climate change consequences are going to deepen over the years to come (Joe Romm, ibid).

In other terms, the Russian political and economic authorities are grounding their Arctic strategy in a deep understanding of the short and long term consequences of climate change. This may allow Russia to remain an energy global giant beyond the next twenty years, despite the current and coming energy, geopolitical and planetary changes.

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In other terms, the industrial and military forms of development are two dimensions of the “grand strategy” of Russia that is aimed to expand Russian influence, while securing the Russian Arctic area. In the same dynamic, the military is also an industrial and territorial development actor, with the necessary capabilities to reach difficult areas, such as the Siberian archipelago and to establish a first presence, in order to create a pioneer front, necessary for the long-term civilian development.

The Anthropocene, the Arctic and the new opportunities’ frontier

The American and European oil companies are forbidden, under the current sanctions regime, to develop partnerships with Russian companies. Apparently, this could be a major problem for the Arctic projects of Gazprom, Rosneft, Lukoil and the whole oil and gas Russian industry, given the technological discrepancy accumulated during the Soviet era, when the western companies progressed in their drilling, exploitation, and distribution system (Emmerson, ibid, and Marshall Goldman, Oilopoly, Putin, power and the rise of the new Russia, 2010).

However, the Russian reaction of the companies and of the government is to attract a greater number of Russian engineers, and to invest in numerous and massive programs of research and development, despite the financial difficulties triggered by the economic sanctions and the low oil prices (Irina Slav, “Why Arctic Oil is Crucial for Russia’Future”, OilPrice.com, September 2, 2016 and Hélène Lavoix “An Isolated Russia? Think AgainThe Red (Team) Analysis Society, September 15, 2014 ).

For example, Rosatom, the Russian nuclear national company is exploring radically new avenues; it is building the first floating nuclear reactor, which will be dragged and connected to different kinds of utilities, such as off-shore oil rigs, or to new port cities.

This first floating reactor, the Akademic Lomonossov, should have a 70 MW capability. It is supposed to be the first of a series of mobile power plants, which could be used by Russian organisations, as well as leased to the operations of numerous other countries, among them China and Indonesia. The Akademic Lomonossov should be launched in 2018 (Nick Cunningham, “Russia to Power Arctic Drilling with Floating Nuclear reactors”, OilPrice.com, April 27, 2015).

In the same time, Russia is multiplying deals with Asian countries interested by the opening of the Arctic energy market. For example, in April 2015, PetroChina and Gazprom signed a deal for the exploration of the Arctic. One year later, in April 2016, two Chinese national banks lent 12 billions dollars on 15 years, in order to support the development of the Yamal peninsula liquefied natural gas plant, followed by an equal investment from Russian shareholders.

The deal took place once the difficulties created by the combination of sanctions and low oil prices were solved. The Yamal plant is pivotal to allow Russia becoming a major actor on the LNG market, because it is expected to produce enough quantities for a long time to conquer a significative share of the global LNG market (Jack Farchy, “Chinese Lend $12 Bn for Gas Plant in Russian Arctic”, Financial Times, April 29, 2016).

The military side of the Russian development of the Arctic goes with the reopening of numerous harbours, created during the Cold War then decommissioned, with the building of military barracks, the opening of land an sea roads, and the creation of a coast guards fleet in addition to the new Arctic fleet. This fleet is 40 surface ships and 40 submarine strong. Even if more than half of these ships are not yet currently usable, it remains a major Arctic capability (Jeremy Bender, “Russia’s Arctic Pivot is a Massive Military Undertaking“, Business Insider, March 12, 2015).

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Meanwhile, 13 deep airfields and 16 deepwater ports and 10 air defence radar stations are being built, or their building is planned for. In fact, the military is playing quite an active role as territorial developer, while imprinting a Russian geopolitical identity to the whole region. The Murmansk port-city will host more than 3000 ground troops, 39 surface ships and 35 submarines (“Russia’s Plan for Arctic Supremacy”, Stratfor, Jan 16, 2015).

These industrial, financial and military developments reveal that the Russian Arctic is currently becoming the new energy frontier, on a continental scale. Indeed, the Russian Arctic project creates positive feedback loops between climate change, industrial development, and innovation, as well as new alliances between the nuclear sector and the oil and gas ones, on the one hand, between national and international investments, on the other.

So, it appears that the current development of the Arctic could certainly become a powerful attractor for innovation and opportunities on a changing planet in the (short) years to come. Russia is transforming the massive challenge emerging from the combination of climate change and resource depletion into a planetary opportunity to prepare itself to be a major energetic and industrial actor during the years and decades to come.

For all industries belonging to the oil and gas production chain, as well as their many sub-contractors, the Russian Arctic development could become a massive market and engine for growth, innovation – and profits. To do so, they need, however, to be able to foresee in details how these developments may evolve not only in Russia, but also in the context of the current extremely tense Western and Russian relationships. Mastering political and geopolitical uncertainties, and as a result, taking, in a timely way, the right decisions, is key to the capability to enter then grow in this new market.

