War Games in Arctic: What’s Driving the West’s New Passion?

Image: Organizing Notes

By Dmitry Babich,
Published by Sputnik International, 15 March 2024

Two unprecedented military exercises are being conducted by the US and its NATO allies simultaneously in various parts of the Arctic, signaling a new aggressive stance by the West in the region.

Thirteen NATO countries participated this week in the Nordic Response 2024 exercise held in Finland and Sweden, near the border with Russia. Additionally, the US Army recently conducted a training event near Fairbanks, Alaska, also close to Russia’s borders.

The US exercise was conducted within the framework of the Joint Pacific Multinational Readiness Center (JPMRC) and involved 8,000 American servicemen from the 11th Airborne Division and an unspecified smaller number of “foreign allies.”

The Nordic Response exercises in Finland and Sweden are even bigger in scope, since they involve 20,000 service members from 13 NATO member countries, 50 warships and 100 military aircraft. The United States and Norway contributed their F-35 fifth-generation fighter jets to the organizers of the Nordic Response drills. Additionally, the UK agreed to send several of its own F-35s from the Royal Air Force, stationed on the British aircraft carrier, Prince of Wales.

“We just want to beef up our presence in the Far North,” said German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius, who came to inspect the Nordic Response 2024 war games. “This is the biggest and the most important NATO exercise in 40 years,” he contended.

German submarines, along with troops from new NATO members Finland and Sweden, also participated in the military exercises. However, the majority of the fighting force consisted of Americans, who openly expressed their intention to “rebuild their capacity to fight in the Arctic”, a capability that had somewhat weakened since the end of the Cold War.

The presumed adversary in both Alaska and the Finnish forests was the same: Russia and its possible ally China. The American newspaper Business Insider reported that the new “Arctic Strategy” of the US Army is pivoted towards “regaining Arctic dominance.” The new strategy has been operational since 2021.

However, Business Insider noted that the rivalry with Russia now is not limited to the military sphere, as it was during the Cold War era. The economy has a role to play, too. “Rapidly melting sea ice in the Arctic Circle, warming twice as fast as the rest of the world is opening up new opportunities for natural resource extraction, shipping routes, and commercial fishing, as the Arctic becomes navigable,” the publication wrote.

Vladimir Vasilyev, the chief research associate at the Institute of the US and Canada at the Russian Academy of Sciences, suggests that the Americans may be interested in gaining control over the North Sea Route. This route is considered the shortest maritime connection between the growing economies of Southeast Asia and Europe. Russia has extensive experience in utilizing the North Sea Route, which goes along the country’s northern shores. As the ice continues to melt, this sea route is becoming increasingly accessible to commercial vessels.

“The United States is striving to ‘rediscover’ the Arctic region militarily,” a member of the Russian Academy of Military Sciences Alexander Bartosh told Sputnik. “Now, that Finland and Sweden are becoming active NATO members, this opens the possibility for the US to deploy nuclear weapons in the Far North.”

The goal of the US beefing up its military force in the region, in Bartosh’s opinion, is two-fold. The first is to leverage their superiority at sea and in the air for potential strikes against Russia. And secondly, they seek to exploit the region’s untapped natural resources, primarily focusing on oil and gas.

Vladimir Vasilyev notes the historic roots of the ‘military side’ of American interest in the Arctic. “The Arctic region plays an indispensable role in the long-time US strategy of encircling Russia,” Vasilyev highlighted. He also did not exclude the deployment of American nuclear weapons in the region. “In the Arctic, nuclear accidents are easier to cover up,” Vasilyev noted and added: “Also, for a very long time Americans had an illusion that because of the Arctic’s sparsely located population, collateral damage from the use of nuclear weapons there will be less noticeable.”

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