It’s time to draw borders on the Arctic Ocean

It’s time to draw borders on the Arctic Ocean


I’m on an island near the North Pole and
I’m here to find out who owns the Arctic. As the ice melts more and more in this region, you can see just how dramatic the ice has been shrinking. One of these countries has shown that they’re willing to fight for it. Russia’s making a new push into the Arctic. This is the Wild West. Investment opportunities opening up
in sort of an unusual area: the Russian Arctic. The Arctic region has strategic
and economic importance. The pace of melting is only getting faster. Russia projecting its power. Use diplomacy to avoid further conflict
in the High North. So, I’m not allowed to take my camera down into the mine. So
I’ve been given this explosion-proof super fortified camera. In case it
explodes, it won’t cause a death fire for the entire community. This coal mine is owned by the Russian government, it’s in a town with Russian flags, and the bust of a Russian Communist revolutionary, Vladimir Lenin. But, this isn’t Russia. It’s Barentsburg, on the island of
Svalbard near the North Pole. It’s a place that exists for strategic reasons, not for making money. In fact it loses money. Has for decades. Russia funds this place because for them, it means influence in this region. A frozen ocean, that is melting more and more every year due to the changing climate. This is what the Arctic Ocean looked like in September 1984. Fast-forward thirty two
years and this is what it looks like: September 2016. Most of the world sees
this as a looming disaster, but for the Arctic nations this change means an
opportunity: Access to a brand new ocean. Here’s what geologists think oil and gas
resources might look like in the Arctic. The US Geological Survey estimates that
the region holds 30 percent of the world’s undiscovered natural gas and 13%
of its oil. These resources are still remote and
costly to access but they’re more accessible every year and suddenly this
desolate region is very interesting to the world. New shipping routes are also
opening up and this ocean, that was once frozen, is now navigable for longer
periods every summer, cutting weeks off the trips between Asian and Western
markets. The topic of borders in the Arctic region is a little bit complex
and it’s an issue that’s still open for discussion and negotiation. Currently
the border lines in the Arctic Ocean look like this. Every country gets their
default maritime borders that are 200 nautical miles off their coast. The rest
of the water that doesn’t fall within these exclusive economic zones, is up for
grabs to anyone who can prove that it belongs to them. And that has a lot to do
with a continental shelf. A continental shelf is a part of a country’s landmass.
It’s just covered with ocean. The continental shelf continues until it
drops off into the deeper parts of the ocean. Since the ice has been melting,
countries have been sending out submarines to gather data on the
continental shelf. They put together a scientific case and submit it to a UN
committee. This committee reviews it and decides whether or not the country’s
claim is scientifically valid. Extending from our coastlines, lying beneath the
sea, is an extension of our country called the continental shelf. It
determines the new borders of our country. Knowing where the edge of the
continental shelf lies, adds millions of square kilometers to our country and
makes the resources on the seafloor and beneath the seabed, Canada’s. So far Norway
and Iceland are the only two nations whose continental shelf claims have been
submitted and approved by the UN, but others have submitted claims that are
waiting for approval. Look at Russia’s claims versus that of Greenland, the large Arctic island that actually belongs to Denmark. The claims overlap significantly. Canada is in the process of gathering data and is expected to
submit a claim that will also have some overlap here. The UN committee that evaluates these claims is made up of scientists, not
diplomats. Their sole job is to say whether or not the claim is
scientifically valid. It’s then up to the countries to negotiate how to work out
who gets what. Russia has shown its interest in having
a claim that extends all the way to the North Pole. In 2007 Russia went so far as to plant its flag on the seafloor under the North
Pole. And if push comes to shove, Russia likely won’t concede its North Pole
claim to the tiny nation of Denmark, whose claims overlap with theirs. Russia
is easily the biggest player in the Arctic neighborhood. Half of the Arctic
is flanked by Russian coast and they easily wield the most influence and they
have the most to gain from global warming and the ice melting. And so they’re refortifying and renovating a lot of their strategic outposts here in the
Arctic. 50 airfields by 2020, putting special forces. They’re training, holding
military exercises in the Arctic. In recent years Russia has been reopening,
fortifying, and building new military bases in the Arctic region. They’ve been
publicizing their military exercises, which include reindeer, huskies, and
soldiers in uniforms that look like they belong in a Star Wars film. Russia is sending us important signals, that in the Arctic, they will project their own
power and capabilities and I don’t see a sufficient response from the US and NATO,
to recognize that increased military position. One of those outposts is the
town of Barentsburg, which is right behind me, here on the island of Svalbard. Barentsburg isn’t a military facility,
like all those other dots on the map, but it serves a similar purpose. And to
understand why Russia wants a town on this island, you have to understand
Svalbard. It’s unlike any other piece of land on earth and not only because it’s
