The Arctic – surrounded by the landmasses of Canada, Denmark (via Greenland), Russia, Norway and the US – was “inaccessible” until the end of the 20th century due to the layers of thick ice. Thus, there were less territorial disputes until the beginning of the (21st) century. However, with the ice caps melting rapidly, access to the Arctic oil and gas reserves, which is estimated to be worth hundreds of billions of dollars, will become easier – a prediction that has already sparked a rush for ownership.
The region is increasingly catching the world powers’ attention and the aforementioned five Arctic countries are in rush to exploit the energy resources from the region. Such circumstances have given rise to plenty of disputes among the aforementioned five countries.
In the prevailing scenario, all the five Arctic countries have been moving towards militarizing the region in order to acquire each of their respective interests. While Canada has been annually conducting large-scale military exercises, known as Operation Nanook, within the periphery of the region, it has also been participating in the Norway-led “Cold Response” military exercises within the region, where four out of five Arctic countries (except Russia) participate.
Norway has been hosting the “Cold Response” military exercises for several years, where the NATO countries are invited to participate. The fact that these exercises have been taking place within the Arctic periphery shows that the Arctic countries are militarily preparing themselves in order to safeguard their interests within the region in case of any future military escalation. This year’s (March 2016) “Cold Response” exercise took place in the Norway’s Trondheim region, which is only 500 kilometres from the Arctic Circle, and included approximately 15 000 soldiers from various countries, including four (Canada, Denmark, the US, and Norway) of the five Arctic states.
In August 2015, another Arctic state, the US, permitted Shell to drill for oil in the Chukchi Sea, which falls within the periphery of the Alaskan Arctic. The US Coast Guard had deployed sophisticated ships, aircrafts and other maritime assets in the Alaskan Arctic for the duration of Shell’s drilling in the Arctic. However, after months of exploration campaign, Shell had subsequently declared to stop its exploratory drilling for the “foreseeable future.”
On the otherside, in 2007, Russian scientists dived to the seabed in the Arctic Ocean and planted a titanium Russian flag (Russia claimed that it was flag of Russia’s ruling party) in order to beef up their claims. Russia has already moved to restore Soviet-era military base and other military outposts in the region. In December 2014, Russia established the Arctic Joint Strategic Command in order to protect the Russian interests in the region and the Russian Northern Fleet had become the new Command’s main striking force. Questions arose about the establishment of a Strategic Command, which is usually reserved for wartime, instead of establishing a core Military District.
Later, in early 2015, Russia exercised military patrols in the region from its Northern Fleet, involving thousands of servicemen with several surface ships, submarines and aircrafts. More interestingly, Russia is currently planning to jointly explore oil in regional fields with China in order to make sure that Russia has a rising military and economic power like China involved into its stake in the region so that such cooperation favours Russia at the time of escalation of any military conflict.
In such an environment, the current militarization efforts in the region is likely to increase with almost all the regional countries working for further increasing their military deployments and exercises in the region, and there appears little hope and opportunity for any diplomatic resolution (or political agreement) regarding the disputes. It can be well presumed that without political agreement, the current non-hostile debate over the Arctic could turn into a violent confrontation.
If the disputes over the control of the Arctic resources are not resolved quickly, it could turn into a larger military conflict that would not just involve the Arctic countries, but would also drag a larger part of the region into this conflict, leading to a regionwide war. Since Arctic states – Canada, Russia and the U.S. – alongwith other regional powerful states (especially the UK, France and Germany) would be involved in the aforementioned regional military conflict, such regionwide conflict would have the potentiality to turn into a worldwide conflict, dragging rest of the world into the mess.
SOUTH CHINA SEA
Some of China’s ASEAN neighbours (especially Philippines and Vietnam) have been claiming parts of the South China Sea as each of their own territory. On the other side, China also has also been claiming territories in the South China Sea that are also claimed by its ASEAN neighbours and has constructed an artificial island in the region. The relevant ASEAN neighbours of China have been firm on their claims and have been conducting joint militarily drills with the U.S. in order to ensure that China does not establish firm control over their claimed territories in the South China Sea. The U.S. has been maintaining military presence in the region and has been conducting the abovementioned military drills with some ASEAN states in order to ensure that its freedom of navigation under the international law is properly guarded and its allies’ interests are well protected.
A recent Arbitration triggered by the Philippines’ immediate past government regarding the South China Sea dispute went against China’s interests. On the otherhand, the recent closeness between China and the newly elected President of the Philippines, a country traditionally known to be an U.S. ally, made many analysts apprehend that U.S.’s major ally in the dispute is backing off from its claims against China on South China Sea. But such an apprehension is wrong; because, although the Philippines’ newly elected President intends to earn economic leverages from China by his recent rhetoric against the U.S., he could not afford to let go his country’s alliance with the U.S. in reality.
It is worth mentioning that the South China Sea is a major maritime trade route, with trillions of dollars in global trade passing through the disputed area each year. That is why, the region is of utmost importance to many countries across the globe, including the ASEAN states, China, India, Japan and Saudi Arabia. The region is particularly important to the U.S. as over a trillion dollars worth trade from the U.S. alone passes through the disputed waters.
