Russia has recently been aggressive in its pursuit of claims to parts of the region and in February sent a submarine to the floor of the sea symbolically to plant a Russian flag. Admiral James Stavridis said that military activity and trade routes would also be potential sources of competition around the polar cap.
Speaking at the Royal United Services Institute in London on Nato’s future direction, Admiral Stavridis, Supreme Allied Commander for Europe, predicted that relations with Russia will dominate thinking at the alliance.
He said: “This is something we are starting to spend more time looking at. I look at the high north and I think it could either be a zone of conflict, I hope not, a zone of competition, probably. It could also be co-operative . . . and as an alliance we should make this as co-operative as we possibly can.”
His assessment comes after warnings from Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the Nato Secretary-General, who said this week that climate change had “potentially huge security implications” for Nato. The thinning ice cap is opening up a new Northwest Passage trade route, while it is estimatedthat previously inaccessible oil worth $90 billion (£56 billion) lies beneath ice in the Arctic Circle.
Canada, Denmark, Norway and the United States, all Nato members, and Russia claim overlapping areas of the polar region. The admiral added: “There are certainly going to be areas of disagreement between the alliance and Russia.”
The West’s relations with Russia have taken a turn for the better after President Obama last month announced the scrapping of its missile defence system based in Eastern Europe. The decision has been credited with the tougher stance Russia has since taken towards Iran on its nuclear capability and subsequent progress at negotiations in Geneva.
Admiral Stavridis said he wished to move forward with “military to military activities and co-operation” with Russia, though it would have to be a politically dictated process.
Amid concern from Eastern European Nato members over the principle of collective defence, Admiral Stavridis repeatedly stated his commitment to Article 5 of the 1949 treaty agreement, that an attack on one Nato nation is an attack on all. But he also said that Nato should not be regarded as a “world policeman”.
With President Obama still undecided on whether to back a request for a surge of up to 40,000 troops from General Stanley McChrystal, the Nato commander in Afghanistan, Admiral Stavridis said the general had his “full confidence”.
He called for a better balance between military and civilian parts of the operation. His comments came as the Ministry of Defence announced the death of a member of the Royal Air Force in Helmand. The airman was from 34 Squadron of the RAF Regiment.
Admiral Stavridis also advocated the use of social networking websites such as Facebook to get Nato’s message out.Mr Rasmussen, who uses Twitter, revealed that he had enjoyed a “terrific meeting with Prez Obama and his Cabinet”.
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