It now remains to be seen how this Russian grand strategy is going to attract the worldwide Chinese “New Silk Road” strategy, while climate change is becoming more and more powerful.

To be (soon) continued

About the author: Jean-Michel Valantin (PhD Paris) is the Director of Environment and Security Analysis at The Red (Team) Analysis Society. He is specialised in strategic studies and defence sociology with a focus on environmental geostrategy.

Featured image: Транспортировка МЛСП «Приразломная» на одноименное месторождение, 2012 by By Krichevsky (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

The UAE Grand Strategy for the Future – from Earth to Space

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is devising a grand strategy to ensure its global security during the 21st century.

In 2010, the UAE’s government published the “UAE Vision 2021”, establishing the will “to ensure a sustainable development”. In 2011, the UAE’s political authorities created a national marine environment research centre. In 2014, they created the UAE space agency, which goals and mission are explicitly integrated to the goals of the Vision 2021 (UAE Space Agency).

During the same period, Abu Dhabi, capital of the UAE, carried out the building of Masdar City, an urban development elaborated to be an “in vivo” experiment in urban sustainability and renewable energy (Patrick Kingsley, “Masdar: the shifting goalposts of Abu Dhabi’s ambitious eco-city”, Wired, 17 December 2013, and Jean-Michel Valantin, « The United Arab Emirates : The Rise of a Sustainable Industrial Empire?“, The Red (Team) Analysis Society, June 13 2016…).

In 2015, the International Renewable Energy Agency installed its headquarters in Masdar City, in a complex dubbed “the greenest office building in the UAE”, while, in the same time, launching the building of a first nuclear plant.

Those different initiatives by the UAE are revealing a common preoccupation about the future. Their implementation is integrated into a united vision, which is thus turned into a coherent strategy. This happens thanks to the development of capabilities necessary to overcome the currently deploying energy, climate and natural resources planetary crisis.

We have seen in former articles how climate change and the planetary environmental changes are going to be major threats for the UAE during this century, and how the country is devising an industrial grand strategy to attain sustainability and to become a global provider and financer of renewable energy (Jean-Michel Valantin, “The Antarctic versus Dubai” and “Alberta mega Wild Fires and the United Arab Emirates Security”, “The Planetary Crisis Rules, Part 1”, The Red Team Analysis Society, 4 January, May 2 and 23 May 2016).

This grand strategy is based on a profound reflexion on the meaning of “sustainability” between now and the middle of this century and on the way to attain it, while, considering the severe threats currently emerging.

We shall see how the UAE political authorities have not only developed the ability to perceive the emergence of threats but also the capability to turn them into opportunities.

Understanding threat and preparing for the future

The sense of strategic threat and of the necessity to prepare for the future can be identified as being at the very origin the UAE.

In effect, the UAE has its origins in the negotiations launched in 1968 by Sheikh Zayed, ruler of Abu Dhabi and by Dubai’s Sheikh Rashid for the creation of a Federation with their neighbours. This initiative was based on the deep worries created by the decision of the British Government to withdraw its troops from the Persian Gulf, thus ending the British military protection of the Emirates (Jonathan Gornall, “Sun sets on the British empire as the UAE raises its flag”, The National, 2 December 2011).

The context was a period of great tensions because of the massive and violent geopolitical shift taking place in the region, combined with the discovery of massive oil reserves and the development of oil production throughout the whole area, including the Abu Dhabi Emirate, during the 1960s (Georges Corm, Le Proche Orient éclaté, 2012).

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Several massive political and military tensions had shaken the region between 1956 and 1968, from Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Syria, and Iran to Bahrain, Iraq and Kuwait (Henry Laurens, Paix et Guerre au Moyen Orient, 2005). In order to maintain the sovereignty of the Emirates, Sheikh Zayed looked for the strategic security that a Federation could bring. Being of the same mind, the Sheiks of seven Emirates decided to end centuries of distrust by creating the UAE in 1971 (Gornall, ibid).

By doing so, the political authorities of the UAE gave themselves the political, economic and strategic means necessary to prevent the combined effects of the geopolitical destabilization of the Persian Gulf and the potential “resource curse” generated by oil, which could be both fatal to their very existence as legitimate rulers of sovereign Emirates.

So, instead of going through a regressive process of denial of the crisis and of withdrawal on their political habits, as often happens in times of crisis (Michel Dobry, Sociologie des crises politiques, 1986), they reacted to the perceived threat by a move of political and strategic innovation and created the United Arab Emirates. That surprise move lessened considerably the potential of threat (Clausewitz, On War, 1832).

So, it appears that the combination of threat happenstance and of its analysis with the willingness to shape the future instead of being its victim lies at the very political origin of the UAE.

Nation-building and answering the depletion threat

Nowadays, this political capability to perceive the potential of threat lying in the future and to turn it into a support for a power project is more developed than ever.

It has allowed the UAE’s political authorities to perceive the formidable emerging threat composed of the different depletion dynamics of the economic and vital resources, which have begun at the planetary scale as well as at the regional level (Dennis and Donnella Meadow, The Limits to growth – the 30 years update, 2004, Michael Klare, Rising powers, shrinking planet, 2008, and The Race for What’s left, the global scramble for the World’s last resources, 2012).

