New Wikileaks Revelations Shed light on Arctic Oil Carve-up
by Michelle Frey
May 12, 2011
Greenpeace warns growing military tension poses threat to peace.
New revelations by the whistle-blowing website Wikileaks show how the scramble for resources in the Arctic is sparking military tension in the region – with NATO sources worried about the potential for armed conflict between the alliance and Russia.
The release of previously unpublished US embassy cables also shows the extent to which Russia is maneuvering to claim ownership over huge swathes of the Arctic, with one senior Moscow source revealing that a Russian explorer’s famous submarine expedition to plant a flag on the seabed beneath the North Pole was ordered by Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party.
One cable details the lengths to which the U.S. is going to carve out a strong position in Greenland, and the concerns Washington has over Chinese maneuvering on the Danish autonomous island.
The dispatch states: “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-a-vis the Chinese, who have shown increasing interest in Greenland’s natural resource.”
Tensions within NATO are also exposed, as Canadian leaders privately express disquiet over the alliance’s mooted plans to project military force in the Arctic in the face of perceived Russian aggression. Recently re-elected Canadian PM Stephen Harper is quoted by diplomats as saying that a NATO presence in the region would give non-Arctic members of the Western alliance too much influence in an area where “they don’t belong”.
Meanwhile the Norwegian foreign minister relates privately how, during his March 2009 visit to Moscow, he sarcastically 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.”
In another cable U.S. diplomats refer to “the potential of increased military threats in the Arctic.” A further U.S. diplomatic dispatch 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.”
The cables were published today on the website www.wikileaks.ch.
Senior politicians from the Arctic nations – including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton – are meeting this week at the Arctic Council meeting in Greenland to discuss issues including oil exploration and climate change.
Greenpeace oil campaigner Ben Ayliffe reacting to the release of the new cables, said:
“These latest Wikileaks revelations expose something profoundly concerning. 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 pouring gasoline on a fire.”
In one cable the then Danish foreign minister Moeller discusses delays in US ratification of a key maritime convention.
“If you stay out,” Moeller is quoted as privately telling the Americans, “then the rest of us will have more to carve up in the Arctic.”
In another cable the extent to which the United States sees Greenland as the site of significant US commercial interests is revealed – with American diplomats calling for the establishment of a bigger US presence on the island before boasting about introducing Greenland’s two most powerful politicians to “top U.S. financial institutions in New York”. Another cable quotes Danish foreign minister Moeller’s opinion that “new shipping routes and natural resource discoveries would eventually place the region at the center of world politics.” The head of the Russian navy is quoted as saying “one cannot exclude that in the future there will be a redistribution of power, up to armed intervention.”
Ben Ayliffe of Greenpeace continued:
“As so often before, this new military build-up is all about oil. We need our political leaders to make a final push to get us off oil by investing in the clean, cutting-edge technologies that can power our economies without destroying the environment or sparking tension amid the icebergs and glaciers of the High North. Rather than pumping oil out of the Arctic, we should be extracting it from our car engines by making them much more efficient.”
This week the government of Greenland awarded licenses to Cairn Energy to drill for oil off Disko Island. The approval of the permits means that this year oil drilling off the pristine Greenland coast will happen further north, at greater depths and deeper into the winter months than ever before.
** A cable numbered 12958 details a conversation between US diplomats and then Danish foreign minister Moeller, in which they discuss delays in US ratification of a key maritime convention. “If you stay out,” Moeller is quoted as telling the Americans, “then the rest of us will have more to carve up in the Arctic.”
** In a 2009 cable (number 222559) the famed Russian explorer Chilingarov (a member of the State Duma – the Russian parliament) is quoted calling for Russia to withdraw from a key convention “so that Russia could stake a greater claim to the region’s sea bed.” Chilingarov achieved passing international notoriety in 2007 when he used a submarine to plant a Russian flag on the seabed beneath the North Pole, in the process claiming a huge swathe of the Arctic and its resources for Russia. It was thought at the time that the high-profile land-grab was made on Chilingarov’s own initiative, but the cable tells a different story. A senior Russian politician – named in the cable with instructions to carefully protect his identity – reveals to U.S. diplomats that Chilingarov was in fact acting on the orders of Prime Minster Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party. He cable states: “Chilingarov called for Russia to withdraw from the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) so that Russia could stake a greater claim to the region’s sea bed (a claim he tried to bolster when he planted a Russian flag below the North Pole in August 2007). (Name and position redacted) told us Chilingarov was following orders from the ruling United Russia party.”
** A 2010 cable (number 248929) quotes Russian Ambassador to NATO Dmitriy Rogozin saying: “The twenty-first century will see a fight for resources, and Russia should not be defeated in this fight … NATO has sensed where the wind comes from. It comes from the North.”
