“Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by "a network of small complicated rules" might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called 'hard despotism') in the sense that it is not obvious to the people."

Monday, February 04, 2013

Today, the Arctic is characterised by a mixture of cooperation, competition, and conflicts of interest. There are indications that the growing presence of non-Arctic players prompts more cooperation among the coastal states. The Arctic is also the scene of overarching geo-strategic competition and conflict.

Players: Diverse interests

Three different groups of countries with an interest in the Arctic can be identified today: first, the five coastal states already mentioned above; second, the coastal states plus Finland, Iceland, and Sweden, which combine into the eight Arctic nations exercising sovereign rights within the Arctic Circle; and third, a heterogeneous group of non-Arctic states such as China, India, South Korea, and a number of European countries that have asserted various interests in raw materials, research, shipping routes, and Arctic infrastructure.

Of the five coastal states, Russia and Norway attach strategic importance to the Arctic. Moscow views the Arctic from an energy perspective as well as in geostrategic terms. Russia’s best access to the Atlantic and the Pacific is from the Arctic Ocean. If the ice cap of the Arctic were to lose its importance as a natural barrier, this would enormously spur Moscow’s maritime ambitions. However, any such ambitions are impeded by persistent legal uncertainties, limited administrative capacities, and a lack of technology. An interesting aspect of Russia’s Arctic policy is that the Russian elite tries to use “Northernness” as an element of identity-building in an effort to define Russia as distinct from the West and from Asia. Yet, this is a largely abstract endeavour, as only 1.5 per cent of Russians are living in the Arctic. Unlike Scandinavian countries, Russian society does not have a particularly Northern identity.

For Norway, the Arctic is of relevance in security terms as well as economically. The massive Russian military presence in the Arctic is located near Norway’s northeastern border. Oslo’s response to this has been a mixture of deterrence, reassurance through NATO, and cooperation with Moscow. From an economic viewpoint, Arctic gas and oil are priorities for the world’s second-largest gas exporter, as fields further south are becoming depleted. In this respect, Norway is in the comfortable position of being a world leader in offshore extraction technology. The Arctic’s importance for Norway also stems from the fact that one-third of its territory (inhabited by almost ten per cent of the Norwegian population) lies north of the Arctic Circle.

For Canada, the changes in the Arctic constitute a major challenge. The country’s Arctic territories are thinly populated and, accordingly, hardly developed. Canadian politicians also try to use “Northernness” as an identity-building factor, with the public showing a high sensitivity for Arctic sovereignty issues. But Canada has been reluctant to invest the resources that would be necessary to enhance its presence in the Arctic and implement its grand development schemes for the region. With regard to Denmark, the problems of the Arctic are determined above all by its relationship with Greenland, which – although belonging to the Kingdom of Denmark – enjoys a large degree of autonomy and may possibly seek independence in the future. Denmark accordingly seeks to increase its activity in the Arctic so as to make the case for Greenland’s association with the Kingdom. As for the US, some interest in the Arctic has been aroused, especially among oil companies. The possible opening of new Arctic shipping routes has also been on the agenda in Washington, but truly strategic interests have not been linked to the region so far.

The other three Arctic countries are unable to influence developments to the same extent as the coastal states. They are, however, taking great interest in the political processes of the region and their multilateralisation. Accordingly, they are especially intent on pointing out new “soft” security concerns, such as increased environmental dangers, and are highlighting the advantages of international cooperation in this respect. In the light of the new opportunities in the Arctic, an increasing number of non-Arctic states are also attempting to mark their presence in the region. In this regard, China, India, and South Korea have established research stations at Svalbard over the past decade. They expect their research activities to give them a greater say in Arctic matters. South Korea already has a modern icebreaker at its disposal, while China has bought a used icebreaker and is building a new one. Beijing emphasises access to raw materials as an important determining factor of its Arctic policy. India, for its part, is claiming scientific interest. For South Korea, the interests of its own shipbuilding industry are pivotal, since it already controls many specialist European shipyards and sees new business opportunities. Just like most European governments and the EU, these non-Arctic players make the case for multilateral governance in the Arctic as a means of safeguarding their respective interests.


