U.S: - Yes, we may be headed toward a new Cold War

Vladimir Putin – på vei mot normalen. Donald Trump – på vei. (Foto av Trump: Michael Vadon)
-There is increasing hawkishness from politicians and think tanks on the US side. A Republican administration under Donald Trump could lead to a very serious situation in US-Russia relations.
- There is increasing hawkishness from politicians and think tanks on the US side. A Republican administration under Donald Trump could lead to a very serious situation in US-Russia relations.

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So say Charles K. Ebinger, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, and his colleague Michael O’Hanlon (also at the Brookings Institution) agrees.

- Must keep a close eye on developments

- Putin has ambitions in the north and is willing to promote Russian interests even at great cost to other countries. He also accepts paying more of a price for his actions than the West would. He is smart enough to put a favorable gloss on his actions, but will make a play when possible. Russia does not have the resources to exploit the Arctic right now, but will seize every opportunity. This is why we must keep a close eye on developments in the North, says Michael O’Hanlon. He is Senior Fellow in Foreign Policy at the Brookings Institution, where he specializes in U.S. defense strategy, the use of military force, and American national security policy.

- Have we already slid into a new Cold War, or are we heading towards it? High North News has asked experts from nine different countries, encompassing the entire circumpolar region. The question polarized respondents. (Click here to read the articles we have published so far.)

Ebinger is a Senior Fellow in the think thank’s Energy Security and Climate Initiative.

- Significant changes in Russia’s behaviour

- Russia’s involvement in Syria and the Ukraine, and its military build-up in the High North made the notion of cooperating with Russia in the Arctic a non-starter until recently. There have been, however, significant changes in Russia’s behavior in the last several months, which means it might be possible to bracket the Arctic out of the evolving confrontation, writes Pavel K. Baev and Tim Boersma in a blog post. Their point of view was presented at a symposium at the Harriman Institute at New York’s Columbia Institute earlier this year.

Baev is a research professor at the Peace Research Institute in Oslo (PRIO), and nonresident senior fellow in the Center on the United States and Europe at Brookings. His colleague Tim Boersma is a fellow in the Energy Security and Climate Initiative, which is a part of the Foreign Policy program at Brookings.

- Russia steadily increased its military activities and deployments in the High North until autumn 2015, including by creating a new Arctic Joint Strategic Command. There have been, however, indirect but accumulating signs of a possible break from this trend, they say.

- Instead of moving forward with building the Arctic brigades, Russian top brass now aim at reconstituting three divisions and a tank army headquarters at the “Western front” in Russia.


Shift of attention

- News from the newly-reactivated airbases in Novaya Zemlya and other remote locations are primarily about workers’ protests due to non-payments and non-delivery of supplies. Snap exercises that used to be so worrisome for Finland and Norway are now conducted in the Southern military district, which faces acute security challenges. Russia’s new National Security Strategy approved by President Vladimir Putin on the last day of 2015 elaborates at length on the threat from NATO and the chaos of "color revolutions," but says next to nothing about the Arctic, Baev and Boersma says.

- The shift of attention away from the Arctic coincided with the launch of Russia’s military intervention in Syria, and was strengthened by the sharp conflict with Turkey. Deputy Prime Minister Dmitri Rogozin—who used to preside over the military build-up in the High North—now travels to Baghdad instead, they comment.

Baev and Boersma points to the fact that the Russian government is struggling with allocating painful cuts in cash flow, and they say that many ambitious projects in the High North are apparently being curtailed.

- In the squabbles for dwindling resources, some in the Russian bureaucracy point to the high geopolitical stakes in the Arctic—but that argument has lost convincing power. The threats to Russian Arctic interests are in fact quite low, and its claim to expanding its control over the continental shelf depends upon consent from its Arctic neighbors.

Numerous chances for cooperation

- Chances for cooperation in the Arctic are numerous. The current economic climate (i.e. falling oil prices, which makes additional energy resource extraction in most of the Arctic a distant-future scenario), geopolitical climate (sanctions on Russia targeting, amongst others, Arctic energy extraction), and budget constraints on both ends (Russia for obvious reasons, the United States because it chooses not to prioritize Arctic matters) urge us to prioritize realistically.

- Skeptics will argue that it is unrealistic to isolate the Arctic from the wider realm of international relations. Though we agree, we don’t think leaders should shy away from political dialogue altogether, Baev and Boersma says.

- To the contrary, in complicated political times, the stakes are even higher: Leaders should continue existing dialogues where possible and go the extra mile to preserve what can be preserved. Russia’s desire for expanding its control over the Arctic shelf is entirely legitimate—and opens promising opportunities for conversations on issues of concern for many states, including China, for that matter.

We would therefore argue in favor of a combined strategy: making additional investments in U.S. Arctic capabilities while doubling down on diplomatic efforts to preserve the U.S.-Russian dialogue in the Arctic, they conclude.

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The Brookings Institution is a nonprofit public policy organization based in Washington, DC. The mission of the organization is to conduct in-depth research that leads to new ideas for solving problems facing a society at the local, national and global level.

Charles K. Ebinger: Senior fellow in the Energy Security and Climate Initiative at Brookings. He served as the initiative’s director from 2008 to October of 2014. Previously, Ebinger served as a senior advisor at the International Resources Group where he advised over 50 governments on various aspects of their energy policies.

Michael O'Hanlon: Senior fellow in Foreign Policy at the Brookings Institution, where he specializes in U.S. defense strategy, the use of military force, and American national security policy. He co-directs the Center on 21st Century Security and Intelligence there with retired General John Allen. O’Hanlon is also director of research for the Foreign Policy program at Brookings. He is a visiting lecturer at Princeton University, a member of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, and from 2011 to 2012 O’Hanlon was a member of the external advisory board at the Central Intelligence Agency.

Tim Boersma: Fellow in the Energy Security and Climate Initiative, part of the Foreign Policy program at Brookings. His research focuses on energy policy coordination, energy security, gas infrastructure and regulation, and unconventional natural gas extraction.

Pavel K. Baev: Research professor at the Peace Research Institute, Oslo (PRIO) and nonresident senior fellow in the Center on the United States and Europe at Brookings. Before joining PRIO in 1992, he worked at the Institute of Europe in Moscow. His current research includes Russian military reform, Russia's conflict management in the Caucasus and Central Asia, energy interests in Russia's foreign, and security policy and Russia's relations with Europe and NATO.



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