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Executive Summary: Security Challenges In The Arctic

Team: Martyna Dobrowolska, Katelyn Ferguson, CRIME

Week of: April 19, 2021

Iceberg in the Arctic[1]

The rapid glacial melt in the Arctic is shifting international interests towards undiscovered natural resources in the region, such as oil and gas. Countries such as Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, and the United States (US) have been trying to claim jurisdiction over several areas in the Northern Arctic in order to benefit from these natural resources. However, Russia specifically has recently been increasing its military presence in the area by expanding its military bases and weapons training facilities. This has allowed Russia to maintain a large presence in the Arctic for its military-political, economic, technological, and environmental interests.[2] Given the increasing presence of Russian forces in the Arctic, it is very likely that the aforementioned countries will follow Russia’s lead, which may result in the overall militarization of the Arctic and increase competition over a limited supply of natural resources. Furthermore, the glacial melt is likely to create new opportunities for organized criminal groups to exploit commercial Arctic routes, which means that it is crucial that states establish advanced maritime security measures to combat these potential threats. Lastly, despite countries’ interests in taking advantage of the natural resources in the Arctic, maritime safety and climate change concerns should be considered a priority before any action is taken to expand regional presence in the Arctic.


Global warming is an ongoing controversial debate—international government organizations have been attempting to raise awareness about global warming for decades. Yet with a recent global trend in directing state resources towards expanding globalization and industrialization efforts, numerous biomes throughout the world have suffered negative consequences. These include increased greenhouse gases circulating and depleting the ozone layer, deforestation, destruction of habitats, forced displacement of indigenous communities and wildlife, and so forth.[3]

Global warming specifically has had several large-scale effects in the Arctic region, one of the most salient today being glaciers rapidly melting. Researchers have deemed glaciers to be crucial to the Earth’s ecosystem because the ice acts like a protective cover over the Earth and our oceans by reflecting excess heat into space.[4] With the glaciers melting in the Arctic due to global warming, not only will the temperature of the Earth continue to rise and change weather systems on an international level,[5] but sea levels will also rise, causing the forced displacement of wildlife and local populations.

Amidst this escalating issue, countries have shifted their interest in the Arctic’s economic potential—primarily to discover new shipping routes and natural resources that are beneficial to the production of consumer goods. The Arctic is rich in gas and oil; hence, different states throughout the world are currently seeking to exploit these popular resources to enrich their national economy and possibly become the next global modern hegemon. To claim jurisdiction particularly over the resource-heavy northern areas of the Arctic, international actors have been increasing their military presence in the region through weapon testing, training, and military bases. The Russian military has spearheaded this movement by testing their new weapons in the area, such as the Poseidon 2M39 Torpedo and the Tsirkon anti-ship hypersonic cruise missile—which have been referred to as superweapons by weapons experts.[6] The continued testing of such weapons and an increased global focus on the region to do so will very likely contribute to long-term environmental destruction in the Arctic and throughout the world. In fact, weapon testing might destroy the environment both ecologically and socially. These tests contaminate both the land and the marine environment affecting local food. As a consequence, the place becomes uninhabitable and many people are forced to migrate to different locations. The Russian Torpedo specifically contains a fragile nuclear reactor, which may produce significant negative environmental consequences if used incorrectly, as seen in the Chernobyl nuclear accident in 1986.[7]

Currently, the United States Air Force also has a fairly large presence in the Arctic. They have reported high levels of Russian military presence in the region, as well as recent attempts by China to normalize its presence in the Arctic to gain access to regional resources.[8] While the Russian military has directed its focus towards testing out new weapons, the Chinese military has been actively attempting to gain access to over 90 barrels of oil and an estimated trillion dollars’ worth of rare earth metals that are found throughout the Arctic region.[9] Increasing state activities in the Arctic and a growing interest in the extraction of natural resources without considering any harmful consequences will likely have a negative impact on the environment. In particular, this will affect local communities that heavily rely on the fishing sector, as more trading ships will lead to an increase in contaminated water and the fish within it that locals hunt for subsistence.

Lastly, this developing interest in the Arctic stands to impact the security environment of the region. With international attention directed towards the melting of the glaciers, it will become easier for organized criminal organizations to access the Arctic region largely unnoticed. This is because the previously unavailable travel routes are becoming more accessible via an increased number of ships and planes, which are expediting the legal shipping processes. There is a high chance that criminals will try to infiltrate commercial Arctic routes to engage in various illegal activities, which include but are not limited to human trafficking, drug trafficking, wildlife trafficking, weapons trafficking, frauds, attacks on cruise ships, and illegal fishing.[10] It is thus imperative to shed a light on criminal activities that may occur with an increased presence in the Arctic for state governments and policymakers in order to highlight the need for an increase in security measures.

International actors must therefore recognize and assess future security threats in the Arctic, as well as raise people’s awareness regarding maritime security. Given the states’ growing interests in the abundance of natural resources in the region, traditional political cooperation between Arctic state officials and international actors seems to be under increasing stress, but it is still strong enough to facilitate negotiations and diplomatic discussions.[11] It is important to draw states’ attention towards strengthening this cooperation and collaboration to create common measures that can detect, monitor, and eventually prevent potential maritime criminal activities. In order to increase the success rate of this collaborative plan, states should recognize that more funding must be given to existing maritime surveillance systems and that transparent intelligence-sharing between both parties is crucial for productivity. Additionally, some world leaders are publicly sharing examples of criminal activity that are directly correlated to global warming and environmental destruction, which has been largely referred to as “ecocide”.[12] If increased worldwide support were to be gained in order to criminalize ecocide by more media coverage, people may rally around politicians and organizations to support slowing or stopping the process of global environmental destruction. To ensure that this issue is receiving enough coverage, The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) will continue to monitor news sources and social media that discuss global warming in the Arctic and the security challenges to increased state presence in the region. The Crime Team specifically will produce more reports on this problem, and provide new recommendations to the states, organizations, and state/non-state actors focused on combating both global warming and crime in the Arctic. Lastly, CTG recognizes that it is paramount that the counterterrorism community acknowledges the existence of crime in the Arctic and raises awareness of the wider implications of climate change to policymakers before further environmental destruction takes place.

________________________________________________________________________ The Counterterrorism Group (CTG)

[2] Russia’s Arctic activity to increase with fresh strategy and more capability tests, Defense News, April 2021,

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Satellite images show huge Russian military buildup in the Arctic, CNN, April 2021,

[7] Ibid.

[8] Air Force Reveals Cold Facts on New Arctic Strategy, U.S. Department of Defense, July 2020,

[9] Ibid.

[10] Organized Crime in the Arctic, Arctic Portal, July 2009,

[11] Military and Environmental Challenges in the Arctic, Carnegie Europe, November 2019,

[12] 'Ecocide' movement pushes for a new international crime: Environmental destruction, NBC News, April 2021,



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