Way up above 66th parallel north, the jousting and jostling for the mother lode of oil, gas, mineral, fish, and other resources being exposed by the rapidly receding Arctic sea ice is well under way.
Russia is building a new class of nuclear icebreakers. Norway is charting fish-migration patterns for potential new fisheries. Canada is setting up a new Arctic training base and constructing a fleet of new patrol ships. US oil giants are angling to drill exploratory oil and gas wells. And China is sending its flagship icebreaker along the Northern Route.
Not surprisingly, the eight nations that ring the planet's northern cap – the United States, Canada, Russia,Finland, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, and Denmark – are the ones who have largely driven the discussion about access in the Arctic. With the exception of periodic saber-rattling or polar tub-thumping (Exhibit A: Russia's 2007 ocean-floor flag-planting stunt), the discussions have been amicable. That's due in large part to the 17-year-old intergovernmental agency known as the Arctic Council, which has helped soften the edges of growing competition.
"The lure of riches in the Arctic draws ever more companies and nations," said William Moomaw, a professor of international environmental law at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in Medford, Mass. "And so far it's been relatively amicable jousting and jostling there."