Midway: When the Airplane Sunk an Empire (Part IV)

Image: ‘U.S. Navy ships sail in formation during a live-fire gunnery exercise‘. by Official U.S. Navy Page. Released under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) License.

Analysis and Conclusions


The Empire of the Falling Sun and the Rise of the Eagle

The waves settle down beneath a blue sky and the warmth sun of the Pacific. The waters that were the scenario of a very intense and violent action, are returning to their previous calm state once the battle is over. Yet the seas were the only thing able to return to its previous state; Japan and the United States were very different once the battle was over.

For instance, when the battle started, Japan was the undisputed owner of the Pacific; as the battle ended, the bulk and best of the Japanese aircraft carrier fleet went beneath the waves, decimated. With them the aims of Japan and its quest for defeating the US Navy were shattered beyond point. Also, and as the aircraft carriers were the main assets for the encounter, being used in large scale and with no other warship taking direct part, the battle was historic.

The outcome of the Battle of Midway was unmistakably decisive for the War in the Pacific, not to say for the fate of the belligerent countries. At first, it changed the tide in the favour of the United States, giving it almost entirely the initiative afterwards, benefited by it industrial and economic weight. Yet Japan was far from absolute defeat, and more battles and campaigns – like Guadalcanal and the Gulf of Leyte, to name a few – would be necessary to defeat them and destroy their Navy. As Dahms (1963) Murray and Millet (2005) pointed out, Japan was still having a very good fleet with good quality traits, such as the very skilled artillerymen skilled enough for night-time combat and armed with good guns (as the Battle of Guadalcanal would make evident). And it still decided to carry on with the operations to seize some islands in Melanesia. Nonetheless, Japan was on total decline after the battle.

This decline was due to the heavy losses suffered by Japan, which were hard to replace as the economic and industrial might of Japan were very weak. But there was another factor that accelerated such decline and hampered Japan’s performance (for the rest of the war). Indeed, Japan proved to be a hard enemy to defeat, but as Canales & del Rey (2016) and Murray & Millet (2005) explained, the Imperial Navy kept the outcome of the battle from the Army, worsening the clash between both branches, and also lost its aggressiveness and initiative, relegated to a mere defensive strategy. This despite having 4 aircraft carriers, numerous island and naval bases at its disposal, and the chance to replace the losses (yet at a lengthy and costly process, worsened by the extension of the war in time).

As it became a mere defensive weapon, the Japanese yielded the initiative almost entirely to the US Navy and put itself under the mercy of a determined and advancing US Navy, thus weakening and defeating itself. The US Navy, on the contrary, was about to receive new and better naval aviation and aircraft carriers, acquiring the needed tools to push the Japanese back regardless of costs and time… as time was clearly in favour of America.

Being a mere defensive tool meant that the Japanese Navy contributed in consolidating the initiative the US Navy acquired, and also ended in placing itself under the crosshairs of the advancing US Navy under a long and painful self-weakening dynamic. A US Navy that was about to receive more advanced fighters, torpedo-bombers and bombers, alongside new and state of the art aircraft carriers that would enable it to push the Japanese back, no matter the costs and no matter the time – and time was definitely in favour of the Americans.

Worse enough, the defeat at Midway only worsened the serious issues within the Imperial Navy and the Armed forces in general. First, the rows between the aircraft carrier school and the battleship school, with the latter prevailing and making the Navy to look for a decisive encounter with battleships, so to repeat the deed of Tsushima, even for a good time after Midway, as Gibelli (1972), Kennedy (2007) and Thomas (2007) remarks. This, of course, is one of the most basic strategic mistakes Japan made: to repeat the same strategy and formulas of past conflicts – which normally are different in context and nature. This is but one of many strategic mistakes of Japan, which will be reviewed below.

Lessons from the high-seas

Every battle provides two series of lessons. First, lessons related to international affairs and geopolitics, considering that battles are not only part of a conflict but – like wars – a result of years of tensions and competition between two or more powers over a given geographical area, with such tensions and competitions having a crescendo when colliding at any point. Even if that point is located in the middle of nowhere. Second, lessons of military nature: this means, strategic, tactical and operational lessons, being all intertwined.