The Geopolitics of the Arctic Commons
The Arctic: Thaw With Conflict Potential
The Arctic: Thaw With Conflict Potential

Climate change continues to expose the natural wealth and economic potential of the Arctic region. Today, we look at how the Arctic states are attempting to manage access to this commons, and we consider the potential for conflict over exploitation rights and transportation routes.

By Jonas Gr├Ątz for Center for Security Studies (CSS)

Until just a few years ago, the Arctic attracted little international attention. To be sure, this enormous territory of 21 million square kilometres between the North Pole and the Arctic Circle was of considerable importance to the navies of both the US and the Soviet Union during the Cold War, since they could conveniently hide their submarines under the thick ice shield. Also, the shortest flight trajectories for intercontinental ballistic missiles between North America and the Russian mainland are across the North Pole. All the same, the Arctic remained a marginal region in global politics and economics. Being sparsely populated with about 4 million inhabitants on account of its harsh natural environment, it barely made headlines.

The recently surging interest in the Arctic has much to do with climate change. The Arctic did experience periodic warming and cooling phases in the past, but its surface temperature has been rising steadily over the last 45 years. Since measurements began in 1979, the sea ice has been shrinking. This development is set to continue. Recent projections predict ice-free summers for the 2030s.

Even though problems such as persistent darkness and extreme cold in winter will remain, the melting of the ice mass in the Arctic is associated with both economic and strategic opportunities. Of particular interest are the deposits of raw material in the Arctic and the opening of shorter shipping routes. Unsurprisingly, these new possibilities are whetting the appetite of a growing number of states.

The crowding of non-Arctic players into this region is strengthening the incentives for cooperation among the Arctic coastal states (Denmark, Canada, Norway, Russia, and the US). But there are also new causes for conflict, in particular regarding the lack of agreement on territorial sovereignty issues in certain regions. With the changes in the Arctic and its growing international importance, the coastal states also face new challenges in terms of national defence.

Oil and gas

The Arctic mainland is believed to hold vast deposits of mineral resources. Current debates are largely focusing on the oil and gas reserves, however, for which more precise estimates are available. The US Geological Survey reckons that the Arctic’s share in the global conventional resources yet to be found amounts to 13 per cent for crude oil and 30 per cent for natural gas. These resources are probably offshore for the most part (84 per cent). Of the Arctic’s natural gas resources, 70 per cent are attributed to the Russian exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Large gas fields have already been discovered in this 200-nautical-mile zone off the coast line, where the littoral nation holds exclusive exploitation rights.

There is no reliable information on regions outside the EEZs of the coastal states at this stage. The probability of the presence of large oil and gas reserves outside these zones is very low, however, according to current geological knowledge. Most of the presumed fields thus appear to be located within the existing EEZs – which reduces the potential for conflict.

Despite the changing climate, economic activity in the Arctic region will continue to involve high exploitation and transportation costs and considerable environmental risks. The warming of the Arctic will admittedly lead to an enlarged ice-free ocean area in summer and a prolonged ice-free period, but climate change will also bring about more frequent weather extremes such as storms and increasing iceberg drift. Oil and gas extraction in the Arctic Ocean and transportation of the raw materials will continue to prove very difficult even in littoral areas due to both economic and technological obstacles.

The boom of unconventional oil and gas in more temperate regions (see Strategic Trends 2012 ) adds further doubts as to the profitability of Arctic extraction. Indeed, there are cases where the development of already explored fields (such as the Shtokman field or the gas reserves of the Beaufort Sea) has been repeatedly postponed. Nevertheless, the depletion of resources in non-Arctic regions will likely prompt some countries increasingly to exploit Arctic oil and gas.

Shorter trade routes

The changing climate also brings about new opportunities for Arctic shipping along the Russian and North American coasts, which are increasingly ice-free during summertime. In particular, this applies to the North East Passage across the Russian Arctic, where favourable sea currents result in a thinner ice cap. Both routes would shorten the distance from Europe to Asia by about one third and would allow circumventing shipping lanes threatened by piracy. If the ice cap were to melt away completely in the summer months, an even shorter route directly across the North Pole is conceivable that would involve less complex conditions of navigation.

