Russia set to dominate Arctic shipping

Published on January 4, 2013 by   ·   1 Comment
Arctic crossing

As long as Canada and the U.S. fail to cooperate over commercial routes in the Northwest Passage, Russia’s dominance looks set to strengthen in the Arctic.

Russia set to dominate Arctic shipping unless Canada, US step up

Russia’s hegemony over Arctic shipping routes is bound to strengthen as long as Canada and the U.S. fail to co-operate over the Northwest Passage, according to a recent policy paper.

“We’re probably a decade behind what the Russians are doing,” said John Higginbotham, a former Transport Canada assistant deputy minister who is now a scholar at Carleton University, and an author of the brief. “It’s something Westerners should be concerned about: giving complete hegemony over this particular commercial route to the Russians.”

In June, Higginbotham and several academics backed by the Centre for International Governance Innovation brought together politicians from Canada and the U.S. for an invite-only workshop in Ottawa focused on Arctic shipping corridors.

Their conclusions were dire: traffic over Eurasia is growing while remaining stagnant in North America, meaning Canada could lose out on any increased Arctic shipping without a massive investment in public infrastructure. That would require high-level talks with Alaska and the U.S. mainland, something that isn’t happening, said Higginbotham.

“Putin is really putting a lot of political will and effort into this,” he said. Russia is land-locked along much of its territory, making shipping from its Arctic coast “an extraordinary opportunity,” he said.

Under the Conservative government, Ottawa has announced the construction of a small craft harbour in Pangnirtung and a naval facility in Nanisivik. The first was scheduled to finish at the end of 2012 and the other in 2017.

But that’s pretty much the extent of any measures meant to support shipping publically acknowledged so far, and it’s tiddlywinks compared to what’s happening in Eurasia, said Higginbotham.

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Source: ipolitics, written by James Munson.

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Readers Comments (1)
  1. Caitlyn Antrim says:

    It is ridiculous to try to pose the Asian-european and North American arctic passages as equivalent or competitive with one another. The existence of a thriving arctic community in the Barents Sea region, energy, mineral and fishery products for export from the Arctic, major rivers connecting the Arctic with the Russian interior and an industrial base already experience in the Arctic give the Northern Sea Route an economic rationale. The Northern Sea Route is being developed because the only competitors in Asia are the ‘long way around’ maritime route and the trans-siberian railway on the southern edge of the Russian Federation.

    On the other hand, there are four transcontinental rail routes crossing North America, reaching internal waterways, ports on the Pacific, Gulf and Atlantic coasts and linking major population centers. And as the US moves toward energy self-sufficiency, oil developed in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas will go south through the Bering Strait to Asian markets rather than through the North West Passage to, well, where exactly?

    The NSR and NWP have completely different economic factors at play. “Because it is there” is not a basis for the cost and risk of development of the Northwest Passage. Nor is the idea that Russia has an arctic sea route so we should have one too.