The next front?

Think tank: Civitas

Author(s): Robert Clark; Roberto White

June 17, 2022

This report from UK think tank Civitas looks at Sino-Russian expansionism in the Arctic and a UK response.

In this latest publication from the Defence and Security Unit (DSU) at Civitas, Robert Clark and Roberto White highlight the growing risks of Russian and Chinese expansion into the Arctic, calling for a new Canada, UK, US (CAUKUS) defence and security pact to counter Putin’s aggressive Arctic expansionism, and growing Chinese ambition. Former soldier, Robert Clark cautions that military chiefs need to realise the threat posed by Russia and China in the Arctic. This report estimates that the value of natural minerals and gases in the Russian arctic region could be worth up to US$30 trillion dollars. Beijing is also now rapidly increasing its Arctic footprint, sending icebreakers and establishing research stations and observatories in European Arctic countries, including with possible ‘dual-use’ (military and civilian) purposes.

China has recently described itself as a “near Arctic” state despite being further away from the Arctic than most of Africa is to the UK. In the last decade Russia has opened 50 new arctic military facilities and is increasingly moving its nuclear deterrent to the Artic. This new Russian aggression is part of a wider Kremlin strategy to exploit the Arctic. Robert Clark uncovers the extent to which Arctic provides Vladimir Putin with an economic life-line after mass Western sanctions following the invasion of Ukraine: Russia values Arctic mineral deposits worth over US$30 trillion in areas controlled by the Kremlin Vladimir Putin is about to pass a law requiring Russian pilotage of all vessels looking to use the Arctic Northern Sea Route on the Russian border. New Russian laws will ban foreign ships from shipping Russian oil, gas, coal and hydrocarbons along this route as well as foreign ice-breaking and navigation along the coastline. Clark warns that huge unexplored Russian natural resources in the Artic could allow Russia to shift supplies of oil and gas to China, further deepening ties between the two authoritarian regimes. It is estimated that a third of the world’s undiscovered natural gas lies underneath the Arctic.

In response Robert Clark has called on the Prime Minister and defence chiefs to set up a new Canada, UK, US (CAUKUS) defence and security pact to protect the Arctic and stop Russian expansion plans. The CAUKUS pact would be modelled on the recent AUKUS agreement and would include sending UK nuclear submarines to the Canadian Arctic border to help reassure the Royal Canadian Navy, and warn off Vladimir Putin and Xi Jingping. This new group would bring together like-minded allies to halt aggressive Russian and Chinese Arctic plans. Earlier this year British defence chiefs set out a 12 page Arctic Strategy, as Defence Secretary Ben Wallace is now being encouraged to “wake up” to the threat of Russia controlling new global trade routes to dominate the next century. A renewed alliance with two of Britain’s strongest allies to thwart Russia and China would ensure that Putin is unable to use the Arctic to control global trade, extend Russian military might, and extend favourable terms to Beijing.