Russia And The United States Have Started A Game Of Chicken In The Arctic That Could Lead To Unnecessary Military Conflict

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They should be very, very cautious about the noise of sabers in the Russian Arctic.

The Russians have asserted unilateral control over the North Sea Route, an international waterway that runs along the north coast of Russia, and they are deploying military assets at the choke points along the route.

US officials dispute Russia’s claim on the North Sea Route and have threatened to send US naval vessels in a Freedom of Navigation Operation (FONOP). The US Secretary of the Navy, Richard Spencer, has spoken of “making some ships make the transit in the Arctic.” The freedom of navigation must be applied there. ” These sentiments were repeated by General Curtis Scaparrotti, former supreme allied commander in Europe, in a testimony before Congress, suggesting that an Arctic FONOP would be directed to Russia. In May, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned: “We are concerned about Russia’s claim on the international waters of the North Sea Route.”

Performing an Arctic FONOP is a bad idea. In the short term, it is likely to result in a disaster due to inadequate capabilities to break the US ice. UU. It could also trigger a military confrontation given Russian vital interests in the region and its military advantages along the route. Even if the United States could correct those imbalances in the medium term, it should still resist the idea of ​​FONOP. Successfully crossing the North Sea Route could lead to even more assertive Russian behavior, will not make shipping companies more likely to resist Russian demands and will damage relations between the United States and Canada by setting a dangerous precedent for the Passage of the Northwest in dispute. Instead of a short-term FONOP,

The importance of the North Sea route

The Arctic climate has not been as warm in 10,000 years and is warming at an alarming rate, which increases the possibility of viable shipping routes in the Arctic. The North Sea Route, one of the three main passages through the Arctic waters, runs along the north coast of Russia from Murmansk in the west to the Bering Strait in the east.

It is usually the first and sometimes the only polar shipping route every summer and the last one that is affected by ice every fall. The route makes the trip between Europe and Asia approximately 3,000 miles shorter and 11 days faster than a transit south through the Strait of Malacca and the Suez Canal.

Central Russian economic and security interests, and aspects of national identity, are at stake in and around the North Sea Route. Economically, one fifth of Russia’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and more than 30 percent of government revenues come from the Arctic, according to some estimates. Much of that comes from the oil and natural gas fields of the Yamal Peninsula. Russia also has the potential to raise funds from the tariffs and tolls of the users of the North Sea Route. In terms of security, the Russian Arctic is home to much of Russia’s strategic nuclear deterrence in the form of its North Fleet submarines based outside Murmansk. If the United States attacked those submarines, Most likely, it will route that attack on the North Pole and across the route along the Russian border. So, one way for Russia to protect its nuclear deterrence is to limit access to and from the North Sea Route. Finally, the Arctic resonates with the conceptions of the Russians about itself and with the desire of the Putin regime to maintain a great status of power. As detailed below, these interests have led Russia to be more firm in its control of this route.

There are five strangulation points along the North Sea Route where Russia could possibly delay or stop shipping traffic if you wish. These are places where the canal flows between two parts of Russian territory, if not within its 12-mile territorial waters. Going through one or more of these throttle points, enclosed in a circle in Figure 1, is inevitable for the users of the route. The United States rejects Russian control and militarization of the North Sea Route and apparently wants to carry out a FONOP to demonstrate that rejection. [“Reject militarization” by aspiring to send a military ship to cross it …]

Risks for a US FONOP. UU.

The United States has a big problem if it wants to carry out a FONOP in the Arctic: it doesn’t have the right boats to do it. The Navy has no warships with ice capacity in its inventory, although it is studying the issue. Although the Coast Guard has a heavy and a medium icebreaker, none is available for a FONOP in this region. The heavy icebreaker, the Polar Star, is dedicated to replenishing Antarctic research stations for approximately seven months a year. It is in dry dock for repairs and reconditioning during the summer of the northern hemisphere, exactly the time when the United States would conduct a FONOP. The medium icebreaker, the Healy,

Most importantly, both ships are old and could break during a FONOP. In that case, the United States would have to ask Russia for emergency assistance. Alternatively, Washington could partner with a country that had the ability to break the ice in summer, such as Finland or Sweden, but would have to convince that partner that the benefits of defying Russian policy would outweigh the likely Russian setback directed at them. That capacity deficit would leave a US FONOP. UU. Vulnerable to the highly changing and potentially serious Arctic environment.

To aggravate the ends of the US UU., Means that Russian military capabilities along the North Sea Route do not match. The Russians now require ticket users to request permits, accept ice pilots and provide payments before traveling. If ships in transit violate any of these stipulations, they are subject to boarding, inspected, fined, confiscated and even destroyed.

The Russians say they are within their rights to regulate the North Sea Route, given Articles 21 and 234 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCITRAL). Article 21 gives states the ability to regulate their territorial waters. Russia states that parts of the route are within its territorial waters. Article 234 states that countries with adjacent ice-covered waters can regulate those waters if this protects the environment. The only restriction to that power is “due consideration” to navigation, a vague statement that leaves much to interpretation. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov recently noted:

Russian military capabilities could threaten or sink American ships attempting a FONOP. The Russians are deploying anti-ship systems at the throttle points along the passage to deter unauthorized users, essentially extending their access denial / area capabilities to the east from the Barents Sea, where Russia has long implemented a Bastion defense doctrine to protect its nuclear based submarines. deterrent. Russia does not have to destroy offending ships to control access to the North Sea Route, but having the ability to harm offenders makes the threat of embarking or confiscating ships possible. Possible targets at sea include large ships that transport bulk cargo, liquid natural gas tankers, Container ships and icebreaker escort ships. The Swedish Defense Research Agency has recently produced an open source technical evaluation of Russian military systems A2AD. The images below show the threat for sending from the Russian Bastion and Bal anti-ship systems at three of the five throttling points of the North Sea Route using ranges from the Swedish report, places where open source reports locate these or similar systems

The Russians have begun to openly deploy these systems at the choke points, according to open source reports. Air defense systems that “will completely cover the Arctic airspace as a shield” are being installed, according to Admiral Nikolay Yevmenov, commander of the fleet in northern Russia. Lavrov has said that the Arctic bases “will guarantee the necessary defense capacity in view of the political-military situation near our borders.” Russia has also carried out weapons tests on the Barents and Kara seas.

