The U.S. is preparing for war in the Arctic, and the “boiling point” might not be far away, Brian Cloughley writes.
On April 8 the front pages of the main U.S. newspapers noted that President Biden was “open to compromise” and a quick glance prompted optimism that Uncle Joe might be seeing some sense about international developments. He said that “Debate is welcome. Compromise is inevitable. Changes are certain,” which is a deep and important statement that would be immensely heartening if it referred to U.S. relations with China and Russia.
Alas, his words referred to purely domestic affairs, in that the White House was preparing to compromise with the blinkered Republican Party which is intent on defending business interests — and especially those concerned with weapons’ production — at the expense of the average citizen. Joe declared that he is “sick and tired of ordinary people being fleeced,” which is an understandable point of view. But the way he’s heading in foreign policy means that these ordinary people, and everyone else in the U.S. and all round the world, may well be conned, and possibly terminally. They are facing ever-increasing danger of being destroyed, because Joe is backing the sabre-brandishers in their encouragement of confrontation and provocation that could well lead to major war.
Make no mistake : there is going to be no such thing as “limited” war if the U.S.-Nato military alliance continues to goad and antagonise Russia and China. If there is a clash of military forces there will be escalation, and the ensuing conflict will inevitably heighten the risk of nuclear exchanges which would destroy the planet.
The scene-setting by Washington’s military-industrial complex and in the Pentagon’s sub-office in Brussels includes warnings about a Russian “buildup” in the Arctic, as reported by CNN which quoted a Pentagon representative as saying “Russia is refurbishing Soviet-era airfields and radar installations, constructing new ports and search-and-rescue centres, and building up its fleet of nuclear and conventionally-powered icebreakers.” This activity is indeed taking place, and is happening in Russian sovereign territory, which has nothing to do with the Pentagon or anyone else. It’s not in any way similar to the U.S. military’s overseas “forward military presence” of some 200,000 troops in over 800 bases around the world.
USA Today states that Trump “opened additional bases in Afghanistan, Estonia, Cyprus, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Israel, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Niger, Norway, Palau, the Philippines, Poland, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Slovakia, Somalia, Syria and Tunisia”, which seems pretty impressive, but in reality-land is entirely counter-productive. And it seems that Uncle Joe isn’t going to close down any of them.
It is unfortunate that so many of these bases have proved totally useless in practical terms, but this doesn’t stop or even slow down the Pentagon’s global expansion. In spite of all the bases in Afghanistan, for example, a chaotic civil war still rages. As USA Today observes, “The 19-year-old conflict has cost more than $2 trillion and more than 2,300 American lives. More than 38,000 Afghan civilians have been killed. And yet the Taliban controls vast swaths of the country, which continues to be wracked by violence…” So what have all these U.S. bases accomplished? What do they achieve anywhere, other than apprehension and reaction on the part of those whom they are designed to threaten?
In a world already aflame with conflict, one of the most recent threats to peace is growing in the Arctic, where the U.S. is intent on increasing its military capabilities. Forward deployments and operations have so far included flights over the Barents Sea by USAF B-1 Lancer strategic bombers based at Ørland in Norway, where the large air base “is important not only for Norway, but also for NATO. The air station is the base of F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, F-16 fighter aircraft, B-1B strategic bombers, Westland Sea King search and rescue helicopters and a location for E-3A Sentry AWACS…”
The ominous focus of Washington on the Arctic is allegedly justified by Russia’s legitimate improvement of its defence facilities in its own sovereign territory. The Pentagon’s official position is that “Obviously we’re watching this, and as I said before, we have national security interests there that we know we need to protect and defend.” The spokesman then declared (presumably being unaware of the U.S. strategic bomber deployment and other military operations), that “nobody’s interested in seeing the Arctic become militarized.”
The Arctic has always been an important region but has assumed greater significance since global warming resulted in extensive ice-melt and opening of seaways including what is now called the Northern Sea Route or NSR. The Arctic Bulk commercial group, based in Switzerland, describes the NSR as “a shipping lane between the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean along the Russian coast of Siberia and the Far East, crossing five Arctic Seas.” Further — and never mentioned by the Pentagon or the U.S. media — the NSR is located entirely within Russia’s Exclusive Economic Zone.
On April 5 the Pentagon announced that “the region is key terrain that’s vital to our own homeland defence and as a potential strategic corridor between the Indo-Pacific, Europe and the homeland — which would make it vulnerable to expanded competition.”
It was not explained how a commercial shipping route could affect Washington’s “homeland defence”, or what “expanded competition” there could be, but Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg made that feature clear in Deutsche Welle on March 22 when he said “The melting of the ice in the Arctic could lead to the heating up of geopolitical tensions between different powers in the world. We have seen the increased military presence of Russia. They’re opening up Soviet military facilities in the Arctic.”
China is also a threat, according to Stoltenberg, but the main one in the north is identified as Russia, so in addition to U.S. strategic bomber flights there have been other war preparations involving Nato countries, including a deployment in which “U.S. Marines and Sailors with Marine Rotational Force-Europe 21.1 enhanced their warfighting ability above the Arctic Circle during exercise Arctic Littoral Strike in Northern Norway from March 11-31.”
Further confrontation will include Exercise Northern Edge from 3-12 May, in which, according to the U.S. Air Force Times, “Ten thousand troops will descend on the High North to practice how the U.S. military might react if simmering tensions in the Arctic reach a boiling point.”
The U.S. is preparing for war in the Arctic, and the “boiling point” referred to by the Air Force Times might not be far away. It’s entirely up to Washington to decide on how long the military manoeuvres will continue and what level they will reach. If the provocations are so relentless as to result in local exchanges of fire, there is every possibility that escalation will be rapid — and it could be final. The solution is for Washington to calm down, and President Joe Biden would be well advised to extend his domestic policy to international affairs, in which “Debate is welcome. Compromise is inevitable. Changes are certain.”