Meðal þess sem ég benti á í erindinu var að hin geópólitíska þungamiðja í veröldinni færist frá okkar heimshluta (Evrópa, Norður-Ameríka, Norður-Atlantshaf) til Asíu og Kyrrahafssvæðisins (Asía, Norður-Ameríka, Kyrrahaf). Jafnframt benti ég á að hörfi hafís á norðurslóðum enn frekar vegna hlýnunar Jarðar kynni sú þróun að tengja okkur aftur við geópólitíska meginkrafta. Það yrði vegna opnunar siglingaleiða um Norður-Íshafið, en mundi hins vegar og líklega taka marga áratugi.
Ég flutti erindið 30. janúar síðastliðinn í Norræna húsinu í Reykjavík á ráðstefnu Vestnorræna ráðsins. Þar var ég beðinn um að tala um “Stöðu vestnorrænu landanna við nýjar geópólitískar aðstæður”. Ég tók saman punktana sem ég studdist við í máli mínu sem var flutt á ensku, og inntakið í því sem ég sagði fer hér á eftir. Aftan við það er viðbót frá 10. febrúar. Hana tók ég saman til að undirstrika og útskýra nánar en færi gafst á í erindinu að umræddar geópólitískar breytingar mundu ekki hafa áhrif á stöðu vestnorrænu landanna fyrr en eftir langan tíma.
– (I was asked to talk about “The Westnordic countries in the new geopolitical context” at a conference held by the Westnordic Council in Reykjavík on 30th January. The gist of my remarks follows.)
Geopolitics and the position of the West-Nordic countries in “the new geopolitical context” is a big topic to for a 15-20 minute talk. So I must inevitably use broad brush strokes while hoping to be able to give you at least a glimpse into the subject.
During most of the twentieth century the center of geopolitical gravity was in the Euro-Atlantic region. That was where the economic powerhouse of the World was located as were its greatest military powers. The first and second world wars were primarily fought on the European continent as well as in the North Atlantic. Those were also the main areas where the Cold War was manifested.
A major factor behind this history disappeared with the Soviet Union. In other words, the threat of a continental hegemonic power was no longer there, nor the threat of large the scale great power conflict seen in the world wars. One result has been to fundamentally reduce the strategic significance of the North Atlantic compared to what it was for a large part of the 20th century.
Certain military factors which were important in the Cold War remain in the Arctic and North Atlantic. They are primarily related to the nuclear balance between Russia and the United Sates. While these strategic factors are important to Russia and the U.S. they may be said to be essentially peripheral to the main forces shaping the World. Later in my remarks I shall briefly come back to this issue.
The forces primarily shaping the international system are reflected in a geopolitical shift from the Euro- Atlantic area to the Asia-Pacific region, a development led so far mainly by economic factors.
So geopolitics have, so to speak, moved away from the area of the World where the West Nordic countries are located. Of course they will continue to enjoy the benefits offered by the international system in terms of open trade and in terms of science, technology, culture, communications and so on. The geopolitical center of gravity is, however, not in their neighborhood, but far away from it.
Meanwhile a new development holds a potential to re-connect the West Nordic area to main geopolitical developments – and link it to the Asia Pacific region. It is a development already to be seen in the growth of global interest in the Arctic, including from all the main players in the international system. This is primarily due to economic opportunties offered by the immense riches of the Arctic, especially in fossil fuel resources – oil, gas and coal – but also in minerals. Those prospects are expected to grow as global warming opens up the Arctic to a much greater degree than has been seen so far, including for transit along shipping routes in the Arctic Ocean between the Atlantic and the Pacific.
On the flip side are of course the environmental challenges and dangers which would accompany the effects of warming. Although they are not part of my subject today, clearly extensive warming would create pressure on the peoples, societies and economies in the Arctic and potentially hold enormous negative consequences for the area and the World.
The time frame, though, looks to be decades. A large unknown is how quickly global warming may open the Arctic as sea ice recedes. It seems far too early to tell how long it might take and how everything might play out, but the geopolitical interest in Arctic developments is already clear and considerable. It is for example visible in the annual Arctic Circle Assembly in Reykjavík where all the major state and non-state actors with an interest in Arctic affairs participate.
Russia is for reasons of geography the Arctic great power. In other respects and more generally, however, Russia is a power in relative economic decline. Allt the greater will be its incentive be to make maximum use of the riches of the vast Russian Arctic. It is already undertaking major extraction of resources there, including in close cooperation with fuel hungry China. With increased global warming this activity will grow and become still more attractive with easier shipping as the Arctic opens up still further. And since the Northern Sea Route is in Russian waters, its development and its management will be under Russian control.
Militarily Russia is primarily a regional power, except for its nuclear weapons, which Moscow relies on for the ultimate guarantee of its fundamental interests, including its sphere of influence and the preservation of the Russian state. A large part of the strategic nuclear weapons of Russia are in submarines in the Arctic – mainly it seems in the Barents Sea. These forces are being modernised at great expense and their protection by the Russian Northern Fleet is a high military priority and also very costly. To Russia the strategic importance of the Arctic is therefore fundamental. That is not new, however, as the Soviet Union began deploying missile carrying submarines in the Arctic in the 1970s.
The Russian missile submarines in the Arctic make it of strategic interest to the U.S. which also has air defense and missile defense interests in the area. While of enduring importance to the U.S. and Russia, these strategic factors are, however, neither new nor central to the main geopolitical dynamics in the World.
The Arctic is for obvious geographic reasons of enduring interest to the U.S. More generally American foreign and security policy is shifting. Some of the changing focus is due to President Trump and his priorities at home and abroad, some of it has other and older causes, not least the the growing importance to the U.S. of the Asia-Pacific region and Sino-American relations. This will include keeping an eye on American interests in the Arctic in the context of future competition with China.
