Geopolitics and the Northern Sea Route
Version of Record online: 20 JAN 2012
© 2012 The Author(s). International Affairs © 2012 The Royal Institute of International Affairs.
Volume 88, Issue 1, pages 115–129, January 2012
How to Cite
BLUNDEN, M. (2012), Geopolitics and the Northern Sea Route. International Affairs, 88: 115–129. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-2346.2012.01060.x
- Issue online: 20 JAN 2012
- Version of Record online: 20 JAN 2012
Experimental transit voyages along the Northern Sea Route to the north of Russia are breaking new ground each year and the route is already significant for the export of raw materials from Russian ports. National and corporate interests are now driving Russia's Arctic policy, rather than, as formerly, an exclusive focus on security, and the Russian government has ambitious plans for the development of the route. Future regular transit of the Northern Sea Route between Europe and Asia, at present facing serious obstacles, could be accelerated not only by climate change, but by overload on, or interruptions to, the existing route through the Suez Canal, which passes through some of the world's most volatile regions. Despite the formidable impediments to regular year round transit of the Northern Sea Route, governments of the non-Arctic states with most at stake, particularly Germany and China, appear to be taking no chances, and to be jockeying for influence in the Arctic region. The interests of the non-Arctic trading states, and of the European Union, more inclined to view the Arctic Ocean as part of the ‘common heritage of mankind’, are however potentially different from those of Russia, and indeed of Canada in respect of the North East passage, both determined to maintain their exclusive national jurisdiction over emerging sea lanes through their territorial waters. Great issues are at stake here. The emergence of new sea lanes has historically impacted heavily on the international balance of power. Where the merchant fleets go, navies will shortly follow.