The new routes are not only of interest from an economic viewpoint, but also have the potential to fundamentally change the framework of naval strategy. Traditional choke points, such as the Strait of Malacca or the Suez Canal, may lose some of their strategic importance. Conversely, the significance of the Bering Strait would increase. As a result, European and Asian navies could gain in flexibility.

Despite these promising perspectives, it is worth noting that the use of the northern routes still faces numerous problems. These include a lack of navigation aids, inadequate coastal infrastructure, and the poor predictability of ice drift and storms.The ensuing uncertainties regarding route planning and transit times do not meet the just-in-time requirements of globalised production chains. Improving the infrastructure and developing Arctic naval capabilities will require a long timeframe and will not be feasible without a clear balance between national and international jurisdictions and stable national legal frameworks.


  1. I would have one simple and overriding interest: Keep China out and agree to nothing that internationalizing anything. Simply maintain the existing laws of the seas.

    Fishing and energy will be the largest potential dispute with outside parties.

  2. Whole area belongs to Sweden and the Eskimo.


    Little off topic -

    He was the last English king to die in battle, killed by the forces of the future Henry VII

    Richard III dig: DNA confirms bones are king's

    Found under a parking lot

    Died young.

    Short reign

    Nice looking remainders.

    Deuce would agree I think - it would be a good thing to have leaders that actively take part in policy.



    1. HotAir is on the subject -

      Some believe this will prompt a re-evaluation of Richard III, depicted as a monster by Shakespeare and of historians in the period following his downfall:

      The debate that has risen out of this finding has provoked the nation to rethink the legacy of Richard III, cast in British history by Shakespeare as a deformed villain, who locked his young nephews — rivals to the throne — in the Tower of London, where they are thought to have met their demise.

      If I recall correctly, the skeletons of both boys — who had claims to the throne superior to Richard — were discovered in the Tower of London centuries later, in a room that had been bricked up and forgotten. Any rethinking of Richard’s legacy has to account for their deaths while in Richard’s custody, and that will be difficult to reconcile no matter how much rethinking takes place.

      Goes to show too history is much more than names and dates. Poor fellow, head of an armed Hell's Angels gang on Horseback, was found under a parking lot.

    2. And, via Hot Air, God Bless the Farmers -

      Everyone knows that what virtue and value our society possesses isn't found in BarberShops in Detroit.

      Where they got that picture of me I don't know.

    3. Still off topic -

      Mr. Hagel had come by this wisdom, we were informed, because he had been at the front, seen men die, and knew, as we were frequently reminded, what the ordinary soldier thought and felt. All of this, the argument ran, gave him a unique capacity to head the Defense Department.

      Could rational men and women seriously credit such a claim?


      Even the White House spokesman isn't speaking enthusiastically for Fudd.


      At least the Moslims have no claim to the Arctic, never having been there, like the claim they make to parts of Spain, for instance.

      This simplifies things a lot.


    4. .

      Based on monoliths, stele, and tablets containing purported Phoenician (Canaanite) writing found here in the U.S., some crypto-archeologists claim that America was visited by the ancient Phoenicians thousands of years before Columbus.

      That should be sufficient for the Muslims to make a claim. In fact, anyone who has eaten canned Alaskan salmon will claim an interest if there is a chance to dip their beak.


    5. Phoenician (Canaanite)

      "Great excitement spreads in Sidon and Tyre when news arrives that all displaced persons by order of Cyrus can now return to their homelands. The Jews taken to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar are allowed to proceed to Jerusalem. Cyrus grants a royal concession of Phoenician timber to the Jews to rebuild Jerusalem and their temple. Phoenician artisans make their way to Jerusalem to take part in the reconstruction of the city. In the Old Testament, Ezra (3.7) infers that Jews and Phoenicians renew commercial relations:

      Read more: History of the Phoenician Canaanites


      Earlier Neandertal demise suggested by redating
      Improved radiocarbon method suggests the group died out longer ago than thought

      By Erin Wayman

      Web edition: February 4, 2013

      All the dates seem to get pushed back.

