Opportunities in the Melting Arctic

By Halaschak, Zachary | Examiner (Washington, D.C.), The, May 17, 2019 | Go to article overview

Opportunities in the Melting Arctic


Halaschak, Zachary, Examiner (Washington, D.C.), The


As ice in the Arctic region continues to melt as a result of climate change, the U.S. is hoping to capitalize on the new opportunities for trade and transportation the Arctic could offer while simultaneously combating potential geopolitical threats posed by the melting ice.

Speaking in Finland this month to members of the Arctic Council, a group of eight nations whose territories border the Arctic region, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that new sea lanes would allow ships to reduce the time it takes to get between continents.

“Steady reductions in sea ice are opening new naval passageways and new opportunities for trade, potentially slashing the time it takes for ships to travel between Asia and the West by 20 days,” Pompeo told the group, which included foreign ministers from Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, and Sweden. “Arctic sea lanes could become the 21st century’s Suez and Panama canals.”

“We’re entering a new age of strategic engagement in the Arctic, complete with new threats to Arctic interests and its real estate,” Pompeo said.

[Related: US rebuffs China's attempt to play a role in governing the Arctic]

Despite Pompeo’s acknowledgment that the sea ice in the Arctic is melting, Finnish Foreign Minister Timo Soini said disagreements about climate change were the reason that no joint resolution between the countries was able to be produced during the meeting. A short statement was issued instead, reaffirming the council’s “commitment to the well-being of the inhabitants of the Arctic, to sustainable development, and to the protection of the Arctic environment.”

Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, told the Washington Examiner that he was pleased with Pompeo’s speech, noting that residents of America’s only Arctic state should be happy that the Trump administration is recognizing opportunities that exist in the region.

“At long last, we have an administration that understands the Arctic’s unique ecosystem, but also sees in the area huge opportunities for our country and for the people of the Arctic,” Sullivan said. “Secretary Pompeo said that this is ‘America’s moment to stand up as an Arctic nation and for the Arctic’s future.’ I couldn’t agree more.”

Alaska’s other senator, Republican Lisa Murkowski, told the Washington Examiner that she also sees the opportunities that come with the thinning sea ice but warned that with the positive aspects of new routes come more destructive consequences of climate change.

[Also read: China's Arctic ambitions threaten the West, Pompeo warns in Europe]

“Historically, the ... Northwest Passage [waterways] have been virtually impassable because they were covered by thick, year-round sea ice, but those sea routes could be intermittently open in the relatively near future. These shortened routes will deliver materials to their destination more quickly and save money along the way. …

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