Arctic Security: An Assessment by Risk Intelligence


2016-01-09  Our partner, Risk Intelligence, is a leading maritime security firm which works closely with the global shipping community.

In its latest issue of Strategic Insights, the group provides a wide range of insights into the evolving challenge of Arctic security.

We highly recommend readers to go their website and purchase the issue.

What follows is the introduction to the special issue written by Dr. Sebastian Bruns.

Arctic Security

In comparison to other maritime hot spots, the Arctic – the area north of the Arctic Circle – is a fairly quiet region.

There are no pirates preying on seafarers and cargo ships, maritime terrorism is hardly a concern, and human smuggling, drug trafficking, and organised crime are minimal.

A cursory review of Risk Intelligence’s MaRisk for the Arctic region over the past five years reveals the boarding of the drilling rig Stena Don, operating in the Baffin Bay Basin off western Greenland, by Greenpeace activists in August

2010, and a similar attempt by members of the same organisation one year later, 40 nm north of Nuuk, Greenland, to be among the most pressing maritime incidents.

In fact, Greenpeace campaigners have a track record of attempting to board or chain themselves to rigs or hotel ships or transport vessels used by drilling personnel. The

seizure of the Greenpeace vessel Artic Sunrise by Russian authorities in September 2013 and the subsequent arrest of activists received media attention and even led to the case being brought before the International Tribunal for the Law of the Seas.

These incidents aside, the Arctic (also often referred to as the High North) is an arena where non-state actors play a secondary role to larger geopolitical considerations, which are driven by states and governments.

According to one definition, geopolitics represents a symbiosis between geography and political thinking. But it is a challenging (and often challenged) term, in particular in international relations – geography rarely changes, while political framework conditions do so much more often.

With an increasing public sensitisation towards climate change and the strong symbolism manifested in the nexus between melting Arctic ice and rising sea levels, there is also mounting interest by media and science in what the future holds for the use, and perhaps abuse, of the Arctic.

Academic and institutional expectations range from exploiting vast resources and the opening of new sea lanes of communication between Asia and Europe, to more sinister, potentially military, conflicts and also – in the face of more virulent crises around the globe – to the topic remaining on the backbench of the international community’s agenda.

In other words, should a “High Noon in the High North” be expected?

The 20th -century, old-fashioned appreciation of the Arctic was dominated by its inhospitableness, but it was hardly devoid of geopolitical and geostrategic considerations.

One of the principles of the United States’ “The Maritime Strategy” (1986) under President Ronald Reagan was charging at the Soviet nuclear submarine bastions in the High North (Murmansk, Kola Peninsula, Sea of Okhotsk) in the understanding that naval power would intimidate the USSR.

In the 21st century, the Arctic is a powerful symbol for the effects of climate change, a potential future trade route, a place of tremendous resources (oil, gas, or fish) and unique biodiversity, and last, but certainly not least, an arena of competition between major states over resources/access, power, and status.

Our time needs a renewed understanding of geopolitics in the age of globalisation.

Security, reliability of trade routes, and choke point control are fundamentally driven by the systemic implications of the free flow of goods and services. The Arctic, in this sense, is currently a part of the global maritime system, but has the potential to become much more integral to that system in the 21st century.

Choke point control, good governance, and the future of the Law of the Sea are issues in the maritime security realm that transcend the practical maritime safety concerns also associated with the Arctic.

Still, the prospect of an entirely new sea line of communication to be made available for the first time in more than a century (since the openings of the Panama Canal in 1914 and the Suez Canal in 1869) is reason enough to devote more time and energy into thinking about the Arctic, even in the middle of other crises and challenges which absorb much political and economic energy.