The comments, by Admiral James G Stavridis, (at right) supreme allied commander for Europe, come as NATO countries convene on Wednesday for groundbreaking talks on environmental security in the Arctic Ocean.
The discussions, in the format of a "workshop", with joint Russian leadership, are an attempt to create dialogue with Moscow aimed at averting a second cold war.
"For now, the disputes in the north have been dealt with peacefully, but climate change could alter the equilibrium over the coming years in the race of temptation for exploitation of more readily accessible natural resources," said Stavridis.
The US naval admiral believes military forces have an important role to play in the area – but mainly for specialist assistance around commercial and other interests.
"The cascading interests and broad implications stemming from the effects of climate change should cause today's global leaders to take stock, and unify their efforts to ensure the Arctic remains a zone of co-operation – rather than proceed down the icy slope towards a zone of competition, or worse a zone of conflict," he added.Stavridis made his views known in a foreword to a Whitehall paper, entitled Environmental security in the Arctic Ocean: promoting co-operation and preventing conflict, written by Prof Paul Berkman, head of the Arctic Ocean geopolitics program at the University of Cambridge.
The discussions take place at the Scott Polar Institute (at left); which is Cambridge University's polar studies department, and where Berkman is based. Theses discussions have been given impetus by the speed of change around the north pole where the ice cap is melting and oil and other minerals are becoming available for extraction.
In recent weeks, Cairn Energy has announced the first oil and gas discoveries off Greenland and a wave of new mining licenses are about to be awarded there. There are similar moves to produce gas in the far north of Russia and Norway, all in the shadow of BP's Gulf of Mexico's oil spill.
Vladimir Putin, (below left) the Russian prime minister, spoke about our "common responsibility" at the international forum on the Arctic in Moscow two weeks ago. He is aware the melting ice offers access to reserves of oil and minerals, as well as new shipping lanes, but that the Arctic is an "area for co-operation and dialogue".
Berkman, a key figure in organizing the workshop, with funding from the NATO science for peace and security program, said the challenge is to balance national and common interests in the Arctic Ocean in the interests of all humankind.
"Strategic long-range ballistic missiles or other such military assets for national security purposes in the Arctic Ocean are no less dangerous today than they were during the cold war. In effect, the cold war never ended in the Arctic Ocean."Building on the interdisciplinary discussions with academics, government administrators, politicians, and industry representatives, Berkman said the workshop should be a major first step towards building a dialogue that both considers strategies to promote co-operation as well as prevent conflict in the Arctic Ocean.
As Stavridis noted: "Melting of the polar ice cap is a global concern because it has the potential to alter the geopolitical balance in the Arctic heretofore frozen in time."
The Guardian, "Climate change could lead to Arctic conflict, warns senior Nato commander", accessed October 12, 2010