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These dynamics of depletion go with the rapid and dangerous contradiction emerging between the economic and demographic growth of the UAE, on the one hand, and, on the other, its water and energy nexus. Indeed, if the population of the UAE counted almost 558 000 people in 1975, it reaches almost 8 million inhabitants today, and the population keeps growing (“UAE Demographics”, Wikipedia). In the same time, the living standard of the Emirates has grown to modern levels. This twin development goes with a high consumption of water (Nick Carter, “ Even as we generate more in the UAE, we must protect our water and power supplies”, The National, August 3, 2014). Only in Abu Dhabi, the water consumption of the city’s population has reached 1.1 billion cubic meters in 2013 and could reach 1.5 bcm in 2030 (Vesela Todorova, “Warning on high water and energy use”, The National, August 2, 2014).

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This level of water consumption is made possible thanks to the growing electricity consumption: the city drinking water is produced by co-generation plants, which are producing electricity with natural gas and using the produced heat to desalinate sea water (Carter, ibid). This process is absolutely necessary to maintain such levels of drinking water in such an arid region.

In the meantime, electricity consumption rises with the use of air conditioning by the growing population (Todorova, ibid), which raises harsh questions about the industrial, financial and social affordability of electricity in the decades to come, considering the coming intensification of climate change in Middle East (Damian Carrington, “Extreme Heatwaves could push Gulf climate beyond human endurance, study shows”, The Guardian, 26 October 2015).

Moreover, the co-generation plants are propelled by natural gas, and their consumption is growing with the rate of their electricity and drinking water production. The problem is that this over-consumption is now overtaking the national gas production. (United Arab Emirates Oil, Gas sector business and investment opportunities Yearbook, Volume 1, strategic information and basic regulations, 2016).

These contradictory water and energy dynamics are a risk for the very status of the UAE as an oil exporter. In effect, the peak oil production of the Federation risks happening around 2050. This means a major multi-layered risk is building up in the very development of the UAE: to develop, the country depends on a growing use of oil, gas and water reserves in an intensive way, which also means depleting and over-consuming the very resources and energy needed to keep on developing.

The perception of this threat is expressed, for example, in the speech of Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed:

“In 50 years, when we might have the last barrel of oil, the question is: when it is shipped abroad, will we be sad? … If we are investing today in the right sectors, I can tell you we will celebrate at that moment.” (“Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed inspirational view of a post-oil UAE”, The National, February 10, 2015).”

As we have seen in “The United Arab Emirates, The Rise of an industrial sustainable industrial empire?” (Jean-Michel Valantin, The Red (Team) Analysis Society, June 13 2016), the industrial response to the coming UAE’s peak oil is the development of an industrial and financial renewable energy sector and an urban efficiency energy branch, at the national and international level.

To further their energy security, the UAE political authorities have gone much further to guarantee the continuity of their energy production, for example when deciding in 2012 to build the Barakah nuclear four reactors nuclear plant. The plant is built by the UAE Energy Corporation, through a contract with the Korea Electric Power Corporation. This operation is financed by a 32 billion dollars budget, and from 2017 onwards, the nuclear plant should be able to produce 25% of the electricity production of the country (Naser El Wasmi, “UAE Barakah nuclear plant reaches construction milestoneThe National, September 2, 2015 and “Nuclear power in the United Arab Emirates”, World Nuclear Association, Updated April 2016).

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The work in progress is closely overlooked by the UAE Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation and by the International Agency for Atomic Energy, as well by numerous Arab countries, very interested in nuclear energy. In 2015, a deal has been signed between the UAE and the Russian Rosatom to import the enriched uranium necessary to the nuclear reactors. The deal goes with the treatment of the nuclear wastes by the exporter (Caline Malek, “UAE and Russia sign deal for enriched uranium”, The National, October 15, 2015).

Thus, the UAE is transitioning from the oil and gas energy model and its limits to an energy mix of carbon, renewable and nuclear. In other terms, the UAE redefines its energy model by devising a strategy that guarantees its own energy supply during the next fifty years, despite the emergence of peak oil.

From oil wells to the Moon … and beyond

This long-term vision and policy aims at keeping the UAE sustainable, whatever happens during the 21st century.

This strategic philosophy is underlying the creation of the UAE space agency in 2014. In effect, the agency is focused on giving the UAE the industrial and legal capability to launch space missions (Adam Schreck, “United Arab Emirates launches space agency strategy”, Phys.org, 25 May 2015). Those could be dedicated to Earth observation, space communication as well as Moon, Mars and asteroids missions (Thamer El Subaihi, “Arab world’s first space mission will launch from Japan in 2020”, The National, March 22, 2016).

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To make space commercial mining technically and legally possible, the agency studies both the evolution of international space law and the possibility for projecting capabilities, possibly robots, on the Moon and on the asteroids, in order to mine them for commercial use (Rob Davies, “Asteroid mining could be space’s new frontier: the problem is doing it legally”, The Guardian, 6 February 2016).

