While China and Russia are building up their military presence in the Arctic, the U.S. ordered its intelligence agencies to evaluate and keep track of potential threats in the North Pole.
The U.S. has never done anything like that since the end of Cold War, which shows an increasing interest in the region and a growing race for resources. About 40 percent of the world’s oil and natural gas reserves lie under the Arctic, according to experts.
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Since summer 2014, most of U.S. intelligence agencies have been working full-time on the matter of the Arctic, its resources and potential threats from rivals in the region. Analysts from different spy agencies have recently been brought together for a ‘strategy board’ to share intelligence for well-coordinated work.
Analysts work with data from U.S. intelligence satellites orbiting in the region, Navy’s sensors in the frigid waters as well as a recently refurbished Canadian listening post 500 miles from the North Pole and an advanced Norwegian spy ship built to collect electronic intelligence.
The moves from the White House come after the Pentagon confirmed last week that five Chinese warships were spotted between Alaska in Russia for the first time in history. However, U.S. officials noted that the ships were in international waters and thus did not pose a threat.
Washington’s military plans are against U.S. interests
Over the past 2 years, the NGA (National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency) has been designing new maps and graphs of waterways and resource-rich territories in the Arctic. The Director of the NGA, Robert Cardillo, announced in a statement that his agency will “broaden and accelerate” that work.
The maps, showing ports, airstrips, oil drilling areas and sea routes, were presented to the public last week during U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to Alaska. The agency intends to design public 3D maps of the entire Alaska by 2016 and the entire Arctic by 2017.
U.S. spy agencies are mostly focused on Russia’s military build-up in the far north of the country.
Visiting Alaska and becoming the first U.S. President to enter the Arctic Circle, Obama announced he would speed up the process of developing and purchasing icebreakers to help the U.S. Coast Guard navigate the Arctic region, in which both China and Russia have been showing their growing interest.
The U.S. only has two functioning icebreakers, while Russia has 41 and is planning to build a dozen more, which worries Washington. However, Obama noted that the new icebreakers will not be ready for use until 2020.
Another thing that must worry Washington is its own plans to cut military budget and withdraw 3,000 troops from Alaska. Experts note that such actions would put the U.S. further behind Russia in the Arctic, and thus pose a threat to U.S. interests.
U.S. vs Russia: a possible Ice War
During Obama’s visit to Alaska, the state’s Gov. Bill Walker warned against the Pentagon’s decision to close bases and cut the number of troops in the Arctic, while Russia has actively begun reconstructing its military force in the region.
“It’s the biggest buildup of the Russian military since the Cold War,” Walker told reporters. “They’re reopening 10 bases and building four more, and they’re all in the Arctic, so here we are in the middle of the pond, feeling a little bit uncomfortable with the military drawdown.”
The growing concerns over U.S. capabilities to counter Russian threat come as a response to Russia’s snap full-combat military drills in Russia’s Arctic north last March. The drills involved some 40,000 Russian troops as well as dozens of warships and submarines.
The exercises were seen by the Pentagon as a preparation for more serious military actions in the Arctic, with some experts suggesting it could result in an ‘Ice War’.
Back in March 2014, the Kremlin announced plans to reopen 10 former Cold War-era military bases in the Arctic, including 14 airfields that were closed after the end of the coldest relations between Washington and Moscow. The Russian government is also constructing four nuclear-powered submarines.
The Arctic: U.S. allies vs. China and Russia
The U.S. is not the only one concerned over the growing threat from Russia and China in the Arctic. Canada has overhauled a listening port called CFS Alert 500 miles from the Northern Pole.
The listening port was previously used to watch incoming Russia missiles and bombers. Today, the CFS Alert will be capable of scrambling Russian aircraft and submarine communications as well as other signals, which Canada offers to share with U.S. intelligence agencies.
Another U.S. ally – Norway – has also been engaged in helping the West keep watch in the region. An advanced Norwegian spy ship called the Marjata is currently being upgraded at a U.S. Navy shipyard in southern Virginia.
The Marjata is built to collect electronic intelligence and has been in development since April this year. The surveillance ship, which will be navigated by the Norwegian Intelligence Service, is scheduled to become fully operational in November, according to U.S. officials.
The reason why Russia, Canada, Norway and other countries are making territorial claims in the Arctic is global warming. As a result of global warming, the Arctic has become more accessible – countries have boosted their activity in the region, searching for oil and gas fields and establishing new shipping routes, which would reduce sea transit time between continents, as well as routes for extreme tourism.