Throughout recorded history, the area has been too remote, cold and dark to be of much interest to national governments. Now, their perspectives are changing as greater access to resources and shipping becomes one of few positive consequences of climate change. Experts say the Arctic Ocean could be ice-free in summer by 2050, perhaps even earlier. Ice shrank to a record low in September 2007.
While many experts say nations can easily get along in the region, climate change is rekindling long-irrelevant disputes. They include a Russian-Danish disagreement over ownership of the seabed beneath the North Pole, as well as arguments over how far Canada controls the Northwest Passage — which the United States says is an international waterway.
“It will be a new ocean in a critical strategic area,” said Lee Willett, head of the marine studies programme at the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies in London. Predicting wide competition in the Arctic area, Willett said: “The main way to project influence and safeguard interests there will be use of naval forces.”
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