War is politics by other means…

This is one of the main statements by Clausewitz about war, very crucial to understand the factor behind a war and a battle[1]. As such, the place where politics by other means can take place might be at that same given point in the middle of nowhere, with an apparent lack of strategic value – having in fact a lot, as it was reviewed. Battles have a tendency to take place in locations of some value for either side or both, even if those locations are not located at places that could be considered valuable – like a crossroad, a pass, or a geographical area and accident. Actually, areas of strategic interest for naval purposes can be islands or straits far from inhabited areas and from the shore, increased only if located near important SLOCs. In fact, trade and economic interests can add value to such position; even more, interests elsewhere could make that given point even more important, moreover if it is vital to protect those far interests. This was the case with Southeast Asia, Pearl Harbour and the same Midway for Japan and the US. For the former, to protect the conquered territories of Indochina and Indonesia and their valuable oil and other resources. For the latter, to support its advance to the Philippines and to protect both the Hawaii Island and the continental territory. Midway was simply a valuable platform for supporting national interests and projecting power either east or west[2].

This importance was correctly assessed by both sides simply because of its location in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, hence making vital its control or neutralization. Since the US controlled it, it was pivotal for US naval (power) projection into the Philippines and to protect its territories.

Given the important geographical location of Midway, the second lesson is that geography and geopolitics are important, even more during battles. Moreover, when considered in group alongside previous and current political development and a large historical background, one can understand the strategic and national objectives and interests as they can be framed by the aforementioned factors[3]. This is when war becomes politics by other means, as it becomes necessary to meet them and/or assert them vis-à-vis the adversary.

This holds even more true when two or more competing nations have overlapping interests right over the same area[4]. Therefore, competition will inevitably follow, even reaching an open conflict; prior the conflict and during the “peaceful” stages of competition, competing powers would be placing their military assets at locations crucial for asserting and protecting their interests, and to project thus their power towards the area of interest[5]. Those assets would be ready to defend those areas when conflict sparks, with battles normally deciding who controls what and who can’t. Like the Battle of Coral Sea.

Since competition is inevitable, the period prior Midway showed that diplomacy and rapprochements might not help in preventing the inevitable, as rivalling powers will see each other with concern and suspicion, even preparing for conflict during rapprochement and diplomatic efforts. As they assessed the other as a threatening competitor, they will be preparing the war – and plans – against the other, even if at a point both sides are allies for a period of time. Moreover, diplomatic bargains and agreements can be counterproductive, as concessions by one side can further stimulate the ambitions of the other, as it could see them as a blank check to advance further on its interests. The deals between Japan and the US are the example here. And such bargains can only give one side more time to prepare for war.

In the same way, measures aimed at curbing the interests – and advances towards – of one side could further stimulate its assertiveness and aggressiveness instead of halting it, as that said might see it as a blockade against it thus being encouraged to be more aggressive. This is very likely when concessions took place previously, or if that said power is forced to give up on its gains, being resentful at the point of being alienated. If there are pressing economic concerns worsened by sanctions and blockades, odds for open conflict – strategically questionable or not – will be very high.

At sea is not a chess but a game of Go…

As it was stated in the partIIIa, strategy is very similar to the ancient Chinese game of Go, where the aim is to surround the enemy by occupying the most number of tiles. On naval warfare this is the main principle driving its action, be peacetime or wartime. It might sound simple, but this is far from reality. Indeed, land warfare also requires the control of important strategic locations, but encounters are more like a chess; naval encounters might have this chess-alike nature, but battles tend to have more the essence of Go behind. The common underlying element is that warfare at any dimension are still rules by the general principles of strategy.

Naval warfare requires a good level of preparedness and responsiveness, simply because the commander of naval forces must be aware of threats above the sea, on the sea and under the sea; it is also subjected to the fog of war, which has a larger extension thus making harder for him to detect the enemy fleet while avoiding detection at the same time, and despite the current technology. As such, naval warfare is not only a set of Go, but also a game of cat and mouse where both are more like ghosts looking for each other.

In the light of this, Midway provides a good number of lessons of strategic and military/naval nature. Lessons that could be useful even in the light of high technology and powerful naval weaponry.

The first one is the abovementioned desire of the old battleship school to wage the tactics and strategy of a past war. Not only because it is a repetition of the same formula that will work only once, but also because of the big technological difference between Tsushima and World War II: on the former the battleship, still ruled by most of the traditional naval tactics; on the latter, the aircraft carrier. It is unwise to use the tactics that were useful in a past war. As Musashi (2007) puts, repeating the same technique is wrongful. Another important strategic mistake the Japanese made is the most common and most harmful of all mistakes possible: they underestimated the Americans at the point of thinking they would not be willing and ready to take on their challenge[6]. This was further stimulated by Japan’s overconfidence on its on assets and capacities, and the relative easy victories they achieved for the first six months, which made them think they were invincible. They underestimated their enemy while overestimating themselves.