      If they hadn't died out, the N-thals might have as good a claim on the north as any.

    7. .

      They still do.

      Didn't you make a statement about Sweden having a claim?


  3. .

    Here is one Obama has no basis for blaming on Bush.

    The investigative report, titled “The Untouchables,” asked why no senior Wall Street executive has been prosecuted for apparently well-documented illegal acts, such as authorizing document forging, misleading investors and obstructing justice. Breuer was shockingly candid.

    ‘Pursuing Justice’

    “Well, I think I am pursuing justice,” he said. “And I think the entire responsibility of the department is to pursue justice. But in any given case, I think I and prosecutors around the country, being responsible, should speak to regulators, should speak to experts, because if I bring a case against Institution A, and as a result of bringing that case, there’s some huge economic effect -- if it creates a ripple effect so that suddenly, counterparties and other financial institutions or other companies that had nothing to do with this are affected badly -- it’s a factor we need to know and understand.”

    Attorney General Eric Holder expressed similar views in the context of discussing why more severe charges weren’t brought against Zurich-based UBS AG last year for manipulating the London interbank offered rate. And Neil Barofsky, a onetime senior prosecutor and former inspector general of the Troubled Asset Relief Program that administered the bank bailouts, provided a scathing assessment of Justice Department policy...

    I find it amusing that those who accuse the GOP of being in the pocket of big business are unwilling to call Obama on the same thing. Liberal white guilt or just the fact that he is one of theirs?

    TBTF? Who says so?


    1. I don't think many Americans, realize, or want to realize, how deep in the pocket of Corporations willing to pay, the USA government is.

    2. .

      The latest liberal excuse is that we need to follow the advice of unnamed 'experts', and I say excuse because I wonder when using common sense and an appeal to justice went out of style.

      It's the ultimate in moral hazard to not only ignore the guilt (and sometimes criminal guilt) of those most responsible for getting us into the current situation but also to reward them and institutionalize the mistakes they made.


    3. Especially if they've engaged in criminal behavior. The PBS doc "The Untouchables" certainly thought they had!

  4. Stay the Course!...

    A rucurring theme in government of Goldman Sachs, by Goldman Sachs and for Goldman Sucks.

    Those folk domoinate both wings of our Federal Socialist Party.
    Republican and Democratic.

  5. Most Americans are more concerned about the Super Bowl commercials.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Hey, that one about the farmer was good. Celebrated all the vanished virtues, hard work, family, perseverance, and it was voted third most popular ad.


      The third highest ranking commercial was a black and white ad called Farmer that, in the end, revealed a Dodge Ram truck.

      The second most popular ad was for the laundry detergent Tide. It featured a stain that mysteriously resembled Joe Montana.

      And, the top ad for Superbowl 2013 was, drum-roll please, a touching and, depending on how sensitive you are, even tear-jerking commercial for Budweiser where a man and his Clydesdale reunite.

      Meanwhile the gentleman from Arizona is supplementing his income by training agents of his hated Federal/Socialists how to ride horses.

    3. As to the 'Hated' Federals, you projecting.

      You'll find no reference in my writing to any such statement.

      You use the word HATE quite liberally. You must be a bitter old man, to think others share your rage against the machine

  6. We have the USA, had the CSA and are well on the way to DSA.

    1. If the CSA had lived, history could have taken some astounding turns.

      A hundred years down the road, they might have teamed with that other movement of racial superiority, the Nazis, and who knows how the war would have turned out then.

      Pure speculation of course, nothing possible to prove about it, but it is hard to imagine them yearning to fight against another group of such a similar outlook.

    2. .

      Pure speculation of course but when has that ever stopped you?


  7. Useful idiots, Deuce. We have been numbed into submission.

  8. Some of you will say, "not I" !!

    Yeah ok.

    1. .

      Another viewpoint.

      Americans are out of sorts, and increasingly they're unhappy with the government. According to a Pew poll released last week, more than half of Americans view government as a threat to their freedom.

      And it's not just Republicans unhappy with Obama, or gun owners afraid that the government will take their guns: 38% of Democrats, and 45% of non-gun owners, see the government as a threat.