the northernmost inhabited part of the planet. The Svalbard treaty, signed in
1920, says that any country who has signed the treaty can have its people on
Svalbard and exploit the land for commercial or economic purposes. The land
technically belongs to Norway, but 45 countries have signed the treaty and so
45 countries have economic claim to this land. The one rule is that no nation,
including Norway, is allowed to have military assets on Svalbard.
So Russia set up a coal mine up here, not to make money. Russia pays for these coal miners to be here to sink economic
roots into this land. If there’s ever dispute about boundaries or if oil is
someday found off the shores of Svalbard, Russia will be at the table where those
discussions are happening and Barentsburg will be their bargaining
chip. It’s their claim to this land. What’s most fascinating to me, is that
this strategy plays out with people. The people living here in Barentsburg are
effectively placeholders for a Russian strategy for the Arctic. And yet when
you talk to them that’s not really on their mind. They’re not thinking about geopolitics, they’re not thinking about
the changing landscape of the Arctic, and what that means for Russian policy. For Russia, coal has been their main economic activity, it’s what they’ve been doing
here for years, but coal is in decline and their operation is slowly losing
people and interest and so they’re realizing they have to pivot to a
different economic activity, that is more sustainable for the future. And for them
the answer is tourism. On Svalbard, it’s kind of clear: the coal mining era, is something which is, you know, disappearing. It’s a bust. Tourism, science, nature protection is its future. You can see Russia’s renewed
interest in this island taking place when you walk around the town of
Barentsburg. The consulate is undergoing some renovation right now. They’re like
gutting the whole thing and renovating after years of neglect. It’s a small
village of a few hundred people and it has an entire consulate. This consulate
serves more as a statement than a functional asset for the Russian
government. All these renovations suggest that they expect this ghost town to
become a major tourist destination, but making money isn’t the motivation here. Of course it’s impossible that Barentsburg one day will support itself
without any funding from the government. It’s impossible. The pivot to tourism isn’t just about keeping deep economic roots in Barentsburg. It also
serves a purpose of turning Barentsburg into a spectacle, for people to see just
how much Russian identity is tied to the Arctic. Newly refurbished buildings, new
Arctic theme bars, museums that tell the story of Russian presence in the Arctic. These aren’t military bases or airfields, but this sort of projection of culture
and identity goes a long way in creating association with a place, in exerting
influence. It’s called soft power. Funding all of this on a faraway island that
belongs to Norway, is the epitome of soft power. And it’s a perfect complement to
Russia’s surge in hard power in the Arctic. Remember all those dots? The most long-range air patrols with bear bombers since the Cold War, forty five thousand troops,
three thousand four hundred military vehicles, forty one ships,
fifteen submarines, and a hundred and ten aircraft. What do you think Russia’s trying to achieve in the Arctic with that massive military buildup? I don’t know. I believe, however, that we are going
to have to figure it out. But up until now Russia has been playing by the rules on the maritime borders front.
Following all the UN protocol and making claims in a very orderly fashion, but
they’ve also shown some provocative behavior in protecting their influence
in the region. On the one hand for Russia to benefit economically from the Arctic,
it has to be a stable cooperative environment. The best thing you can do to
spook off companies and economic investment, is to think that the region could be prone to conflict. But we have to remember that this is the government
that annexed Crimea a few years ago. It’s a government that’s not afraid to
project power in its neighborhood. They’re showing us both tracks, sort of
this dual policy of wanting to be open for business, but be able to growl a
little bit and show its muscular teeth for its military and those two,
eventually they’re a little incompatible. This region is changing fast. The treaties and norms that have kept it in order for years are becoming
incompatible with the physical realities. As the ice melts, the region will become
more valuable. New borders will be drawn, and new opportunities to project power will emerge. We can only hope that Russia continues to
play by the rules. My favorite part about being in the Arctic while I was making this story, was going on these late night hikes. A lot of the footage in this video was shot after midnight, when the sun would kind of just hover around the horizon. The light would be beautiful for hours at a time. And it was just such a crazy experience to watch the sun never set. Anyway, thanks for watching the second episode of Borders, I published the first episode last week. And I’m going to continue to publish these every week, on Tuesdays. I also want to say a big thank you to lululemon, who is a sponsor of Borders. They sent me these ABC pants, which are these sturdy pants are used for both active hiking, as well as just kind of lounging around. They’re super comfortable. Thank you lululemon for sending me these ABC pants, but more importantly thanks for supporting Borders, and for making this whole thing happen. If you want to check out these ABC pants, I’m going to leave a link here, where you can go over to the lulu shop online, and check them out for yourself. That’s it, stay tuned: one week from now, I’m releasing the next episode of Borders.