This mistake prompted, in turn, a third mistake. This was comprised by arrogance, which might benefit the adversary, as it did in the end. As arrogance, overestimation and overconfidence usually do, the Japanese thought that further military victories and conquests were possible. This not only led to an overstretching of the very scarce resource of Japan, worsened by the fact that the war was becoming lengthy against their best hopes. This attitude also resulted in giving the Americans the chance to understand and know better the Japanese, and to realise their strong and weak points, thus adapting themselves to be able to defeat them. Midway was the result of such process of ‘understanding the adversary’. And this is a rule in every conflict. Arrogance is the worst enemy of every army, and warfare is about understanding the enemy while being adaptable[7].

But there are more strategic mistakes made by the Japanese. For instance, be by bad luck, wrong evaluation or both, it failed in destroying the warships that ultimately allowed the US to put in practice its pre-war plans and exert a flexible and mobile initiative and offensive, let alone to set in motion its overall strategy. As the aircraft carriers were left untouched, the US kept the assets enough to strike back despite inferiority, with the Tokyo Raid being an example. When attacking, the objective must be accomplished at its fullest[8]. Also, despite a recognition to the dire situation and no alternatives for Japan, a surprising and pre-emptive strike could be a self-defeating move, even more if the enemy is not evaluated correctly. As Japan attacked Pearl Harbour, it filled the US with determination enough to make use of its industrial and economic power; this might be the additional consequence of unprovoked pre-emptive strikes, as they can simply give the targeted nation to be fully determined in defeating the aggressor. Any force must consider carefully who attacks, and where is about to hit.

There were two additional mistakes by the Japanese. First, the division of forces weakened the strength of the attack. Second, the operation lacked adequate preparations and, as it will be reminded below, there were serious issues with the chain of command. In any case, the chain of mistakes of strategic and operational nature compromised the very scarce but valuable naval assets of Japan. As such, it is important to remind that, given the importance warships have for the strategic objectives, power projection and prestige of a naval power, naval operations require a very careful planning so not to lose these same high valuable assets that are quite hard to repair, unless having enough industry to cover the losses at a good rate. In any case, the loss of warships is also a serious issue, as they are useful for harming the adversary strategically by controlling areas of the sea and denying the adversary to control them, or even access them, at the point of hampering its same economic interests and stability as a nation[9]. In the light of this, the aim of Japan of destroying the US Navy in a single encounter by ambushing the bulk of its diminished fleet was in strategic terms, very accurate. It was the strategic and operational mistakes what doomed the plan.

But additional factors other than strategic also contributed to the outcome of the Battle of Midway, providing also a wide array of lessons.

As a matter of fact, the composition of forces and assets of both sides were equal at a first glance, since Japan and the US were having aircraft carriers, naval aviation – fighters, bombers and torpedo bombers embarked in the aircraft carriers – and their respective intelligence services, which were very capable and skilled with good preparation and training. But a closer look reveals the how the crucial differences between the two adversaries played a role in the battle, and in the end, in the war.

For instance, the strategic and material superiority of the Japanese Imperial Navy and the very dire and inferior situation of the US Navy was deceitful. As such, an adversary with superiority in numbers and with a good strategic situation facing a weakened adversary does not have its victory granted.

Here is where the first difference takes place. This is the aircraft carrier and its air power. As it was reviewed in part IIIa, both sides committed at developing the aircraft carriers in technical and operational aspects, at the point of having the most operationally efficient and capable warships of this time, capable of carrying a large number of airplanes and anti-air defences. Even their designs were very similar, which enhanced flight deck operations and allowed to concentrate the electronic equipment in a single area. Also, both sides developed and designed the airplanes purposed to be operated in the vessels, with well-designed, sturdy, capable and well-armed airplanes. In other words, assets matters; but even more, technology matters. Simply because good assets can make the difference when facing the adversary in battle.

