Polar war could break out in 12 years over scramble for oil and gas, British think-tank warns

Oil and gas reserves under the Arctic ice cap could trigger a polar war, it is claimed.

Russia, Denmark, Norway, Canada and the U.S. all have interests in large tracts of the region, under which lie untapped energy resources.

With the ice caps melting, access to the reserves will be easier, sparking a rush for ownership, says Jane's International Defence Review.

Enlarge   plolar bears

The Arctic is largely untouched by mankind now, but all that could change by 2020, a British think-tank has warned

Even Britain is claiming a right to the wealth as it owns Rockall, a 30-yard wide uninhabited rock in the North Atlantic.

Britain annexed Rockall in 1955 – more than 50 years ago – and claims rights to its  continental shelf.

But Iceland, Ireland and Denmark, which has jurisdiction over the neighbouring Faroe Islands, also claim parts of the shelf  as theirs.

Enlarge   Arctic map

Pole position: A map of the Arctic region showing the disputed borders

The latest issue of the London-based Jane’s Review, out today, said the Polar conflict will come to a head by 2020.  

It said: ‘The retreat of the Arctic ice shelf is opening up huge new reserves of oil, gas and other resources, creating a new area for geostrategic competition.

'This retreat  has led to territorial claims, raising the possibility of a genuinely cold war  between Western states and Russia over the disputed Arctic region.’

Jane’s experts pointed out that in 2001 Russia went to the United Nations in a bid to claim ownership of the North Pole.

This was rejected, but earlier this year Russia stepped up Arctic patrols of  military aircraft and warships including submarines from its Northern Fleet, and it can still make further claims to the region.

At the same time Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper made aggressive noises  when he said:  ‘Canada has a choice when it  comes to defending our sovereignty  over the Arctic. We either use it or lose it. And make no mistake, this government intends to use it.’

The Jane’s report said Russia sees the Arctic as a way to regain superpower status.

It added: ‘Russia’s policy is central to the possibility of competition or conflict. In the wake of the Russo-Georgian conflict, an attempt  by Moscow to project its power to the north as well as the south could see it come into more direct conflict with NATO powers.  

‘While there is no imminent threat of a conflict, with all states pledging to abide by international law, and the difficulties inherent in Arctic exploitation still too great, towards 2020 the omens are less encouraging.  

‘Military competition is likely to increase, with both Russia and Canada increasing their deployments and exercises, and there appears little opportunity for diplomatic resolution of  the disputes.’ 

The report said: ‘It is also possible that, without political agreement, what is now a scientific and juridical debate over control of the Arctic could conceivably escalate into a more direct confrontation given the scope to challenge the UN’s findings and the value of the resources at stake.’

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