Global Warming: Defrosting Great Game Across the Arctic

Like every other year; on 21st of May 2021, Ministers from all the Eight member states of Arctic Council congregated. After exchange of some formal greetings and fancy pledges to ensure peace and stability in the region, they all returned with the silent urge to compete against each other. Halford J Mackinder, on the turn of 20th century, proposed that whoever rules the heartland, rules the world. A century ahead, Global warming has altered the geopolitical dimensions; what Mackinder would have said had he witnessed the contemporary great-game building up in the Arctic?

On the same date, National Snow and Ice data center updated extent to which arctic ice is melting; which is alarmingly high. Melting of ice has defrosted security dilemma among the states and they have started building up in the region. On the one hand, Russia has heaped-up its military installations in the region; developments on Super Weapon 2M39 are one such deliberation. In the last week, Russian Jet swept past the Arctic archipelago; that is under the claim of other states as well. Russia also installed an Arctic base; termed as Trefoil; which stirs insecurity in the Air. US on the other hand has installed a military base at the Russian Next-door Neighbor Norway’s frontier. Both the states signed an Agreement in April 2021; that would allow US to install more military in the region. Russian President Vladimir Putin indicated resentment in farinaceous words by stating the Whoever tries to deepen their teeth in Russian Territory will get them knocked down by Russia. Russia Also professed reservations for foreign vessels passing by, that they must ask for Russian Permission or else they will face the consequence. US secretary of state Antony Blinken declared serious concerns over the military build up in the region, soon after the Arctic council meet up 2021. Russia being the head of Arctic Council this year, seems to be active over the matter by proposing military meetings to resolve ill-wills building up in the region. When criticized for their conduct, Russian officials stated that Arctic has known to be Russian territory and it is the Russia’s responsibility to protect its territory.

nsidc. (2021, May 21). [Extent or Arctic ice]. Melting of Arctic Ice.

To add twist to the plot, where US is allying with NATO members like Norway to counter Russian influence, China has also surged up in the picture. In 2018, Beijing declared the Arctic White Paper in which China identifies itself as a Near Arctic State. US clearly commented upon these claims as irrelevant. Yet, China dates its legal interest back to the Spitsbergen treaty, and claims say in protection and stability of the region. Moreover, both Russia and China have mutual aspiration for “Polar Silk Road” through the arctic, as an extension to Belt and Road initiative, which elevate the game to another level.

A century ago, what Mackinder could not foresee, was that the heat of human inhumanity and hostility will melt the ice of arctic and geographical barrier will cease to exist; consequence of which will be the spillage of competition to the Arctic region. But he could still envisage that urge for expansion and power maximization in the states will never suffice them, as long as there is land to be conquered. The decades of apparent peace and cooperation in between the ages of great games, prevailed because states had stretched their boundaries to their maximum and they had no other option but to coexist. Even through those decades of cooperation, states did not give up on power maximization that lead them to build excessive economic and industrial muscles, and they kept competing on devastating natural resources. This never-ending lust for more, heated the globe to an extent that the ice of Arctic pole has stated melting, and with that defrost states’ concupiscence for expansion.

What makes the region significant enough to be central to the attention of Great powers is not just security dilemma against military buildup of rival states. Reserves of natural gas and oil are found in the region, and it is believed that a huge amount of world’s treasure of natural resources might lay beneath the layers of ice in the arctic that are about to melt; these discoveries have stimulated mouth-watering concerns in the states. Moreover, geologist have also discovered that once the arctic is completely molten down and open to navigation and movement, it will be the shortest trade route between Africa, Asia and Europe. It will not only serve to be an alternate to Suez-canal but will also preserve costly fuel. These dynamics will completely alter the picture of World order and polarity only to prove Mackinder right when he stated:

whoever rules East Europe commands the Heartlandwhoever rules the Heartland commands the World-Island; whoever rules the World-Island commands the World.”

Ayesha Shaikh
Ayesha Shaikh
Ayesha Shaikh is an Mphil scholar at National Defense University, she has obtained her undergraduate degree award from the same institute. She is currently serving as a Research Assistant at Strategic Vision Institute. Author's primary area of interest includes Regional dynamics of the Asia Pacific, with a precise focus on China.