The Arctic has long been a point of contention between the world’s superpowers. Russia, Canada, the United States and more have all staked claims to the Arctic’s vast expanse. This expanse, filled with precious natural resources, has become increasingly valuable to a fossil fuel-dependent world.
On August 17, the United States finally gave Shell permission to drill for oil in the Arctic just north of Alaska. Last week, Russia drew the ire of the world yet again (classic, Russia) by staking claim to more than 460,000 square miles of Arctic territory. They delivered the data to the United Nations, hoping for an official recognition of their claim. News of the claim comes just months after Russia conducted a series of massive military exercises in the Arctic.
So what does all of this geopolitical activity in the Arctic actually mean? Is it a territorial fist fight? One could assume that, especially considering Russia and the United States have long been infatuated with outdoing each other. But Science Alert reassures that Russia’s land grab isn’t anything to get riled up about, and it’s certainly no start to another Cold War. As an August 18 Science Alert article explains, Russia first made the claim for new land back in 2001. This month’s stake is just an updated version of that original claim, this time with a slightly larger amount of land (103,000 square kilometers more, to be exact).
So put down the pitchforks. Russia’s not doing anything suspicious in the Arctic — at least not when it comes to claiming land. Philip Steinberg, professor of political geography at Durham University and director for the Centre for Borders Research at Durham University (IBRU), writes for The Conversation, “In the context of Russia’s expansion into non-Arctic territories (notably in Crimea), the revised Russian claim has struck the media as another tale of Russian expansion.”
“In short, little is actually happening on the international seabed – in the Arctic or elsewhere – other than states using science to claim the limited economic rights that are reserved for them by international law,” Steinberg writes. “These filings should therefore be celebrated as reaffirmations of the will toward peace and stability, rather than feared as unilateral acts of aggression.”
In fact, if you take a look at the mapping of the Arctic sea bed provided by the IBRU, most of the territorial claims made in the Arctic overlap. Steinberg explains that the various countries claiming ownership of the Arctic have always worked closely together to create and update geographical maps of the region.