The Arctic Circle. The top of the world. An icy nest of transit routes and territorial waters and natural resources. The Arctic Circle is prized by both the United States and Russia, and as such, its control amid rising sea levels caused by global warming has only amped up tensions between the two superpowers.
Tomorrow, United States President Barack Obama will be traveling to the Arctic Circle. When he does, President Obama will become the first United States President in history to visit the Arctic Circle while still in office.
The White House has stated that President Obama’s visit to the Arctic Circle is not intended to challenge Russia, but rather, so that the Commander-in-Chief can see firsthand the effects of global warming on the Arctic Circle.
So, where does the tension between Russia and the United States originate? Actually, it’s in the Chukchi Sea, a marginal sea between the northwestern coastline of Alaska and the northeastern coast of Russia. At the southern edge of the Chukchi Sea is the Bering Strait, and at that point, only 53 miles of ocean separate the two superpowers.
Russia recently announced its intentions to claim large portions of the Arctic Ocean in the Arctic Circle as its own. Russia is contending that the continental shelf that extends out into the Chukchi Sea is also part of Russian territory under the Law of the Sea Convention. Thus far, the United States has remained silent, refusing to ratify Russia’s claims about more acquisitions in the Arctic Circle.
As more ice melts in the Arctic Circle, more seaways are opening up, and consequently, more countries are attempting to snatch up the waterways as their own.
When it comes to natural resources, the Arctic Circle is surprisingly bountiful. Fish. Untapped reserves of oil and natural gas. And, just as with the melting ice, as glaciers continue to recede northward, what lies revealed beneath their miles of ice in the form of all new natural resources has both Russia and the United States drooling.
Russia isn’t wasting time. Already, the country has stated its intention to build ten of what it’s calling, “search and rescue” stations at various ports on the Arctic shoreline. As a result, there has been an increased military presence deployed in the area of the Arctic Circle.
Of course, the United States and Russia aren’t the only countries that are interested in the Arctic Circle. Canada has also entered the mix, declaring its own interest in the Arctic Circle, and heated diplomatic conversations are increasing in intensity.
[Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images]