The keywords for this acquisition of good assets are “right policies”. Such policies are the main requirement and the crucial element behind the creation of assets needed to meet and/or asserting national interests (defence and deterrence included), let alone to allow a nation to fight a war. Assets are also crucial for the conflict that would be foreseen by the strategists of each nation, as it was the case with Japan and the US, for both clearly assessed that war with other was inevitable at a certain point. Given how crucial is the preparation of assets prior a conflict, it is also important to implement any military build-up very carefully, as the most minimum fault might have very serious consequences for the fate of a nation. here is where the second difference lies. And it is here also where Japan was filled with several fault-lines that resulted in its defeat at Midway, and in the end, costing it the war.

As it was remarked, the Japanese focused on having very high-quality aircraft carriers and other naval (air) assets, which can be a very good input for operations. The problem is that elite-based forces and assets are also very hard and costly to replace, even more when those are the set of initial forces. In addition, they are especially vulnerable to exhaustion and attrition, with losses forcing the quality of the armed forces and fleet to be sacrificed for quantity. This negative effect is further worsened if the bulk of the armed forces is based upon elite forces, moreover if the abovementioned lack of financial and industrial solid basis is present. This was the first fault-line that costed japan the battle of Midway[10].

If the material resources available are very scarce, making difficult the replacement of losses, such difficulty will worsen if there are strong competition and rivalries within the armed forces as it was the case between the Japanese Imperial Navy and the Army. Political aspects were also present, especially the bitter clashes between the civil government and the armed forces. All of the previous factors, when combined, constitute the second fault-line: the resulted in a lack of cooperation between the Imperial Navy and the Army and a lack of cooperation between the government and the armed forces, and also in a lack of overall unified (strategic) criteria. The Japanese attack against Midway had their forces divided; in reality, there was a strong and self-defeating division within Japan that weakened the force of its offensive and the force and solidness of its armies and fleets. They were defeating themselves long before the battle. A similar situation can defeat any nation beyond any repair.

The third fault-line within Japan, which also nearly neutralized any advantage Japan had thanks to the initial superior quality of its assets, was the abovementioned prevalence of the ‘Old Battleship School’. In a more general sense, any current within the armed forces in favour of an outdated and strategically irrelevant assets, will result in hampering the technological development by denying their own armed forces of assets and weaponry that could bestow a better firepower or a certain advantage vis-à-vis any adversary. This could also result in ignoring other types of weapons that can be useful for securing the country in wartime or allowing the armed forces to effectively threaten the enemy; Japan ignored anything related to submarine and anti-submarine warfare, increasing the vulnerability of its sea-borne supply lines as the US submarines were free to strangle Japan by attacking the commercial ships. Submarines were also used as mere scout during the battle.

This is a sharp contrast with the case of the US Navy, as it implemented more efficiently the policies oriented at creating the needed assets (and the needed quality), alongside the devising of the needed tactics and operational aspects of both aircraft carriers and naval aviation, and the appointment of skilled officers – familiar with that type of assets – as commanders. Innovations that enhanced capacities of both warships and warplanes were the product of exercises and drills, which effectively complemented the abovementioned measures. More importantly, the Navy’s own flexible and independent structure, the attention given to AA defences on the ships, and the available resources enabled the US to create a good quality Navy in basically every aspect. This quality would make itself evident during the Battle of Midway. And basically, for the rest of the war.

Strategically speaking, the US did something that now we can evaluate as pertinent, if not entirely correct, and this is to take initiative. Despite facing adversity and having numerical or material inferiority, not to mention that strategically speaking, it was a compromised situation, the US Navy decided to have some aggressiveness and initiative right immediately after Pearl Harbour, from the Tokyo Raid that had a very strong psychological impact[11], and the limited but fiery offensives at basically all the fronts in the Pacific. This initiative also helped the Americans in gaining valuable experience and learning more their adversary, identifying the Japanese strengths and weaknesses and thus devising both the weaponry and tactics to deal with them. Initiative is to be maintained always, even when facing the odds. The Americans knew their enemy by experience. This accumulated experience, as a result, prepared the US Navy for the battle to come. In relation to this, and as it was abovementioned, the wrongful Japanese against Pearl Harbour awoke the “sleeping dragon” the US was, then using all its available resources to wage war against Japan, enhancing its forces and their performance upon the abovementioned accumulated experiences. In contrast, the Japanese were subjected to exhaustion, attrition and losses[12]. The Americans were able to turn defeat into victory by adapting and maintaining initiative, being able to overcome themselves in the process[13].