** A 2007 cable (number 129049) shows how the U.S, is positioning to take advantage of any oil strike off Greenland. The cable states: “Greenland is on a clear track toward independence, which could come more quickly than most outside the Kingdom of Denmark realize… With Greenlandic independence glinting on the horizon, the U.S. has a unique opportunity to shape the circumstances in which an independent nation may emerge. We have real security and growing economic interests in Greenland, for which existing Joint and Permanent Committee mechanisms (described reftel A) 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… One senior Greenlandic official commented recently that his country (Greenlanders and many Danes alike routinely refer to Greenland as a “”country””) is “”just one big oil strike away”” from economic and political independence… Chevron and ExxonMobil are part of an international consortium exploring off Greenland’s western coast, and the U.S. Geological Survey is completing an assessment of Greenland’s potential oil and gas reserves. Its initial findings suggest Greenland might have reserves to rival Alaska’s North Slope. To help the Greenlanders secure the investments needed for such exploitation, I recently introduced Home Rule Premier Enoksen and Minister of Finance and Foreign Affairs Aleqa Hammond to some of our top U.S. financial institutions in New York.”
** In a 2008 cable (number 169680) – marked ‘Sensitive’ it is stated: “Embassy strongly believes release of the new Arctic Policy National Security Presidential Directive/Homeland Security Presidential Directive during Canada’s federal election campaign has the potential to insert the United States as an issue in the campaign and negatively impact U.S.-Canadian relations. Embassy requests Washington agencies to delay the release of the new policy until after the October 14 election. End summary.”
** In a 2010 cable (number 244500) the dispute with Canada is fleshed out: ““Canada wants to see strong and capable expeditionary forces within NATO, and rejects any “”sphere of influence”” for Russia. Canada opposes a NATO role in the Arctic.” According to PM Harper, Canada has a good working relationship with Russia with respect to the Arctic, and a NATO presence could backfire by exacerbating tensions. He commented that there is no likelihood of Arctic states going to war, but that some non-Arctic members favored a NATO role in the Arctic because it would afford them influence in an area where “”they don’t belong.””
** Cable number 129049 (dated November 2007) expands on the lengths to which the U.S. is going to carve out a strong position in Greenland and the concerns America has over Chinese maneuvering: “Our international visitor invitations, English teaching programs and joint scientific/environmental projects have reinforced Greenlandic desires for a closer relationship with the United States, just as Greenland assumes ever-greater charge of its international relations and edges closer to full independence. 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-a-vis the Chinese, who have shown increasing interest in Greenland’s natural resources… While Greenland has long been believed to possess significant hydrocarbon and mineral stocks, only in the last three to four years — with the rise in world oil prices — have international investors have begun to seriously explore Greenland’s potential. An American Presence Post in Greenland would provide us with the needed diplomatic platform to seek out new opportunities and advance growing USG interests in Greenland.
** Cable number 134881, (dated December 2007) sheds light on growing military tensions between Norway and NATO on one hand, and Russia on the other: “Norway is undergoing a philosophical, bureaucratic and public debate on what its defense policy, obligations and needs will be for the next five to ten years. The outcome will have significant implications for Norway’s ability to fulfill NATO obligations as well as its ability to cope with the potential of increased military threats in the Arctic. Recent Russian aircraft carrier activity off Norway’s coast caused FM Stoere to joke at a meeting attended by the Ambassador that Russia is helping us refute those who question our need for fighter aircraft. We are watching how increased Russian activity affects defense policy and budget debates. The decisions made by the GON on the Defense Studies, recommendations on funding, the purchase of new aircraft and on its relations to its neighbors will have a significant impact on Norway’s ability and desire to meet NATO commitments and spark a reassessment of Norway’s defense policies.”
** Cable number 198148 (dated March 2009) quotes the Danish Foreign Minister Moeller’s opinion about the growing importance of the Arctic region: “The Secretary noted deep U.S. interest in the Arctic and our commitment to doing more in cooperation with Denmark and others. Moller (sic) mused that new shipping routes and natural resource discoveries would eventually place the region at the center of world politics.”
** Cable 208631 (from 2009) states the U.S. belief 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… Despite on-going efforts to renew U.S.-Russian relations, some Russian voices have called the situation in the Arctic a “”cold peace”” vis-a-vis NATO and the U.S. In April 2008, Russian Navy head 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 Ambassador to NATO Dmitriy Rogozin in a January 30 interview with Vesti-24 said that “”The twenty-first century will see a fight for resources, and Russia should not be defeated in this fight… NATO has sensed where the wind comes from. It comes from the North.””
** In cable 222375 from 2009 Norway’s foreign minister Stoere describes “how, during his March 2009 visit to Moscow, he thanked FM Lavrov for making it so much easier for him to justify the Joint Strike Fighter purchase to the Norwegian public, given Russia’s regular military flights up and down Norway’s coast… Deputy Defense Minister Barth-Eide and MOD DG for Security Policy Svein Efjestad shared similar concerns about potentially provoking Russia, but had no hesitation in recommending NATO re-flagging of existing training and exercises in the High North in the near term. They were confident such exercises could be presented as part of the normal, routine training for NATO’s defense of Article 5 guarantees throughout Europe.”