Backing Trump has a geopolitical advantage for Russia in that Americans–divided as we are between those who refuse to believe the Arctic ice is melting and those who refuse to accept the fact that it cannot be unmelted–will continue to pretend that the Arctic Ocean is not a few years away from being blue water. Putin has invested heavily in making the Arctic a Russian lake–massive infrastructural investment, a huge state of the art fleet of ice breakers, the establishment of shipping routes, laying legal claim to most of the waters as being part of the landmass of Siberia, etc, etc–and the US has done nothing. NOTHING. We would not even replace the worn out ice breakers we had. A Trump presidency just ensures Russia that now, on the cusp of their most successful geopolitical coup since conquering all of eastern Europe in the Second World War, that the US will continue to pretend that there is nothing of interest north of Canada. But what Putin knows and that we don’t is that once the Arctic is open water, then the world will no longer be on an east-west horizontal axis. It will be on an up and over the top axis, and whoever is master of the Arctic is master of the world. The Arctic is about to become as central to everything as the Mediterranean was in classical times, and stupidly, beyond stupidly even, Americans have rendered it politically incorrect to even think about that. For conservatives the Arctic is not melting. In fact, it’s getting colder. For the Left, we can return it to its stark frozen beauty if we try hard enough. Neither side can be further from reality–the Arctic is melting at a phenomenal rate, and nothing will ever freeze it again, not for thousands of years. It’s a done deal. Not that it matters politically what we do, anyway. There was one and only one nation with the naval and scientific capital to keep the Arctic an international ocean, and it was the United States. Otherwise we’ve left it to Canada, Iceland, Denmark and Norway. Feeble compared to Russia, sure, but each of those four has more capacity in the Arctic than we do. We have nuclear powered carriers in the Persian Gulf and South China Sea and Mediterranean and not even an icebreaker in the Arctic, where the future of the world lies. You have no idea how stupid we Americans will look in a generation standing on the shore as the summer sun never sets on the gleaming blue Arctic Ocean. We won’t even be able to read the road signs. They’ll be in Cyrillic.
Another big Putin win. With Donald Trump in office the US will continue to pretend global warming is a myth and that the Arctic icecap is not melting, while Putin, as true a believer in climate change as you will find on this planet, keeps on course to turn the ice free Arctic Ocean into a Russian lake. It is madness on our part. The Republican Party has given the Russians carte blanche in the Arctic because in order to confront them in the arctic we need to dramatically upgrade our fleet of arctic vessels–we have two ancient ice breakers of cold war vintage–and infrastructure. But to do that, one would have to admit that the Arctic icecap is melting. But if the Arctic icecap is melting it means that temperatures are rising. And if temperatures are rising it means that global warming is a fact. But global warming is a myth, Trump says, and Vladimir Putin smiles.
The polar ice cap is melting and the Arctic Ocean is fast becoming navigable and every country with access to the Arctic Ocean is rushing to take advantage of all that navigable water except us. We are so unprepared, in fact, that the United States has only one ice breaker capable of navigating the Arctic in icy months. And it’s only a medium sized vessel, based out of Seattle. Not Alaska, Seattle. Our one heavy ice breaker, the forty year old USS Polar Star, is also in Seattle, but it’s mothballed, ready for scrap. On the other hand, Russia has four heavy icebreakers already in the water–and based in the Arctic–and another four on the way. No idea what the U.S. is supposed to do if our one operating icebreaker has to go into dry dock. Borrow one of Russia’s?
Yet any attempt by the Obama Administration to somehow ready us for the open water Arctic is met with stiff resistance by congressional Republicans. They’ll be no more icebreakers. That would mean an increased presence in the Arctic. Which would mean that the ice has melted. Which would mean temperatures have risen. And that’s where we get into trouble. The Republicans oppose anything that suggests global warming might be real. They pretend it all isn’t happening. Their opposition is so uncompromising that the US has done next to nothing to prepare for the new realities up there. Denmark–yes, Denmark–will have a bigger presence on the Arctic Ocean than we will. As will England, though they have no Arctic shore to call their own. Even tiny Iceland could be better prepared than us, and we have one thousand times as many people as they do.
Of course, we still have submarines up there, playing cat and mouse with their Russian counterparts. But that is underwater, and the Republican congressmen find solace in that, no doubt seeing visions of Ice Station Zebra, with submarine conning towers poking through a vast plain of ice. They can’t be looking at the same satellite photos we all see, with blue ocean stretching the length of the Siberian coast all the way to Canada. They just pretend its frozen solid and inaccessible, and if they wish hard enough maybe it will all go away. How did Republicans, once the cold-eyed realists in foreign policy, ever become so delusional?