NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

U.S. Gets Frozen Out of the Arctic

September 4, 2015

This week, leaders from around the world met in Anchorage, Alaska for the "Global Leadership in the Arctic" conference. While the main topic on the agenda was climate change, the United States' interests in the area are much more expansive.

Arctic territories are of great interest due to the increased navigability. Arctic sea routes, once open, will dramatically reduce shipping times resulting in lower fuel costs and emissions. Both Russia and China have expressed interest in the area, yet the U.S. lack of leadership in Arctic issues could have severe implications.

  • The U.S. currently has only two functioning icebreakers, while Russia leads the rest of the world with 22 icebreakers.
  • The U.S. Senate continues to refuse to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, even though 165 other nations have signed.
  • Estimates from the U.S. Geological Survey place roughly 13 percent of the world's undiscovered oil and 30 percent of undiscovered natural gas in the Arctic.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has aggressively stated that any ships passing through large portions of the Arctic may soon be required to pay transit fees to Russia. With other nations' increased interest in the Arctic, it is curious that the U.S. still seems disengaged, choosing instead to spend a week only discussing climate change.

Source:  James M. Loy, "U.S. Gets Frozen Out of the Arctic," Bloomberg, August 31, 2015.

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