This kind of endeavour appears as increasingly interesting in order to compensate the depletion of the Earth mineral deposits through worldwide over-exploitation (Dr Hélène Lavoix, “Beyond fear of near Earth objects: mining resources from space?”, The Red (Team) Analysis Society, February 18, 2013). This space policy involves the development of partnerships with the U.S. NASA, the Japan Space Agency and the private agency Virgin Galactic.

Aiming at the Moon and the asteroids to find and “import” minerals goes with a profound renewal of the thinking about sustainability, through the understanding of the planetary “limits to growth” and their transfer to the solar system. The space program also helps the UAE to boost its research development, while politically and industrially sharing its success with its partners, especially in the Middle East (Lucy Barnard, “Mission to space can drive Middle east Northern Africa technology, says first Muslim in orbit”, The National, March 8, 2016). In the meantime, space policy gets the UAE access to this strategic “ultimate high ground” that orbital space and lunar space are (William Burrows, This New Ocean, 1998).

The first space mission should take place in 2021, for the fiftieth anniversary of the UAE. It is politically and strategically important to note that it could turn the UAE into a space power, which would be a very powerful symbol for the country, as well as for the Arab world.

Furthermore, it appears that the multi-layered policies and strategies of energy and environment security and strategy of the UAE are in themselves an extremely powerful support for the scientific, technological and industrial development of the Federation and for its Middle East and international partners.

In the same time, this sustainability and security grand strategy, based on the transition from oil and gas, on the development of a renewable and nuclear energy industrial basis and on a space strategy has become the axis of the UAE’s foreign policy.

The grand strategy thus allows the UAE to develop deals with South Korea, Japan, Russia and the United States. In other terms, the environmental and energy security of the UAE is an impressively efficient political tool to turn the Federation into a pivotal state between the Middle East, Asia, Russia and North America as well as between the Earth and the solar system.

This means also that the UAE is becoming a main driver of the transformation of the very notion of the link between sustainability, security and geopolitics.

It now remains to be seen how this policy is going to interact with the Chinese multi continental strategy of the “new silk road” (Jean-Michel Valantin, “Iran, China and the New Silk Road”, The Red (Team) Analysis, January 4, 2016), closely followed by The Red (Team) Analysis.

To be (soon) continued.

Featured image: Dubai Police Agusta A-109K-2 in flight at sunset (bottom of original picture cropped to satisfy size constraints) by Mehdi Nazarinia [GFDL 1.2 (http://www.gnu.org/licenses/old-licenses/fdl-1.2.html) or GFDL 1.2 (http://www.gnu.org/licenses/old-licenses/fdl-1.2.html)], via Wikimedia Commons. The top of the building shown in the background is considered as subject to de minimis, and thus permitted by UAE copyright law.

About the author: Jean-Michel Valantin (PhD Paris) is the Director of Environment and Security Analysis at The Red (Team) Analysis Society. He is specialised in strategic studies and defence sociology with a focus on environmental geostrategy.

China and the New Silk Road: From Oil Wells to the Moon… and Beyond

 On 25 May 2015, the Chinese political authorities agreed to finance the building of a pipeline between Pakistan and Iran, dubbed the “peace pipe line” (Valantin, “China, and the new silk road: the Pakistani strategy”, The Red Team Analysis Society, May 18, 2015). As we saw, this agreement is part of the Chinese strategy called “the New Silk Road”, which is defined by the concept of “One belt, One road”.

The “road” is aimed at creating a worldwide “land and sea” system (“Belt and Road Nations account for 26 per cent of China’s trade”, The Beijing Review, April 29, 2015), in order to attract supplies and diverse resources much-needed by the rapidly growing Chinese economy and urban development. Each “segment” of the “belt and road” strategy aims to determine a sub-continental area important to China (Valantin, ibid).

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The “New Silk Road” approach is grounded in the idea that, in order to turn the member states of the Road into a “support” of the “Middle Kingdom”, they must be “supported” by China, through numerous development projects, which are devised to make these countries “sustainable”. This strategy can be implemented also thanks to the creation of the Chinese-led Asian Investment and Infrastructure Bank (Tyler Durden, “New silk road could change global economics forever, part 1”, Zero Hedge, 05/23/2015).

Linking numerous countries, such as Pakistan (Valantin, ibid), Israel (Valantin, “China, Israel and the new silk road”, The Red Team Analysis Society, June 8, 2015), Turkey (Valantin, “Turkey: an energy and environmental power”, The Red Team Analysis, 23 February 2015), Russia (Valantin, “The Arctic, Russia and Chinese energy transition”, The Red Team Analysis, February 2, 2015), South Sudan, and soon Iran, as well as Arctic nations (Valantin, “Arctic China 2-The Chinese shaping of the North”, The Red Team Analysis Society, 9 June 2014) and Brazil, to the New Silk Road, may have immense transformative effects on the world distribution of power, as well as on regional contexts, as in the Middle East.

