Submarine explorers planting Russian flags under the North Pole. Military tension between NATO and Russia. US diplomats manoeuvring in the wings. Aircraft carriers lurking and strike fighters changing hands.

Sound like something from a James Bond plot? Unfortunately it’s not.

New Wikileaks releases today have shown the Arctic oil rush is not just a threat to the environment and our climate, but also to peace.

A polar bear walks along the edge of 'the ice bridge' in the Robeson channel, at 82.4 north, near the border between Greenland and Canada. Polar bears are facing extinction as they are losing vast areas of their sea ice habitat due to global warming.  © Nick Cobbing / GreenpeaceThe documents show how deadly serious the scramble for Arctic resources has become.

And the terrible irony of it is that instead of seeing the melting of the Arctic ice cap as a spur to action on climate change, the leaders of the Arctic nations are instead investing in military hardware to fight for the oil beneath it. They’re preparing to fight to extract the very fossil fuels that caused the melting in the first place. It’s like putting out fire with gasoline.

Here are some of the main points from the leaked cables but stay tuned - there are more to come.

Increased military threats  

The Arctic oil rush risks instability and conflict. In one of the cables, US diplomats refer to “the potential of increased military threats in the Arctic”.

Russian Ambassador to Nato is quoted as saying “The twenty-first century will see a fight for resources, and Russia should not be defeated in this fight… Nato has sense where the wind comes from. It comes from the North.”

In April 2008, Russian Navy head and Admiral Vladimir Vysotsky said “While in the Arctic there is peace and stability, however, one cannot exclude that in the future there will be a redistribution of power, up to armed intervention.”

Russian flag planting is Putin party’s idea

Russia is manoeuvring to claim ownership over huge swathes of the Arctic, as a senior Moscow source reveals that a Russian explorer’s famous expedition to plant a flag on the seabed was ordered by Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party.

Lobbying for the Greenlanders

The US is going to great lengths to cosy up to Greenland, amid concerns over Chinese influence. One cable said: “Our intensified outreach to the Greenlanders will encourage them to resist any false choice between the United States and Europe. It will also strengthen our relationship with Greenland vis-à-vis the Chinese, who have shown increasing interest in Greenland’s natural resource.”

Another cable says “with Greenlandic independence glinting on the horizon, the U.S. has a unique opportunity to shape the circumstances to which an independent nation may emerge. We have real security and growing economic interests in Greenland, for which existing mechanisms may no longer be sufficient. American commercial investments, our continuing strategic military presence, and new high-level scientific and political interest in Greenland argue for establishing a small and seasonal American Presence Post in Greenland’s capital as soon as practicable.”

Tensions in Nato

Canadian leaders are uneasy over Nato plans to project military force in the Arctic in the face of perceived Russian aggression. Steven Harper, Canadian PM is quoted as saying that a Nato presence in the region would give non-Arctic members too much influence in an area where “they don’t belong”.

Justifying military spending

The Norwegian foreign minister thanked his Russian counterpart Lavrov “for making it so much easier to justify the Joint Strike Fighter purchase to the Norwegian public, given Russia’s regular military flights up and down Norway’s coast.”

The ‘benefits’ from global warming

Another cable states that “behind Russia’s (Arctic) policy are two potential benefits accruing from global warming: the prospect for an (even-seasonally) ice-free shipping route from Europe to Asia, and the estimated oil and gas wealth hidden beneath the Arctic sea floor.”

Stay out and miss out

Danish foreign minister Moeller is reported saying to US diplomats that “if you stay out” [of a key maritime convention] “then the rest of us will have more to carve up in the Arctic.”

They go on to report that “Moeller also mused that the new shipping routes [open because of ice melt] and natural resource discoveries would eventually place the region at the centre of world politics”


The cables were published today at 1700 GMT on the website