100 thoughts on “It’s time to draw borders on the Arctic Ocean

  1. Here's the second Vox Borders episode. Being in the Arctic in the summer was an experience I'll never forget, 24 hours of sunlight per day was intense to say the least. Third documentary is coming next Tuesday! Sign up for my newsletter to stay up to date: www.vox.com/borders-email. Thanks everyone for following along this journey.

    And in case you missed it, here's the first episode: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4WvKeYuwifc

    – Johnny

  2. "they sent me these pants that are super tight, but I have to do an add read… eh I'll just sit down so one has to see the outline of my junk"

  3. Instead of up and poppidy music when asked about their political input
    Imagine like, a fearful scary music
    Like its obvious they fear for their life if they give an input.
    Idk. Just some random comment

  4. The fact is that Russians have historical connection with Barentsburg, who wouldnt keep the influence in such case, US surely would ;)!

  5. Canada to are North has huge oil reserves and we keep finding oil threw fracking . Russia doesn't have the technology to drill that far down
    Exon mobile and UK have those expertise . There are others technology that will make oil absolete in 50 years . Electric engines just as powerful as combustion engines. more powerful batteries .

  6. you know this was a great video but I’m having trouble appreciating it because I’m too horrified by the mental image of “muscular teeth”

  7. To be honest I think Russia, Canada and Greenland and Norway should only get bits of the arctic, as it makes more sense geohprahically

  8. Canada is slowly but surely starting our own Arctic claim as well. I feel it's opportunity but at the expense of our global environment. What else is new?

  9. instead of talking politics in the artic and how to take US power to the artic atleast try to make something about the major climate change and the melting of the ice caps! it really hurts to see the ice cap melting!

  10. Maybe the Arctic ocean needs to belong the the UN, at least any part beyond the historic claims. Then discontinue ALL shipping, drilling, mining, etc. there. Will that happen? No. Would that cause some inconvenience? Yes. But to borrow the lyrics of a song: "Got along without ya before I met ya, gonna get along without ya now." We can't ship across Antarctica, so why is it imperative that we ship across the Arctic Ocean? Just a thought.

  11. Will at least Russia have a scientifically sort prove of claims. Unlike China greeds much in our west Philippine seas.

  12. Yeah well all that about Russia is mostly true I guess, but what about the US? Do you really have such a blind spot there and see yourself as the neutral, good guys? To whom military power projection and reckless exploitation of natural resources is completely foreign? I don't think so.

  13. Step 1: build a city in the north pole
    Step 2: put your countries flags all over
    Step 3: build up the city like your playing cities skylines

  14. Oh yeah, US has never gone to any lengths to claim oil themselves. Why do US have to "answer to a military presence" on the russian side of the north pole. It´s funny how that woman is talking about crimea as a statement of what russia is willing to do. How about them weapons of mass destruction in Iraq?

  15. I think nations which gain from global warming should their considerable amount of profit to nations which lost most due to global warming in future…
    Many lands will be underwater and there will be a refugee crisis…

  16. 6:41 Just an FYI, Alert Canada is the northernmost inhabited place on the planet. Not the Russian town on Svalbard. Other than that good video!

