Militarization in the Arctic

The Arctic is often depicted as an isolated and remote area, defined by its harsh climate and ice-choked waters. However, the melting of the polar ice caps is creating new opportunities for trade and resource extraction. A more open and hospitable Arctic has also led to increased territorial claims and military presence by the eight countries that call the region home. The prospect of a conflict in the Arctic remains unlikely, as the Arctic Council, established in 1996, provides an integral means for cooperation, coordination, and interaction among Arctic states. World Policy Journal examines the extent of military presence in the region, deployed as both a technique of surveillance and a means of protection, as a warming climate opens new paths. This timeline illustrates how rapid ice melt in recent years has prompted increased military activity in the Arctic.

Adapted from the Map Room: Arctic Militarization feature that appeared in the Summer 2015 issue of World Policy Journal.

1994-11-16 00:00:00


United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), establishing Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) of 200 nautical miles beyond a country’s baseline, goes into effect. Countries must ratify UNCLOS in order to make an official claim to an extended continental shelf with the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf. They have ten years to make a claim after ratifying UNCLOS.

1996-09-19 00:00:00

Ottawa Declaration

The Ottawa Declaration is signed, establishing the Arctic Council. The Arctic Council, which is composed of Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and the U.S., aims to address issues faced by the governments and indigenous peoples of the Arctic region.

2000-01-01 00:00:00

Ward Hunt Ice Shelf

The Ward Hunt Ice Shelf, which had remained solid for 3,000 years, begins to crack. This photo shows the "ice island" that has formed off of Ward Hunt Island following eight years of continual ice melt.

2004-01-01 00:00:00

Oil Discovery

Researchers find evidence of oil deposits just 200 miles from the North Pole. This discovery incentivizes Arctic nations to make official claims to large portions of the Arctic.

2007-07-10 00:00:00

Arktika 2007

Russia symbolically renews its 2001 claim to the Lomonosov Ridge by planting a Russian flag on the seabed of the Arctic Ocean, garnering international ridicule. The flag-planting was part of Arktika 2007, a research trip related to the 2001 claim. Russia hoped to prove definitively that the Lomonosov Ridge was a natural prolongation of Russia.

2008-05-01 00:00:00

USGS Arctic Resource Appraisal

The U.S. Geological Survey estimates 90 billion barrels of oil, 1,669 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, and 44 billion barrels of natural gas liquids remain undiscovered in the Arctic. These estimates provide a basis for increased interest in Arctic hydrocarbons.

2008-05-28 00:00:00

Ilulissat Declaration

The five Arctic coastal states (U.S., Canada, Russia, Denmark, and Norway) adopt the Ilulissat Declaration to affirm their commitment to the UNCLOS framework, and agree to the orderly settlement of any possible overlapping claims to the Arctic region.

2011-05-12 00:00:00

Agreement on Cooperation on Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue

The Arctic Council signs the Agreement on Cooperation on Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue in the Arctic in line with the 1979 International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue (SAR Convention). The terms of the agreement require each Arctic Council nation to have military capabilities in the Arctic.

2011-07-07 00:00:00

Barents Sea Agreement

A maritime delimitation agreement between Norway and Russia regarding the Barents Sea goes into effect, ending almost 40 years of territorial conflict and treaty negotiations between the two Arctic nations.

2013-05-15 00:00:00

Agreement on Cooperation on Marine Oil Pollution Preparedness and Response

The Arctic Council signs the Agreement on Cooperation on Marine Oil Pollution Preparedness and Response in the Arctic. Like the 2011 Search and Rescue agreement, the terms of the agreement require each Arctic Council nation to have military capabilities in the Arctic.

2013-10-01 00:00:00

Kotelny Island Military Base

Russia reopens a Soviet-era military base on Kotelny Island. The island is situated between the Laptev Sea and the East Siberian Sea in the Russian Arctic.

2014-02-01 00:00:00

US Navy Arctic Strategy

The U.S. Navy releases an updated and expanded version of its original 2009 Arctic strategy in light of the increasingly rapid rate of ice melt in the region. An expanded naval presence is scheduled to take full effect in 2020.

2014-09-19 00:00:00


Russia launches Vostok-2014, an expansion of Vostok-2010 and its largest military exercise since the Soviet era. 100,000 servicemen, up to 1,500 tanks, 120 aircraft, 5,000 pieces of weaponry, military, and special hardware, and up to 70 ships were used during the week-long exercises.

2015-01-01 00:00:00

Austfonna Ice Cap

A study on Norway’s Svalbard Islands reveals that the Austfonna Ice Cap has thinned 160 feet since 2012.

2015-02-25 00:00:00

Lowest Winter Sea Ice Extent

The U.S. National Snow & Ice Data Center reports that the Arctic’s maximum winter sea ice extent is the lowest on satellite record.

2015-03-09 00:00:00

Joint Viking

Norway performs “Joint Viking” in the northernmost county of Finnmark, the country’s largest military exercise since the Soviet era. Finnmark borders Russia’s Arctic area.

2015-03-15 00:00:00

Canadian Arctic Spending

Defense News reports that Canada plans to devote $3.4 billion (U.S.) to infrastructure developments in the Arctic in 2015.

2015-06-19 00:00:00

US DOD Begins Measuring Sea Ice

The U.S. Department of Defense begins measuring Arctic sea ice in light of decreasing seasonal ice cover in the region. According to a GAO study on the DOD's role in the Arctic, melting sea ice "could eventually increase the need for a U.S. military and homeland security presence in the Arctic, particularly in the maritime environment."

Militarization in the Arctic

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