by James Corbett
June 13, 2020
An incredible event took place this week: A Russian tanker docked at the Port of Jiangsu on China's east-central coast, offloading its cargo of liquefied natural gas from the Yamal LNG plant in Russia's north.
Now, I know what you're thinking: "James, that's not so incredible. Tankers regularly carry LNG from Russia to Asia via the Suez Canal in the winter months!"
Oh, yes, of course, my dear, well-informed reader. But here's the rub: This was no ordinary tanker, but the Christophe de Margerie, an ice class LNG tanker designed to transport gas along the summer route across the Arctic.
"But James, the summer route doesn't open until July!"
Exactly. This was a test to see whether the trip could be started nearly two months early. The Christophe de Margerie launched from the Port of Sabetta in Russia's frozen north on May 18th and hooked up with the Yamal, a nuclear icebreaker, which escorted it through the Arctic passage. Together, the ships were able to trim nearly 4,000 nautical miles off the regular winter shipping route, which takes the cargo on a circuitous journey around Europe and through the Suez Canal before arriving in Asia.
Make no mistake: This event may not have received as much coverage as the other groundbreaking stories of 2020 (or any coverage at all, other than the reports in a handful of sites specializing in such matters), but it is important. In fact, it speaks to the fact that the Arctic is increasingly becoming a geopolitical prize . . . and a potential flashpoint for future military conflict between the superpowers.
The latest sign that the Arctic is the next up-and-coming geopolitical hotspot comes from the chambers of the Arctic Council. While "the Arctic Council" sounds like the fictional body overseeing Santa's North Pole operations, it is in fact a very real intergovernmental forum that brings together eight Arctic states (Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the US) to discuss regional issues. Although the council's website likes to highlight the group's work in "enhancing cooperation in the circumpolar North," it has increasingly become a place for the US and Russia to ramp up their Cold War 2.0 rhetoric.
The council's latest ministerial meeting in Finland provides a case in point. At the meeting, US Secretary of State Mike "Lie, Cheat and Steal" Pompeo focused on what he sees as the greatest threat to the region's security: Russian militarization.
“No one denies Russia has significant Arctic interests. [. . .] But Russia is unique. Its actions deserve special attention, special attention of this Council, in part because of their sheer scale. But also because we know Russian territorial ambitions can turn violent.”If there's a better case of the pot calling the kettle black, I'm hard-pressed to think of it. Whatever one may make of Russia's moves in the Arctic of late—Moscow's attempt to reopen its Arctic bases, its quest to modernize and expand its military deployment in the region, and even (GASP!) its push to build a bigger fleet of icebreaking vessels than the US—Washington can hardly claim that its own intentions in the region are completely peaceful. Ever since Bush signed off on National Security Presidential Directive 66 (NSPD 66) on "Arctic Region Policy" in 2009, there has been no room for doubt about the US government's intentions in the region.
NSPD 66, issued in the waning days of the Bush presidency, declared that the US has "broad and fundamental national security interests in the Arctic region." According to the document, these claimed interests include "missile defense and early warning; deployment of sea and air systems for strategic sealift, strategic deterrence, maritime presence, and maritime security operations; and ensuring freedom of navigation and overflight." Ever since the directive was signed, there has been a concerted push to assert American military dominance throughout the circumpolar North.
This push by Uncle Sam to militarize the region has included such moves as:
- Deploying an aircraft carrier in the Arctic Circle for the first time since the height of the Cold War;
- Deploying attack submarines throughout the region;
- Forming the US' northernmost F-35 fighter squadron at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska;
- Signing bilateral deals with allies to increase military cooperation in the region; and
- Expanding NATO operations and exercises in the area.
But never fear, China (aka the West's new favorite bogeyman) is here!
. . . Wait, did I say "never fear"? Scratch that, I mean always fear!
Yes, the latest strategy employed by the NATO allies to push their military agenda in the Arctic is to point to the burgeoning Sino-Russian alliance as a menacing force in the region. Just this week Tobias Ellwood, the head of Britain’s Defense Select Committee, warned that "Russia and China's warming relations in the Arctic are the largest threat to security in the region." After all, they're doing horrible things like . . . forming a new Arctic trade route. And shipping natural gas through the Bering Strait in May. ("The horror! The horror!")
It should come as no surprise to my regular listeners that this move to open up yet another front in the Forever War is also a great excuse to line the pockets of the military contractors in the Military-Industrial-Governmental-Media complex. Defense industry trade organizations like the IDGA are already holding networking events to bring together contractors and government agencies looking to expand Arctic operations, and the armaments industry is just beginning to warm up to the possibilities of conquering the deep freeze.
So far, the Trump administration has continued this boondoggle, with the Dissembler-in-Chief penning a new presidential memo just this week extolling the urgent need for icebreakers and Arctic bases to (say it with me) counter the Russian threat in the region.
As always, we'd better hope that all this talk of militarization is just another excuse to siphon money from Joe Taxpayer to the MilIndGovMed cronies. Because if this isn't just more hot air from the political puppets in Washington, then a new front has just been opened up in the next ginned up world war scenario.
Better get your long johns ready, just in case.