For example, including Iran in the New Silk Road is of a major strategic importance, because it is a key nation in order to open the Middle East, the Mediterranean world and Europe to the deployment of the “One belt, One road”.

In fact, through the integration of a growing number of countries to the “belt”, Beijing seeks to ensure not only a sustainable Chinese economy, but also the material basis for the daily life of one billion and four hundred million people (Craig Simon, The Devouring Dragon, 2013). For example, China imports daily 7,4 million barrels of oil, thus more than the U.S., which imports 7,2 million barrels of oil a day (“Pétrole : la Chine importe plus que les USA”, Le Figaro avec Reuters, 11/05/2015).

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This mammoth endeavour has for goal to reinforce the social contract between the state, the Chinese Communist Party and the population and thus to legitimise the political authorities (Loretta Napoleoni, Maonomics, 2011), and this, at a time of globalised competition for diminishing natural resources (Dambisa Moyo, Winner take all, China’s race for resources and what it means for us, 2012).

Understanding the Chinese political meaning of the New Silk Road

Before all, one must understand the philosophy and strategy that are underlying the “One belt, One road” process, in order to avoid any misunderstanding, based on the projection of Western conceptions on a very Chinese project (Etiemble, L’Europe Chinoise, tomes 1 et 2, 1988 and 1989). In effect, from the Chinese point of view, the “Road” may have many segments, but they are all parts of the same process, the deployment of the New Silk Road, wherever the development of China needs to reach resources.

308px-Viae_Flaminia_Aemilia_PostumiaFrom a Western point of view, this idea of a road made of “roads” can evocate the memory of the system of roads through which the Roman empire was projecting its forces and its civilisation throughout Europe (Pierre Grimal, La Civilisation Romaine, 1960), or the opening of the mining resources in South America by European powers (Eduardo Galeano, The open veins of Latin America, 1971), not to mention the commercial roads designed by and for the colonisation of Africa (Adam Hochschild, King Leopold’s Ghosts, 1998).

However, this historical and collective Western and “non Chinese” “memories” do not apply to the “New Silk Road” and, in fact, are intellectual and emotional obstacles to the understanding of this project. The “New Silk Road” may rather be seen as nothing but the creation of a “world channel”. It would thus be rooted in the deep history of irrigation in China, and in the Chinese world vision, which emerged more than five thousand years ago, and is using concepts coming from the observation of the way nature and human practices must be carefully balanced (Marcel Granet, La Civilisation Chinoise, 1968).

According to the Chinese worldview, it is imperative to cultivate an equilibrium between the natural world and the human world, thanks to carefully managed social and economic, political activities, guided by the theosophical practices of Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism (Quynh Delaunay, Naissance de la Chine moderne, L’Empire du Milieu dans la globalisation, 2014).

This permanent quest for equilibrium and harmony is the very basis for the legitimacy of the Chinese political authorities, and has been qualified for a long time as the “Celestial Mandate”. This culture of material, social, and spiritual collective search for equilibrium turned China into a sustainable and largely self-sufficient and self-sustainable nation for thousands of years, despite important sequences of political turmoil, violence and war (John King Fairbanks, Merle Goldman, China, a New History, 2006).

PLA_entering_Xi'anHowever, the twentieth century saw China going through a very profound transformation, knowing in the same time, a Communist-led political, agrarian, industrial, and urban revolution, during and after a monstrous civil war and the equally violent war against the Japanese invaders (Rana Mitter, China’s war with Japan, 1937-1945, 2013).

After the death of Mao in 1976, and up until the beginning of the 1990s, Deng Xiaoping launched massive reforms, using market capitalism in order to support the development of the well-being of the Chinese citizens, and thus renewing the social cohesion through a new Chinese social contract, while keeping alive the Communist project (Giovanni Arrighi, Adam Smith in Beijing, 2007), largely “hybridized” with the Confucian culture (Etiemble, Confucius, 1986).

Reaching this goal goes hand in hand with the absolute necessity of attracting, i.e. channelling, the massive amounts of resources, among them oil and gas, needed by the gigantic population and development dynamics of the “Middle Kingdom” (Martin Jacques, When China Rules the World, 2012).

For example, China is the first importer of oil in the world, while driving a world-wide race for natural resources, under the form, for example, of land-grabbing, in order to guarantee the Chinese food security (Paul Mc Mahon, Feeding Frenzy, the new politics of food, 2013). In this context, it is interesting to note that China buys 400.000 barrels of oil a day, i.e. half the oil production of Iran.

In other words, the New Silk Road is the way China is organising its relations with the world, by coordinating the access to resources and the different needs of this giant country, because Beijing political authorities want to maintain a social equilibrium, while allowing for the global enrichment of the Chinese population, despite powerful contradictions between the carrying capacity of the country and the urban explosion it knows (OECD, “Urbanisation and green growth in China”, OECD Regional development working papers, 2013/07).

The “Middle Kingdom” in the middle of the world?

