What’s Cracking in the Arctic?

As rising global temperatures thaw the ice at the North Pole of the planet, competition between nuclear-powered states threatens to heat up the Arctic Circle even further. An increasingly minable Arctic, which contains vast natural resources, has piqued the economic interests of oil-hungry great powers, even as the warmer climate jeopardizes Indigenous tribes. Here’s how the Arctic could become the next frontier of great-power competition.

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  • Gabrielle Sierra
    Director, Podcasting

Asher Ross - Supervising Producer

Markus Zakaria - Audio Producer and Sound Designer

Molly McAnany - Associate Podcast Producer

Episode Guests
  • Esther Brimmer
    James H. Binger Senior Fellow in Global Governance
  • Jeff Randall
    Military Fellow, U.S. Coast Guard

Show Notes

As global warming melts the Arctic ice, relationships between great powers are becoming icier than ever. 


Commercial enterprises and great powers alike are staking their claims to the region, making it the newest frontier in the battle for control over Earth’s shared waters—and the precious natural resources that lie beneath the frozen sea. As the Arctic has warmed, these valuable commodities have become more extractable, providing a powerful financial incentive for those willing to brave newly navigable waters. For countries such as the United States and Russia, the Arctic Circle could become a tactical site to expand naval and nuclear operations. Meanwhile, countries including Russia and China are eager to slash costs by sailing through new Arctic sea routes. But while the warming temperatures generate compelling opportunities for sometimes-opposing foreign interests, climate change has imperiled the region’s ecosystems and the many Indigenous tribes who live in the frozen North. As tensions continue to rise, will the warming Arctic play host to a new Cold War?


A map of the arctic showing shrinking sea ice opening up new shipping routes.


From CFR


Brian L. Sittlow, “What’s at Stake With Rising Competition in the Arctic?


Daniel McVicar, “How the Russia-Ukraine War Challenges Arctic Governance,” The Internationalist


The Emerging Arctic


From Our Guests


Thad W. Allen. Esther Brimmer, Anya Schmemann, and Christine Todd Whitman, “Arctic Imperatives: Reinforcing U.S. Strategy on America’s Fourth Coast”


Read More


Alejandra Borunda, “Arctic Summer Sea Ice Could Disappear as Early as 2035,” National Geographic


Alex Gatopoulos, “What Is Behind Russia’s Interest in a Warming Arctic?,” Al Jazeera


Costas Paris, Renée Rigdon, and Yaryna Serkez, “The Future of Arctic Shipping,” Wall Street Journal


Gwladys Fouche and Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen, “Dark Arctic: NATO Allies Wake up to Russian Supremacy in the Region,” Reuters


National Strategy for the Arctic Region [PDF],” White House


Watch and Listen


Climate Change and the Evolving Arctic


Why an Arctic Treasure Is Spurring Hope and Dread,” The Journal


*Editor's Note: In a narration for this episode, the Why It Matters team mistakenly stated that Russia will chair the Arctic Council for the next two years. In fact, Russia’s tenure ends in May, 2023. As of this writing, the next chair, Norway, has not committed to restarting stalled cooperation.

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