  17. Those Russian buildings on the island of Svalbard look childishly amateurish. Nothing like the grand hotel lodges that were built in the Rockies and Sierra Nevada. If they want to promote tourism they need to do it right, not with this tasteless approach.

  18. Tell us more about the space you are in at 12:18 in this video. Does it belong to VOX? Is it an office? Who designed it?

  19. Why should the u.s. be concerned at all I mean it is Russia's land if they own part of the Arctic than they own part of the Arctic.

    typical u.s. telling people that they can't own their own land

  20. Russian is gonna win. they been ready for winter since time. Hitler failed cause of the cold of russian. u can't fk with russian winter soilders.

  21. The border should be shared proportionally to the environmental damage. This at least would give some incentive to the neighboring countries and also would make it easier to determine borders. It would be hard for anyone to argue that they should get a larger chunk if they are responsible for warming

  22. This is so sad. We are litterally dieing due to all these environmentally unfriendly resources. Now we are going to purge one of the most beutiful places

  23. Soon Russia will be the name of a deadly virus…US can bomb, invade, sabotage countries economy, torture, overthrow legally elected governments, violate all known international laws, occupy Guam etc… that's cool but Russia takes back its land and protect its interest, rebuild its military…oh oh that's aggressive. You really think people are stupids or what? Long live Putin…

  24. We don't need borders in the arctic ocean. We need one huge border AROUND the arctic ocean that keeps the United States and Russia from destroying our planet even more!

  25. Sorry to say to tou that Canada have not a big city at North but we are at alert that is more at North. And Canadian Arm Force make a lot of exercise at north
    We have equipement to go there and we are dress in white too. We have pattol of Nunavut community that checking too and we have military intallation at Iqaluit with military jet to intercept any violation of Russia over our territory.
    And ho i forget to say to you that all radar station of Norad at north is operation and going well.
    You realy dont know what we doing at north with other country.
    Where you comming from?
    Did you know that the American Cruise Missile was test in north of Canada like to exercise of the type of ground of Russia.
    And Canada is not in war too again Russia. We play hockey togerter. So dont wory for us canada is where it was always be and will stand for.

  26. Play by the rule?
    How do you think Russian oligarchs got the positions they are now?
    Russia is controlled by oligarchs.
    Dealing with them is the same as dealing with gangsters.
    They don't play by the rules, same as Trump regime.

  27. Ok, just mention Crimea, over 9000 times and be ok, not even hearing what Crimean people telling you(

  28. Melting of glaciers isn't a good thing why don't these people get it

    Edit: this is the only video where I saw melting ice is a good thing "world is full of wiyard thing"

  29. Artic belongs to Artic don’t blame other countries because every western countries are wanting to go for natural resources. How about Alaska why don’t you talk about that …all countries are against development of Artic by Russia but that’s all what can do don’t ever blame Russia for developing because it’s too late. They are doing the right thing in Artic don’t get jealous…. this is pure evil

  30. Global Warming, NOW renamed Climate Change…..which by the way the climate always changes…it's called the weather.
    BUT they changed the name because the Ice in Greenland has come back stronger than ever. smh ANYWAY, these people are LYING. Global Warming is a FEAR CAMPAIGN AND MONEY GRAB. Read the 1989 United Nations Global Warming Report they said the same thing back then. Then again, 2006 Al Gore and the so called 97% of scientist said the same thing. AND NOW, 2018 they're saying the same thing only they're adding, if we don't stop all humans are going extinct.

    They are LYING. President Trump pulled the US out of the Paris Accord Agreement, and guess what. 1 year later, the US is the ONLY COUNTRY that LOWERED it's C02 emissions. EVER COUNTRY IN THE PARIS ACCORD AGREEMENT, INCREASED THEIR C02 EMISSIONS. SMH Come on, ya'll don't hear me. They are LIARS and running a SCAM for power and money. What better device to use BUT FEAR.

    The Earth has it's own flux. Ice reseeds, then comes back. The Mediterranean sea has drained and refilled 9 times so fare. ALL happening before the industrial age. All this is just called the Earth doing what it does.

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