320px-Shanghai_from_the_SWFCThis deployment is the way China opens itself up to the rest of the world. It does not try to impose its ideological or political and military influence, or to impose its way of life or to become an Eurasian empire. It is quite the opposite: China is using its world mammoth influence “only” to channel the resources it needs through the “Road” (Napoleoni, ibid).

The different segments of the “road” are built up by a foreign policy based on the systematic signature of bilateral treaties between China and a growing number of states. Each state thus becomes an actor of the development of the Middle Kingdom, as well as a support towards the region it opens (Li Xin, “The Asian fusion, China’s two silk roads help forge closer cooperation among CICA members“, The Beijing Review, May 1, 2014).

In the same time, Beijing takes care to make the new agreements worthwhile for the development dynamics of its partners (Deng Yaqing, “A shared path”, The Beijing Review, July 10, 2014). This approach is applied everywhere in the world. For example, in less than ten years, China has become a “near Arctic nation” and a “permanent observer” at the Arctic council, while having multiplied treaties with Iceland, Norway, Finland, Russia, meanwhile “materializing” the “road” with its first icebreaker. Thus, China puts itself “in the middle” of the Arctic nations.

From China to the Moon

The logic of the New Silk Road is also applied to the Chinese space program, which has known a tremendous achievement on 13 December 2013, when the Chang’e3 rocket brought the Yutu Moon Rover close to the Moon, where the rover soft-landed (“China Moon Probe VIDEO Shows ‘Chang’e’ Nail Landing On Lunar Surface », The Huffington Post, 12/17/2013).

This is just the third step of multiple phases of the space and moon Chinese program. However, in fact, the Chinese space and moon program is also an industrial and political Chinese-led program, integrating, through the Asia-Pacific Space Cooperation Organization, industrial hardware, software and political cooperation from India, Thailand, Bangladesh, Mongolia, and Iran (K.S. Jayamaran, “India and China Sign Space Cooperation Pact », Space News, September 22, 2014).

As these countries are not directly involved in the space race, or even very far from it, with the exception of Iran, by supporting, if only politically, the Chinese space program, they become part and members of the opening of the space and moon segment of the “Belt and Road”.

Indeed, the Chinese space program accumulates multiple layers of political and strategic meaning. Among these, is the way the political present and future political dimension of its sustainability resides in the ability of China to reach the Earth orbit, the Moon, Mars and beyond.

Chang'e-3_lunar_landing_site

The space program also helps China to boost its research development, while politically and industrially sharing its success with its partners. In the meantime, it gets access to this strategic “ultimate high ground” that orbital space and lunar space are (William Burrows, This New Ocean, 1998).

In effect, as in the Arctic, the Chinese space program is a way to install the Middle Kingdom “in the middle” of Asian industrial development and technological forms of nationalism.

In other terms, the “New Silk Road” installs China in “the middle” not only of the different nations, but also of major development dynamics, which are “channelled” to support the sustainable and enduring development of China, on Earth, in space, in the present and in the future.

However, the deployment of the “belt and road” also necessitates securing it. Achieving this security means being able to mobilise military means and powerful partners. That is why the inclusion of Iran in this system is fundamental for Beijing, as we shall see next.

To be (soon) continued.

Jean-Michel Valantin, (PhD Paris) leads the Environment and Security Department of The Red (Team) Analysis Society. He is specialised in strategic studies and defense sociology with a focus on environmental geostrategy.

Featured image: Long March 2F rocket (Chang Zheng 2F) with manned spaceship Shenzhou-8 during roll-out, Jiuquan Satellite Center. 26 October 2011, 04:19:55. by DLR [CC BY 3.0 de (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/de/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons. 

 

 

Energy, Climate and Military Paradox

A powerful paradox lies at the heart of the current oil and gas global rush (Michael Klare, The Race for what’s left, 2012). On the one hand, the energy global demand necessitates to find and exploit oil and gas deposits, while looking for new ones, even in extreme environmental and political situations, as in the Arctic or the Niger river Delta (Al Jazeera, “Who is stealing Nigerian oil?“, 13 Sept. 2014).

On the other hand, 97% of climatologists have developed a consensus in establishing that the current uses of oil and gas are changing the Earth climate (IPCC, fifth report, 2014) at such a speed and rate that basic life conditions could be altered for the whole of the human race during the current century, while extreme weather events are on the rise.

Strangely, these two, deeply intertwined issues do not seem to really meet, and their respective actors often appear to live in parallel worlds (Naomi Klein, This changes everything, 2014). However, there are organizations where this “meeting” takes place, and it is in a growing number of defence and national security institutions. These organizations are addressing this twin issue of the energy rush and climate change from their own military and security point of view.

paradox, pentagon, energy environment military nexus

So, one must wonder how these new issues, which we shall call here the “energy/climate nexus”, are integrated and if they have an influence on the global power balance. Raising these issues forces us to understand the way the different military establishments are evolving given their own history, their specific context, interests and missions. That is why, for example, the US Department of defence and the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation answer in very different ways to these new economic and geophysical dynamics.