      Add this to another recent poll in which only 22% of likely voters feel America's government has the "consent of the governed," and you've got a pretty depressing picture -- and a recipe for potential trouble. Governments operate, to a degree, by force, but ultimately they depend on legitimacy. A government that a majority views as a threat, and that only a small minority sees as enjoying the consent of the governed, is a government with legitimacy problems...

      A Constitutional Convention?

      Not in my lifetime, but still...


  9. A confidential Justice Department memo concludes that the U.S. government can order the killing of American citizens if they are believed to be “senior operational leaders” of al-Qaida or “an associated force” -- even if there is no intelligence indicating they are engaged in an active plot to attack the U.S.

    The 16-page memo, a copy of which was obtained by NBC News, provides new details about the legal reasoning behind one of the Obama administration’s most secretive and controversial polices: its dramatically increased use of drone strikes against al-Qaida suspects, including those aimed at American citizens, such as the September 2011 strike in Yemen that killed alleged al-Qaida operatives Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan. Both were U.S. citizens who had never been indicted by the U.S. government nor charged with any crimes.

    from Drudge

    1. Of course the President can authorize the use of force against any one he'd decides aides those forces that attacked US on 11SEP01.

      The 14SEP01 Authorization of Use of Force gives the President the authority. Passed with little, if any, dissent in Congress.

    2. .

      The fact that it is legal doesn't make it constitutional.

      The problem with most of these usurpations of the Constitution is that it takes so long to get to SCOTUS. This is in part due to the deference the lower courts usually give to the executive with regard to its claims based on national security.

      If it appears a questionable case is going to make it to the Supremes, the executive usually backs down so as not to provide any precedent for denying executive privelege or forcing the Court to elucidate specific limits on the Executive.

      There are a few lawsuits working their way through the lower courts challenging on constitutional grounds this policy of Obama. I would predict that if it looks like the Supremes are eventually going to review any one of these cases, Obama will back down before SCOTUS has the case presented to them, just as Bush did on torture and just as Obama is currently doing on the Obamacare abortion/contraceptive mandate.



    3. .

      Along the same lines, a human rights organization has just published a report that purports that 54 seperate countries aided the US rendition efforts started under the Bush administration.

      The OSJI report, titled Globalising Torture, says the full scope of non-US government involvement may still remain unknown.

      "Despite the efforts of the United States and its partner governments to withhold the truth about past and ongoing abuses, information relating to these abuses will continue to find its way into the public domain," the report says.

      "At the same time, while US courts have closed their doors to victims of secret detention and extraordinary rendition operations, legal challenges to foreign government participation in these operations are being heard in courts around the world."

      It will be interesting to see some of the questions Brennen will face in his confirmation hearings for CIA Director.


  10. When I was in Uruguay some years back I was struck, among many other things, by a vintage post card.

    It depicted a party celebrating the ending of slavery in that country...

    A party! With folks of both races dancing and celebrating together!

    And the end of slavery by proclamation!

    Now I know that's simplistic as heck, so here's a link to a Google book excerpt that fills out some details: Google search

    I shoulda bought the post card...

    Although, looking back, there were a bunch of other things I shoulda done there...

    Oh well, "What difference at this point does it make?"

  11. At Bilbo's first meeting with Gandolph and the dwarves in Chapter 1, Thorin tells how Smaug arrived, burning up the woods in a spout of flame. As the dwarves came out the front gate, the dragon was waiting and 'none escaped that way'. Next, under cover of fog and steam from the river, Smaug picked off the warriors from Dale one by one. When Elrond looked at the map in chapter 3, Tolkien uses the opportunity to remind readers of the devastation Smaug has produced. We are told that it grieves Elrond to recall 'the ruin of the town of Dale and its merry bells, and the burned banks of the bright River Running'. When Bilbo and the dwarves finally draw near to the Lonely Mountain, we find this stark description: 'The land about them grew bleak and barren, though once as Thorin told them, it had been green and fair. There was little grass, and before long there was neither bush nor tree, and only broken and blackened stumps to speak of ones long vanished'.

    The Christian World of the Hobbit
    Devin Brown

    What a big two hearted river we have described for us here.