Giving new meaning to the phrase “Cold War,” President Biden suggested Wednesday that the US and Russia could soon be locked in a dispute over control of the Arctic, which he said would soon melt due to global warming.
Biden made the remark at a ceremony honoring incoming US Coast Guard Commandant Linda Fagan, the first woman to lead a military service branch.
“The choices we make today are literally going to shape the direction of the world throughout the 21st century. What we do the next 10 years is going to lay it down,” Biden said.
The president said the Coast Guard will have to “manage the impact of climate change becoming more extreme — more extreme weather and growing migration flows.”
“In addition, you see what’s happening in the Arctic. The Arctic is going to change drastically and become a place that is going to also potentially generate potential conflict in terms of dominating the Arctic as it melts,” Biden said.
The commander-in-chief raised the possibility of additional strife between Washington and Moscow less than 24 hours after publication of an op-ed under his name saying the US would steer clear of “directly” fighting Russia as the administration helps Ukraine resist a three-month-old invasion.
The notion of a strategic scramble for the Arctic isn’t new, having been mentioned by the Defense Department in a 2019 report.
That report said that “the immediate prospect of conflict in the Arctic is low,” but that “if the warming trends continue at the current rate, Arcticwide sea ice loss may result in nearly ice-free late summers by the 2040s,” which could unleash “new shipping lanes and increasing access to natural resources.”
Although Biden didn’t mention Russia by name, it’s the only nation bordering the Arctic Sea that is not a US treaty ally.
Biden previously invoked climate change while discussing national defense in April, vowing to make “every vehicle” in the US military “climate-friendly.”
The US bought Alaska from Russia in 1867 and through the deal gained access to the Arctic. Although the US and Russia do not currently have tense territorial disputes, the Far North has large deposits of oil.
Some Alaska politicians claim that Russia illegally controls seven islands that should belong to the US, but the federal government doesn’t share that perspective.
To gain an upper hand in the region, President Donald Trump in 2019 floated purchasing Greenland from Denmark. Trump canceled a visit to the Scandinavian nation when the country’s prime minister, Mette Frederiksen, said the world’s largest island was not for sale.