Throughout 2015 & 2016, the U.S. and China had involved in highly confrontational conducts against each other in the South China Sea. In instances, the U.S. sent naval ships within the 12 miles of a Chinese-controlled isle, while in another instance it sent military aircraft over the disputed areas. China, on the other hand, had already built an artificial island on the disputed waters and Chinese coastguard-backed boats has been elbowing out fishing boats from ASEAN states from fishing within the disputed areas.
Chinese Naval Chief Wu Shengli warned that if the U.S. continues with its conducts against China in South China Sea, there could well be an instance of seriously pressing situation between frontline forces from both sides on the sea and in the air that could spark war. Such a warning is the reflection and outburst of increasing tensions that might take the shape of military conflict in no time if sensitive incidents in the disputed areas are not handled properly. A simple military error in the disputed waters between the two sides may lead to a “regionwide” military conflict in the Asia Pacific region, especially in East Asia and Southeast Asia.
Since the ‘geopolitical interests’ and the ‘economies’ of many countries around the world are well connected with China and the U.S., and also since may countries beyond East Asia and Southeast Asia (including India and Saudi Arabia) have interests in ‘maritime routes’ in the South China Sea, the countries outside East Asia and Southeast Asia would somehow be dragged (directly or indirectly) into this conflict, and hence, we might witness another world war in our small, yet way too polarized, planet.
A referendum, which is widely addressed as the Brexit referendum, took place in mid-2016 regarding Britain’s (precisely the UK’s) membership of the European Union (EU); the same EU that was formed in order to ensure, alongwith several other reasons, peace in Europe and avoid wars among the European neighbours. The referendum went in favour of Britain’s exit from the EU.
Britain’s “formal” exit from the EU, which would atleast take two more years, may pave the way for several other EU member states to follow suit, causing a serious power-imbalance in the greater Europe. In such a scenario, there is the likelihood that Europe will become bipolar and would become a fragmented territory.
In recent times, Britain has been attempting to create a “northern league” consisting of European countries with “NOT so pro-EU” sentimental establishments/regimes. All the probable northern-leaguers – namely Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Finland and Britain itself – share a common desire to restrict the power of the EU. With the attempt of forming such a bloc or alliance, Britain is perhaps trying to restrict the expansion of the EU and to divide the existing EU in order to serve Britain’s own hegemonic interests.
After “formally” leaving the EU, if Britain makes its move towards institutionalizing the “northern league” and also joins the non-EU trade bloc European Free Trade Association (EFTA), a bi-centric Europe would emerge — one led by France & Germany (the Franco-German duo) under the banner of the EU and the other led by Britain.
One of the two European blocs that might emerge out of Britain’s “formal” exit from the EU may lean towards, or align with, the Sino-Russian side of global polarity in confronting the other side that would avail the backing from the U.S. With such two opposite blocs in Europe, further division, cold relations, conflicts, wars and proxy wars are the only possibilities.
The conflict of interests between the Western bloc (led by the U.S.) and the Eastern bloc (led by the former Soviet Union) during the cold war period had led to several proxy wars across the world. Similarly, the Saudi-Iran regional rivalry has been resulting in a number of proxy wars for last one decade. Therefore, it would not be ‘unprecedented’ if the two spreadheads of the two future European regional blocs, one led by the Franco-German duo and the other led by Britain, start fighting between themselves through proxies in the region in near future. However, a direct war between these European spearheads is most likely to spread all over the world (world war), similar to what we have seen in the previous two world wars that started as European conflicts only to turn into world wars.
The Middle East is of strategic importance to the world, particularly because of its supply of oil. Many analysts believe that the U.S.’s plan is to engineer a conflict between two major regional foes, Saudi Arabia and Iran, in order to make accessibility to the region risky for Russia and energy starved China, both of which are trying to reshape the current global order that is led and dominated by the U.S. On the otherhand, many other analysts think that it is Russia, not the U.S., which wants to engineer such a conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and then get the U.S. embroiled into it and drive up the cost of oil, benefitting Russia that is suffering from the lower global oil price.
The U.S.-led Western alliance, the Saudi-led Sunni alliance and the broader coalition between these two alliances are at one side of the Syrian conflict; the other coalition involves Assad regime, Iraqi regime, Iran and Russia. Although two major powers – Russia and the U.S. – are involved in this conflict, a Russia-U.S. direct confrontation is unlikely. No UNSC member can fight another UNSC member as per UN provisions. However, such international provisions never matter when conflict of interests reaches the height and heat of confrontation goes out of control. But, what would really keep these two powers away from fighting each other are not the UN provisions, but the reality that both are nuclear armed states and a war between these two nuclear-superpowers means total annihilation of not only these two major powers but also a larger part of human race and earth’s landmass. However, the possibility of a war between these two military & nuclear superpowers is not totally out of the cards and any such conflict between these two powers would, for sure, drag rest of the world into it.
It seems our globe does not lack reasons to engage in chaos. The two world wars initially were European conflicts that turned gradually into world wars. For sure, the start of another war between any two major powers would drag the world into it. Another world war would mean the landmasses, waters, and environment and, most importantly, living species including human being would become the targets of war machines of the global military elites, jeopardizing the peace and stability of our globe.