War and sustainability

The very existence of military organizations resides in the necessity for a state to be prepared for defence, offence and influence. Also, modern world powers need militaries that are able to project themselves on a global scale and to wield the most efficient tools of power and coercion (Colin Gray, Another Bloody Century: Future Warfare, 2005). So, these organizations are anchored in the very idea of sustainability by all means, their mission implying, as written by Sun Tzi “the life and the death of nations” (Sun Tzi, The Art of War).

paradox, pentagon, energy environment military nexus, moscow victory parade

Nowadays, the duality between the oil and gas rush and climate change has become a massively strategic issue, which is felt par the US Department of Defence as well as by the Ministry of Defence of the Russian federation (Klare, Rising powers, Shrinking Planet, 2008). These two very powerful political organizations are driven by the needs created by the “grand strategy” of the governments of their countries.

The US grand strategy is based on the principle of global dominance (Chalmers Johnson, Nemesis, 2007), while Russia seeks to achieve continental security through influence at the international level (David Teurtrie, Géopolitique de la Russie, 2010).

These grand strategies, which often collide and compete (Andrew Bacevitch, The new American militarism, 2013), are currently being tested by the energy/climate nexus, which forces the armed forces to adapt themselves to this new reality.

Global reach and military sustainable development

The US military is particularly involved in its response to the oil/climate paradox. Since the Iraqi occupation, from 2003 to 2010 (Peter L. Bergen, The Longest war, 2011), the Department of Defence (DoD) works at deepening its energy independence from oil products, in order to be independent from foreign energy import (National Security Strategy of the United States of America, 2O10).

Furthermore, the current dependency was experienced at a very real operational and tactical level while, in Iraq and Afghanistan, fuel and cargo convoys were turned into as many opportunities for Iraqi and Jihadi guerrparadox, pentagon, energy environment military nexus, Baghdadillas to attack US forces (Mike Davis, A Short history of the car bomb, 2007). In order to diminish this vulnerability, an ever increasing number of American bases in Iraq were led to use renewable energies, first of all solar energy, while experimenting different approach to energy efficiency, in order to power themselves (Valantin, Climate blowback and US National security, 2014).

Since then, the DoD has expanded and has become a major proponent of sustainable development (Valantin, Guerre et Nature, l’Amérique se prepare à la guerre du climat, 2013). The US Navy is even using an entire fleet, dubbed “the Great Green Fleet” to experiment and demonstrate the use of energy efficiency through its fuel and nuclear powered vessels, while developing new generations of biofuels.

In the same time, war planners are clearly identifying climate change, and the rapid amplification of this process, as a “threat multiplier” (2014 US Quadriennal Defence review). The global impact of climate change results of the combination between all climate-related human forms of social organization, economic vulnerabilities, and political tensions (CNA, National security and the threat of climate change, 2007).

For example, water tensions aggravated by extreme weather events in the Middle East, where US energy interests are Yemen, paradox, pentagon, energy environment military nexuscritically important, can reinforce violent conflicts, as in Yemen (Valantin, “Surviving the Gulf of Aden: a new strategic paradigm for the future of the region, 2013), Syria, and Iraq, where US armed forces are involved (Werrell, Femia, and Slaughter, “The Arab Spring and Climate Change, Center for American Progress, 2013).

These few examples show how the widespread presence of the US military and intelligence community can evolve into a never-ending entanglement with climate and energy related tensions and conflicts. Admitting this new fact has recently led the highest American military authorities to devise a “roadmap for adaptation” to climate change (US Department of Defence, 2014 Climate change adaptation Roadmap).

Adaptation through strategy

In Eurasia, Russia has, by now, adopted quite a different approach. Russia is not looking for global reach, but for ensuring the security of the country, from a political, economic, military, social and cultural point of view. Furthermore, Russia has a unique point of view on climate change, meaning global warming, because the society of the biggest country on Earth is, since one millennium, “made by the cold” (Laurent Touchard, La Russie et le changement climatique, 2011).

paradox, pentagon, energy environment military nexus

By now, the Russian military, as the defence organization of a country defined by its sheer immensity, and by a long and cold, harsh winter, seems to address climate change through an optimization of the environmental and socio-economic consequences of the energy/climate nexus.

It appears very clearly with the current new cycle of the Russian militarization of the Arctic (Charles Emmerson, The Future history of the Arctic, 2010), which goes with huge projects of oil and gas development through offshore drilling in the Barents and Kara Sea (Valantin, “The Russian Arctic, energy and a massive power shift, 2014) and the Yamal Peninsula (Klare, 2012).

These projects have emerged because of the environmental destabilization of the Arctic (Joe Romm, “The Arctic Death Spiral”, Climateprogress, December 9, 2013), which, despite huge difficulties and investments, could allow turning this region into a massive energy and industrial hub (Russia Today, “Northern exposure“, May 15, 2013), even though the Wrangel Island is a UNESCO World Heritage site and the Arctic environment very fragile.

In the same time, during the summer, the same phenomenon opens the famous North West passage, as well as the Northern sea route, which goes from the Bering Strait to Norway, by following the Siberian coast.

