November 28, 2023

Look North


"Westward from the Davis Strait 'tis there 'twas said to lie

The sea route to the Orient for which so many died

Seeking gold and glory, leaving weathered, broken bones

And a long-forgotten lonely cairn of stones." 

Stan Rogers - Northwest Passage.



 China And The Arctic.

The Changing Geopolitics of The Arctic.

"HMS Terror was a specialised warship and a newly developed bomb vessel constructed for the Royal Navy in 1813. She participated in several battles of the War of 1812, including the Battle of Baltimore with the bombardment of Fort McHenry (as mentioned in The Star-Spangled Banner: “And the Rockets’ red glare, the Bombs bursting in air”). She was converted into a polar exploration ship two decades later, and participated in George Back's Arctic expedition of 1836–1837, the successful Ross expedition to the Antarctic of 1839 to 1843, and Sir John Franklin's ill-fated attempt to force the Northwest Passage in 1845, during which she was lost with all hands along with HMS Erebus." - Wikipedia.

"Nordic Orion started its voyage from the Port Metro Vancouver, Canada on 6 September 2013 carrying a cargo of 73,500 tons of coking coal. The ship completed its voyage through the passage on 27 September stopping at Nuuk, Greenland and reached its destination, the Port of Pori, Finland on 9 October 2013.

Northwest Passage shortened the distance between Vancouver and Pori by 1,000 nautical miles compared to the traditional route via the Panama Canal. Fuel savings were approximately $80,000. Nordic Orion was also able to load 15,000 tons more cargo than sailing through the Panama Canal due to its depth limits.

The journey has been described as an opening of a new era on the commercial use of Arctic." - Wikipedia.

An excerpt from, "The Polar War" By Peter Wollweber, Foreign Affairs Review, February 2019:

In 2016, a group of polar explorers made an astounding discovery in northern Canada. The long-lost HMS Terror, last seen almost 170 years previously when it headed the ill-fated expedition of Sir John Franklin to find the fabled Northwest Passage, was itself discovered as an almost perfectly-preserved shipwreck near King William Island. The legend of Franklin’s expedition is compelling enough even without the find. The latest in a long line of explorers attempting to navigate the theorised maritime trade route running through the frozen archipelago at the northern tip of Canada, Franklin set out with cutting-edge technology to find the Passage and form the latest chapter in a British tradition of polar exploration. The expedition’s subsequent disappearance was never fully corroborated beyond the tales of Inuit hunters, and in 1997, analysis of bone material indicated the last surviving crewmembers had probably resorted to cannibalism.

But as the wreck of Franklin’s flagship finally gives up its secrets, the long history of the Northwest Passage may be about to enter a new age. The culprit is, of all things, the ever-present danger of global warming. Evidence shows that receding ice across the poles is opening up previously impassable areas in northern Canada, meaning that the elusive Northwest Passage may shortly become what the British continuously sought in North America: an economically viable trade route to the Pacific. Of course, this route has long been in operation through the Panama Canal, but the Northwest Passage is a game-changer nonetheless; the world’s busiest shipping lane may now have to contend with a much larger brother.

Research conducted by NASA shows that the Arctic sea ice is gradually and consistently thinning. Combined with runoff from glaciers elsewhere in the world, which warm and desalinate the Arctic waters, the navigability of the region is gradually increasing. In 1969, an expedition by the SS Manhattan, a reinforced cargo vessel, determined that the passage was not economically viable, leading to the construction of the Alaska Pipeline. But in 2014, the MV Nunavik defied these predictions to make a cargo trip unescorted through the Passage, furthering predictions that much of the route may soon be ice-free all year round.

An excerpt from, "The Polar Trap: China, Russia, and American Power in the Arctic and Antarctica" By Dr Ryan Burke & Lt Col Jahara “Franky” Matisek, PhD, Air University, October 25, 2021:

As of 2021, the possibility of polar warfare with China and Russia remains low. However, the problem of tomorrow should be the debate of today, and tomorrow’s problem increasingly looks like competition and potential conflict over the polar regions rather than the false premise of preparing for a traditional war in Eastern Europe or the South China Sea. Thus, there needs to be an “American polar pivot” in policy and strategy (and military capability) to counter and/or deter malign actions by China and Russia in the Arctic and Antarctica.

Compared with Russian Arctic military posture and Chinese Antarctic orientation, America is militarily behind. With recent Russian military and Chinese economic expansion, the Arctic is now en vogue for international security scholars and practitioners. In 2019 President Donald Trump, following in Harry Truman’s footsteps, quipped of his interest in purchasing Greenland. While the media mocked the president’s comments, they dismissed historic precedent and strategic implications: Greenland has tremendous geopolitical and strategic value in shaping future polar dynamics in the twenty-first century and beyond. The Department of Defense claims the “immediate prospect of conflict in the Arctic is low,” but omits substantive discussion about Antarctica in its defense and security posture. The Polar regions are among the least understood strategic regions in the world, and the evidence supports that assertion.

The US Indo-Pacific Command (USINDOPACOM) is the geographic combatant command responsible for Antarctica. Despite this, its commander did not mention Antarctica once in his 41-page March 2021 testimony to the House Armed Services Committee.6 ADM Philip Davidson did, however, speak in detail about Russian activity in the Arctic as among one of the command’s concerns, even though the USINDOPACOM area of responsibility (AOR) does not extend into the Arctic Circle. The command’s northern boundary extends into the Bering Sea, thereby technically reaching the Arctic Region according to the US legal definition of the Arctic but hardly establishing itself as an Arctic-relevant command. The 11th Air Force operates in the Arctic but does so under the operational command of NORAD/NORTHCOM. The inconsistencies continue on the command’s website. As of this writing, the site’s “About” section proclaims that the USINDOPACOM AOR stretches “from Antarctica to the North Pole.” This is a patently false statement and is indicative of a broader issue: the US defense establishment needs a geostrategic polar education. The intrigue of polar conflict is generating discussion marked by passionate arguments either sounding the alarm or quieting the herd.

An excerpt from, "When the Ice Breaks on the Antarctic Treaties, a Polar War May Bring the Heat and a New, New World" By David Brown, Security Clearance Jobs, September 21, 2022:

In 1939, the Nazis flew planes over Antarctica, firing spears from the air emblazoned with swastikas, which punched into the ice, marking their territory. They also planted flags along the coast. Their goal was to establish New Swabia, a German territory on the ice, to be a source of whale oil and other resources. (The Nazis never likely built a secret bunker there, despite rumors to the contrary.)

They weren’t the only ones. The whole history of Antarctica is one of exploration, soft power, and on a deeper level, conquest. Beneath the ice in Eastern Antarctica is a continent roughly the size of Australia (itself roughly the size of the United States), with all the resources one could want. Which means when the system of Antarctic treaties lapses in 2048, depending on the state of the climate and the ice on top of all that land, a New New World might suddenly open up. Countries are going to want a piece of it.