While China is already an economic great power after decades of phenomenal growth, it faces many domestic challenges – both political and economic. One is to find energy and minerals abroad to feed the economy and a “Polar Silk Road” in the Arctic can play a significant part in meeting this need.
While the international interest in the Arctic is definitely there, the extent to which global warming will take place is of course of decisive importance. I am not qualified to discuss the science involved, but do believe that the Paris Agreement on climate change will not stop global warming although the agreeent is in itself a considerable diplomatic and political achievement. The enormous cost, however, of achiving the goals of the Agreement is reflected in the report of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, published i October 2018. The Panel emphasised that “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society” were called for to prevent serious global warming.
Be that as it may, the Paris agreement has no instruments which enable global decisions to be made on measures leading to rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes for the peoples of the World. Nor does the Agreement have instruments to enforce such immensely expensive policies and to ensure all states take on a fair share of the heavy burden. And there is no intention in the international system to create the supranational authority which would be required.
Pesumably, therefore, states will, as time goes by scale back their policies and plans aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Attention will turn primarily to finding doable ways to adapt to warming – until the World can possibly escape its extreme dependence on fossil fuels. Should that happen it would, of course, fundamentally change everything – in the Arctic and elsewhere.
In the absence of such transformation, signs are that the next several decades will see the opening of the Arctic well beyond what has taken place so far. The consequences will be ever growing extraction of resources, massive infrastructure development. Extensive global warming would lead more or less to the full opening of the Northern Sea Route and even – albeit still further in the future – of the Trans Polar Route.
To repeat, all this is most likely a long way off, but holds obvious potential for major geopolitical change, which would make the Arctic an area of global importance. That would bring the North Atlantic back into geopolitical focus since there would be found the Euro Atlantic part of the Northern Sea Route and the Trans Polar Route. And at that Euro Atlantic part is where the West Nordic countries are located. Or as one author has pointed out, the West Nordics would find themselves at a crossroads between Europe, North America and Asia – and the Arctic shipping lanes linking those parts of the World.
Viðbót 10. febrúar 2019: Flutningar um Norður-Íshaf milli heimsálfa eru enn hverfandi litlir
Til áréttingar því að opnun norðurslóða fyrir siglingar milli heimsálfa gæti tekið marga áratugi, tók ég saman eftirfarandi.
Á árinu 2018 munu hafa farið um 17 milljónir tonna með skipum um norðausturleiðina (Northern Sea Route, einnig stundum talað um Northeast Passage), þ.e. siglingaleiðina úti fyrir norðurströnd Rússlands. Aukningin hefur verið hröð á síðustu árum vegna nýrra olíu- og gasvinnslustöðva.
Megnið af flutningunum er á gasi í vökvaformi (Liquid Natural Gals – LNG) sem og olíu, en einnig fara fram flutningar með málma. Þá eiga sér stað almennir flutningar á vélum, öðrum búnaði og efni vegna vinnslu náttúruauðæfanna og vegna byggingar innviða hennar vegna. Þá er gert ráð fyrir mikilli aukningu á kolaflutningum eða allt að 30 milljónum tonna á ári.
Allir þessir flutningar eru frá stöðum á norðurströnd Rússlands, ýmist í austur til Asíu eða vestur um til Evrópu eftir árstíð og útbreiðslu hafíssins. Einungis um hálf milljón tonna mun hins vegar hafa farið á árinu 2018 leiðina milli Atlantshafs og Kyrrahafs, enda er hún ekki fær nema í örfáa mánuði á ári frá síðsumri og fram í október/nóvember og þá yfirleitt með aðstoð ísbrjóta.
Flutningar um Norður-Íshafið milli heimsálfa eru forsenda þeirra geópólitísku breytinga sem mundu hafa mikil áhrif fyrir vestnorrænu löndin í kjölfar verulegrar hlýnunar Jarðar og ég nefndi í máli mínu á ráðstefnunni 30. janúar. Flutningar sem þessir hafa verið í umræðu hér á landi, meðal annars í tengslum við stórskipahöfn í Finnafirði.
Í skýrslu forsætisráðuneytis frá 2016 um hagsmuni Íslands á norðurslóðum kemur fram að “margt bendir til að í fyrirsjáanlegri framtíð, eða á nokkrum næstu áratugum, séu siglingar á norðurslóðum aðallega hagkvæmar og raunsæjar fyrir takmarkaða og sérhæfða flutninga…Flutningar yrðu líklega mestir síðsumars og snemma hausts með vörur sem þola mikla bið, til dæmis hráefni til iðnaðar, þung tæki, vélar o.þ.h. Árið 2010 voru um 30 dagar að mestu hafíslausir á norðausturleiðinni og þeim mun fara fjölgandi eftir því sem líður á 21. öldina. Þeir gætu orðið um 120 í kringum 2050. En aðrar náttúrulegar hættur munu ekki hverfa, til að mynda vindkæling, fjarlægðir frá höfnum og innviðum, ísing vegna sjógangs, takmarkaðar veðurspár og svallægðir.”(bls.36)
Þá hefur verið bent á að jafnvel þótt norðausturleiðin yrði greiðfær mundu gámaflutningar ekki verða hagkvæmir á henni vegna grunnsævis, sem kæmi í veg fyrir að stór gámaflutningaskip nýttu leiðina. Það er forsenda þess að hún yrði ábatasöm fyrir flutninga af þessu tagi. Til þess að norðurslóðasiglingar hentuðu gámaflutningum þyrfti leiðin yfir Norðurskautið, að opnast en þar er nóg dýpi. Enginn veit hve langan tíma það gæti hugsanlega tekið að hafísinn hörfaði að því marki vegna hlýnunar Jarðar að Norðurskautsleiðin opnaðist.