What do Russian actions in Ukraine portend for the Arctic?

See The Simons Foundation's Disarming Arctic Security page for briefing papers on military policies and practices in the Arctic region by Ernie Regehr, Senior Fellow in Arctic Security at The Simons Foundation.

What do Russian actions in Ukraine portend for the Arctic?

April 23, 2014

Speculation about Russia’s post-Crimean posture in the Arctic has become a prominent sidebar to the Ukraine story. With Russia again asserting a willingness to deploy force across borders to advance its agenda, some pundits and public officials in other Arctic countries have been advising Russia’s Arctic neighbors to take note and prepare accordingly. The Arctic, like any other arena in which Russia wields influence, will not be immune to the changing dynamics among Russia, Europe, and North America – a linkage reinforced by Ottawa’s ill-considered decision to boycott the April working-group meeting of the Arctic Council in Moscow. But predictions of renewed Arctic military rivalry owe a lot less to strategic realism than to an instinctive default to Cold War categories whenever it comes to Vladimir Putin and his troublesome behaviour.

Russia’s tactics in Ukraine certainly require a response, but they hardly signal a new era of vulnerability for Russia’s Arctic neighbours. The post-Cold War world has seen plenty of military incursions into sovereign states, but an interesting feature of those military ventures across international boundaries is that they have been launched only against states already in deep crisis. And the obvious and relevant point about the Arctic is that it is not in crisis.

In every case of post-Cold War cross-border military intervention – the United States being by far the most prolific instigator, but Russia, NATO, France, South Africa, and others having at times joined that dubious fraternity – the target country was already enmeshed in intractable conflict, suffering a deep crisis of legitimacy. The point is not to justify or excuse military interventions, but to understand the circumstances under which cross-border military attacks or intimidations are more likely, or less likely, to occur. Stable, well-governed countries in stable neighborhoods are not invaded – not ever in the past quarter century, regardless of their militarily strength or weakness, and no matter how great their resource wealth may be or how much the powerful may covet what they have.  Continue reading...

Ernie Regehr, O.C. is Senior Fellow in Arctic Security at The Simons Foundation, and Research Fellow at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, Conrad Grebel University College, University of Waterloo.