As it happens, the Northern Sea route is very appealing to China and other Asian countries despite its natural and technical difficulties (Anne paradox, pentagon, energy environment military nexus, Northern routeDenis, “L’incroyable projet de navettes maritimes qui ouvrira la route du pôle toute l’année”, Slate.fr, 06/08/2013). Indeed, when used, it shortens the journey between China’s oriental ports and northern Europe by more than six thousand kilometers (Eric Canobbio, Atlas des Pôles, 2007).

These massive projects go hand in hand with an intense Russian militarization of the region. For example, in September 2013, a task force of ten warships and support vessels, headed by the nuclear destroyer Peter the Great, the most powerful ship of the Russian navy, accompanied by four nuclear icebreakers reached the Novosibirsk archipelago (New Siberian Islands), on the Northern road between the Atlantic and the Pacific (Russia Today, “Russian military resumes permanent Arctic presence“, 15 September 2013).

In September 2014, Russia started building two new military naval bases on Wrangel Island and on Cape Schmidt (Mathew Bodner, Alexey “Russia Starts Building Military Bases in the Arctic, The Moscow Times, 8 Sept 2014). These are the first of an announced six naval bases complex.

In the meantime, the Kremlin has announced the creation of an operational Arctic command structure for the Arctic, which will paradox, pentagon, energy environment military nexus, Russian Arctic claimintegrate the Northern fleet, based in Murmansk, the new bases, and new ground, naval and submarine forces (The Moscow Times, “Russia to Form Arctic Military Command by 2017”, Oct. 01, 2014), and coordinate with the civil development projects of the giant oil and gas state companies Gasprom, Rosneft and Lukoil (Valantin, “The Arctic Power race: the New Great Game”, 2013).

Their Arctic projects are currently slowed by the political and economic tensions created by the Ukrainian situation and the economic sanctions decided by the US and the EU. Nevertheless, the Arctic death spiral and the mammoth economic possibilities that it opens in terms of gas, oil and mineral wealth (USGS, Circum Arctic appraisal: estimates of undiscovered oil and gas north of the Arctic Circle, 2008) turns it into a giant attractor (Emmerson, ibid).

In fact, what appears here is that these Russian projects are the current way the Russian Federation involves its military into the process of adaptation to the energy/climate nexus, through an optimization of the way climate change makes Arctic oil and gas less difficult to reach. Militarizing the region is part of the process triggered to materialize the fact that the Russian Arctic maritime economic exclusive area is a real part of the Russian territory, and not “only” a legal and cartographic entity (Klare, 2012).

From adaptation to independence

Over the last years, the climate/energy nexus led the US DoD to militarize sustainable development (Department of Defense Sustainability), while developing its presence through bases, troops, naval forces, cyber-forces, and military diplomacy, in areas that are significant for oil, gas, and other resources necessary for the economic and social fabric of the US (Chalmers Johnson, The Sorrows of empire, 2004).

However, some of these regions, such as the Middle East, the Horn of Africa, the Red Sea, the Strait of Hormuz, the South East China Sea, are increasingly vulnerable to climate change (IPCC, ibid), and hammered by various extreme weather events. Climate change is thus a “threat multiplier” that is turning these areas into politically, militarily and logistically very challenging places for the US forces, and thus for the US military and strategic dominance.

paradox, pentagon, energy environment military nexus

In other words, the evolution and global involvement of the US military reveals how dependent upon foreign resources the US has become, and how a new systemic vulnerability to the induced effects of climate change is quickly emerging. We could say that this situation is the “climate and resources blowback” of the US-led globalization (Chalmers Johnson, Blowback: the costs and consequences of American empire, 2004).

The Russian military appears to be at the extreme opposite of the adaptation spectrum. Because of the impact of climate change, Russia’s economic and political establishment is going to complement its continental resources (Katarina Zysk, “Geopolitics in the high North”, Russia, Arctic Strategy, 2008), some of them in decline, with huge offshore ones (Zero Hedge, “Russia discovers massive Arctic oil field which maybe larger than the Gulf of Mexico, 28 September, 2014).

So, it puts them in a situation that is very different from the American one, where it becomes possible to make an asset of the consequences of climate change. Furthermore, it allows the Federation of Russia to progressively deepen its energy independence, its security and its influence, even if climate change is triggered and fuelled by anthropogenic fossil fuels emissions in the atmosphere.

It is thus likely that we are here witnessing signals of a worldwide power shift, especially if climate change keeps on its current track of aggravation, and the effects it may have on this continent-wide country.

Nevertheless, to have a clear vision of this possible shift, it must be understood how the Chinese government and military intervenes in this world play.

To be (soon) continued.

Dr Jean-Michel Valantin (PhD Paris) leads the Environment and Security Department of The Red (Team) Analysis Society. He is specialised in strategic studies and defense sociology with a focus on environmental geostrategy.

Featured image: “Russia’s Pacific Fleet marine paratroopers in training”. Russia’s Pacific Fleet marine paratroopers in training aboard an An-26 plane. 21 january 2009 – RIA Novosti archive, image #369501 / Vitaliy Ankov / CC-BY-SA 3.0