In short, the lack of US capabilities. UU. Leave US ships vulnerable to changing sea ice conditions. The relative imbalance between US and Russian capabilities makes a FONOP militarily dangerous.

Risks of a US FONOP. UU.

Even if the United States corrected the capacity imbalance, an Arctic FONOP remains a bad idea due to the risks of such action. The long-term implications are terrible if a FONOP fails, even if it did not lead to a military confrontation. The failure would generate the perception that the United States cannot compete in the Arctic and that Russia can get away with it by violating freedom of navigation when challenged. Such a failure could have domino effects for NATO’s position in the High North and for future Russian behavior. The Chinese, who try to venture into the Arctic, could be emboldened.

There are potentially bad side consequences even if a US FONOP. UU. Is successful. Russia has central interests at stake along the North Sea Route. United States no. Russia could reimpose the restrictions of the North Sea Route immediately after a US FONOP. UU. Or deploy more extensive Russian capabilities, making future FONOPs more difficult. Remember that Russian behavior in Crimea, eastern Ukraine and online (regarding electoral interference) continued even in the face of Western sanctions. If Russian behavior did not change in response to heavy penalties, there is little reason to think that it will change after some American ships navigate the North Sea Route.

US officials must also understand that none of this will be done in isolation. A successful FONOP has implications for the US and Canadian dispute over the Northwest Passage, which according to Canada is an internal waterway and a central interest of Canada. Canadians would have to wonder if Americans would feel compelled to actively challenge Canada’s claim, instead of discreetly agreeing to disagree as has been the case since the 1980s. A dispute over the Northwest Passage would further affect cross-border relations, with implications for bilateral political, commercial and security cooperation.

Finally, shipping companies can continue to comply with Russian demands even if a FONOP is successful because the United States cannot maintain a permanent presence on the North Sea Route. Shipping companies are reluctant to travel routes unless they are compensated for the loss, and insurance companies hate the risk. Yes, Russian tolls will inflate shipping costs. [In exchange for being sure of assistance in case something goes wrong in very difficult waters.] However, shipping companies will be pressured by insurance companies to pay a known toll instead of risking the potential cost a lot. older than losing a ship (be it ice, weather or Russians). As a result,

What should be done

Instead of threatening to carry out Arctic FONOPs that are unlikely to promote the interests of the United States, the United States should play the long game. First, the United States should publicly reject Russia’s claims of unilateral control, an action that would be consistent with long-standing US practice regarding international waterways. The United States should launch a counter-narrative focused on Article 19 of the United National Convention on the Law of the Sea, which provides for the innocent passage into territorial waters [It is debatable whether to navigate a military ship through someone’s territorial waters only to making a point constitutes »innocent passage«.], and they argue that Article 234 should only be relevant in the winter, when the ice covers the North Sea Route, instead of applying throughout the year. At the same time, the United States should continue with FONOP where it has more robust capabilities, such as in the South China Sea or the Persian Gulf, to maintain US influence. UU. At the largest point of innocent passage on international waterways. The credibility of the United States does not require a FONOP in all disputed waterways, only in sufficient cases to demonstrate the will to defend international principles.

Russia And The United States Have Started A Game Of Chicken In The Arctic That Could Lead To Unnecessary Military Conflict

Second, Western nations must carefully monitor the Chinese-Russian dialogue on access to the North Sea Route. So far, China has not invested in the infrastructure of the North Sea Route as they have done in Yamal LNG (it is not clear whether it is due to the low expected return on investment or due to Russian policy). China, with two heavy icebreakers and a third under construction, has the potential to challenge Russian control of the NSR and has a significant interest in importing Arctic raw materials. The United States should pay attention to an indicator from China, as if the country ensures a regular supply of raw materials from the European Arctic, particularly rare earth minerals from Greenland or fish stocks from the North Atlantic, Greenland or Norwegian seas. If so,

Third, US officials must recognize, even if only privately, that there is no urgent need to conduct a FONOP in the region. The Russian control of the North Sea Route will have minimal effects on shipping. Statistics suggest that most trips on this route are destination and not truly international. The ships are supporting Yamal LNG projects and other Russian infrastructure developments. Few trips cross the entire North Sea route between Europe and the Pacific. In the long term, control of the sea route could be a moot point from a shipping perspective if a transpolar route becomes viable in 20-30 years.

Finally, the United States needs to rethink Arctic maritime operations to a large extent. It should build icebreakers and surface ships with ice capacity, not for Arctic FONOPs, but to support search and rescue operations and maritime control of Alaskan waters. Those capabilities could also address US defense responsibilities towards NATO allies in Canada, Denmark, Iceland and Norway. Until then, the United States should be very, very cautious about the noise of sabers in the Russian Arctic, and do so only after thinking about the long-term implications of failure and success.

Russia And The United States Have Started A Game Of Chicken In The Arctic That Could Lead To Unnecessary Military Conflict

 

Source: ES News-Front