Global Focus Shifts To The High North.

Well there are climate change deniers all over the world but not among the governments of the countries of the Far North. For countries that have territory about the Arctic Circle, global warming and its effects are very real. These countries include:

  • Canada
  • Denmark
  • Finland
  • Iceland
  • Russia
  • Sweden
  • Norway
  • US

The effects they are observing are not the stuff of tree-hugger rants, but rather an opening of their region to shipping, resource exploitation, tourism, and of course geopolitical rivalry. Global warming in the arctic is reported to be three times the global average and has opened up a world of possibilities, not all of them good.

Russia’s  GDP is estimated to be 25% generated by its arctic territory has a real vested interest in this changing landscape.The Russian military, many of whose northern bases are relics of the Cold War with the US, are being re-militarized. Russia’s biggest concern might be the Northern Sea Route which skirts its northern border and cuts shipping time from Asia to Western Europe by about 2 weeks. Moreover, from the Russian point of view, the US and NATO are uncomfortably active on the periphery of its territory.

The US has its own interests in the arctic. The first is with its NATO allies who must surely be heartened by the fact that the Biden administration has placed such emphasis on its alliances, particularly the key one with its traditional European friends. For example, the US signed a revised agreement with Norway in April allowing it to build facilities in the country with a view toward countering Russian moves in the region. Many analysts see the US playing catch up with the Russians who have been taking their arctic borders seriously for a long time, and who have put in resources to ensure their ability to compete if not dominate all comers. ( For example: Russia has 40 icebreakers vs. just 2 for the US.)

And then there is China. China doesn’t appear on the list of countries with territory in the arctic, but since 2018 China has been referred to as a “near Arctic” country. Clearly, China’s main interest in the High North is with regard to its Belt and Road program. Russia may cast a wary eye on Chinese moves to become a player in arctic development and research feeling hemmed in by its neighbor.

In May 2020 the Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting was held and Russia assumed the chair. The message to come out of the meeting was one of peace and stability for the region, and the meeting was of such importance that both US Secretary of State Tony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Serge Lavrov took time to make an appearance.

Peace and stability for the region seems like a good thing, and if cooperation is the order of the day it is good. However, with competition heating up, and activity in the region showing no signs of slowing down, it may be just a matter of time before misunderstandings and disagreements arise.

Regardless, it looks like thinkers and planners around the globe from the government and the military will have to add this region to their portfolio of early 21st century potential flashpoints.

Photo: Martha de Jong-Lantik via flickr



Canada’s PM Justin Trudeau–Still On The Job.

It’s been almost 5 years since Justin Trudeau took office as the second-youngest prime minister of Canada. It has not been a particularly smooth ride, but Mr.Trudeau has endured, and some might say triumphed.

Mr. Trudeau’s troubles have come in the area of domestic politics and international relations. In the era of “gotcha” politics Mr. Trudeau has made a couple of slips which his opponents have capitalized on. He has had to apologize for appearing at a party dressed in “blackface” in his younger days, and recently he has been involved in an incident with the WE Charity that his family is involved in and which got government support, suggesting a conflict of interest.

Voters seem to have accepted his apologies and explanations, however the 2019 election was close and he was forced to form a minority government, suggesting his popularity with the voters has slipped a bit over the firs 4 years.

Internationally, Mr. Trudeau has to deal with his neighbor to the south in the form of US President Donald Trump. Trump and Trudeau have an on-again, off-again relationship. In the 2019 London Summit of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Trump pushed Trudeau about Canada’s NATO spending which is still under 2% GDP. Trump presses everyone’s button about that, so it was not unusual, and Mr. Trudeau was reported to have said that Canada had, in fact, increased its defense spending. Later Mr. Trudeau was overheard joking with other leaders to which Mr. Trump took offense and referred to him as “two faced.” In July 2020 there was a formal signing of the new American trade agreement, USMCA, in the US. The Mexican president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, was able to attend, but Mr. Trudeau had other engagements and was not able to attend.

In early August 2020, President Trump announced the redisposition of tariffs on Canadian aluminum citing national security concerns. Canada quickly hit back with its own tariffs on US products. One might wonder why start a trade war with an ally and neighbor, but Mr. Trudeau and the rest of the world know that Mr. Trump is set to run in a very tight bid for reelection, and such protectionist measures play very well to his 30% hard-core “America first” base.

Good news for Mr. Trudeau is the approval from his countrymen that he has gotten for handling Canada’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Canada’s numbers are, relatively speaking, good and Mr. Trudeau and his government has gotten a lot of credit for this. Some of the shine for this achievement seems to have worn off temporarily over the We Charity incident.

Well, there are no term limits for Canada’s Prime Minister, so it is hard to say how long Mr. Trudeau will hold on to his job. But if conditions improve worldwide with the controlling of COVID-19, and a change of government brings a more globally-minded US government as his nearest neighbor, then who knows how long we will be seeing the face of Canada being the face of Justin Trudeau? It is hard to tell, but if he has led his country in the tough times, then maybe he and his party will be chosen to lead in more congenial times.

Photo: via wikipedia