The geopolitics of Arctic natural ressources

31-08-2010

The paper assesses the importance of Arctic resources from geopolitical, economic and legal perspectives. It examines estimates of oil and gas deposits; the outlook for exploitation; jurisdictional and maritime claims; questions of governance, and the potential for geopolitical friction. While the Arctic is estimated to contain about 13% of the world’s undiscovered oil and 30% of its gas, the extraction viability – in the foreseeable future – is questionable. This applies especially to gas because of the shale gas “revolution” and high development and production costs. Overlapping territorial claims do not require urgent solutions; they are more likely to postpone resource development than to create inter-state conflicts. There is, however, ambivalence about governance due to the absence of a UN enforcement mechanism to resolve disputes; the Arctic Council’s lack of political influence; and uncertainty over whether the meetings of the Arctic Ocean states will be turned into an institutionalized decision-making venue. This ambiguity – when coupled with increased pressure by actors, such as the European Union and China, for increased internationalization of the Arctic – could produce friction among the Arctic states and between them and non-Arctic states and organizations. Thus, while the Arctic is currently a low tension area, the long-term geopolitical conflict risks are much greater.

The paper assesses the importance of Arctic resources from geopolitical, economic and legal perspectives. It examines estimates of oil and gas deposits; the outlook for exploitation; jurisdictional and maritime claims; questions of governance, and the potential for geopolitical friction. While the Arctic is estimated to contain about 13% of the world’s undiscovered oil and 30% of its gas, the extraction viability – in the foreseeable future – is questionable. This applies especially to gas because of the shale gas “revolution” and high development and production costs. Overlapping territorial claims do not require urgent solutions; they are more likely to postpone resource development than to create inter-state conflicts. There is, however, ambivalence about governance due to the absence of a UN enforcement mechanism to resolve disputes; the Arctic Council’s lack of political influence; and uncertainty over whether the meetings of the Arctic Ocean states will be turned into an institutionalized decision-making venue. This ambiguity – when coupled with increased pressure by actors, such as the European Union and China, for increased internationalization of the Arctic – could produce friction among the Arctic states and between them and non-Arctic states and organizations. Thus, while the Arctic is currently a low tension area, the long-term geopolitical conflict risks are much greater.

Ekstern forfatter

Valur INGIMUNDARSON, University of Iceland