The US Naval intelligence proved to be much better than that of Japan, acknowledging that both were of good quality. Sun Tzu once stated that war is basically based upon deception[14]. As such, it is in the intelligence services where the capacity to set the deception or to detect it lies. This is the main reason why they are a very important element within any armed forces, as well as the fact they can penetrate deeper into the fog of war. Or more practically – and related to the Battle of Midway – it can break through the codes of the enemy, deciphering them and then capable of detecting its intentions[15]. In addition, a good intelligence service can be a very helpful tool for a commander to gather, process and evaluate the information correctly and efficiently – as it was the case with Admiral Nimitz – so to devise good strategies and plans for the battle. Hence, a good intelligence service is simply a must. On this way, it is also imperative to protect the own information – not to say the codes for such information – so to prevent the enemy to know one’s intentions. And a good intelligence service could dismantle the adversary’s own deception by setting a counter-deception, at the point of making it to make mistakes and to ‘reveal’ itself and its plans. Intelligence is as vital as information is. It is crucial to know the intentions and essence of an enemy[16]. As Musashi (2007) remarks, it is vital to have intuition. This intuition can be in great part thanks to good intelligence services.

As it was made evident, the commanding factor is equally crucial during any battle and war[17]. Mainly due to the fact that good leadership is vital, and even more for naval warfare. Traits such as character, personality, skills, training and formation, alongside flexibility, and capacity for initiative and responsiveness are all vital when a commander must take a decision during a very crucial – and often heated – moment requiring split-seconds decisions. Nimitz and the American subordinates were an example of this. Also, the Americans were able to grasp the possibilities and the aims of the Japanese.

In the same way, shortcomings will become that evident at the point of damaging the operational outcome of forces beyond repair. The Japanese, in fact, were having a large number of shortcomings on the commanding factor. For instance, the Japanese commanders were very strict and stuck to the textbooks, blindly following orders thus lacking flexibility and responsiveness and lacking initiative. Moreover, some of the Japanese commander were not the adequate commanders for the type of operations and assets used. There was also hesitation and lack of decision, as Nagumo lost valuable time when deciding the tack of attacks to execute after the initial bombing of Midway; it was because of this lack of decision that ordnance was stored on deck, being vulnerable to the bombs of the American SBD Dauntless dive-bombers.

If the commanders are full in overconfidence and arrogance, they and their forces will be going to battle blind to the real nature, strengths and capacities of the adversary, clearly underestimating it. This is worsened if there is no concrete information on the enemy, or if the same enemy has set a rouse to further deceive the commander in question, aided by his arrogance and overconfidence. As such, there is a general tendency for evaluating and expecting the enemy to behave in accordance to the ideas, preconceptions and prejudices… or basically to expect for the enemy to behave the way one would like upon oneself logic. This was the greatest mistake of Yamamoto, and a mistake that is a direct way to an important defeat.

Additionally, a good chain of command is important as it transmits and materializes orders and plans efficiently and right time, managing properly the action of subordinates and troops or sailors. As such, a good chain of command giving room to initiative, flexibility, responsiveness, independence and a sort of deliberative attitude can achieve a better operational performance resulting in a good outcome. The US was able to win at Midway thanks to this fact as well. On the contrary, a very authoritarian, inflexible and rigid chain of command that prevents initiative, flexibility, independence, responsiveness and subordinates to do suggestions will lead any force into bad performance and defeat. And a strong reliance on textbooks and preconceived ideas also denies capacity to react to situation out of the textbook of the plans, resulting in mistakes and consolidating the path towards defeat.

…until the time for the encounter arrives

With this said, now there can be a closer approach to the battle itself. First, an important battle can be – most of the times – pre-defined by previous encounters and events, as well as by elements beyond the military ones. The Tokyo Raid is a clear example, as it impressed the Japanese very deeply, at the point of insecurity. That insecurity and other considerations made japan to execute further operations, with Coral Sea and Midway included. The same Coral Sea battle played a role by diminishing the Japanese naval forces, diminishing the imbalance in number of forces and highlighting the US capacity to recover from any loss[18]. And the Japanese offensive against Ceylon delayed the changing of the codes, giving ample time for their deciphering by US Naval intelligence. In addition, Japan failed in neutralizing the most important naval asset of any navy – even then when attacked Pearl Harbour. It was their ‘lost opportunity’[19].

Secondly, and as it was briefly pointed out above, the Battle of Coral Sea gave the US Navy to take the initiative, and also the opportunity to test and hone tactics, being able to ‘measure’ and understand better its adversary. This is the observation here: well-learned lessons and the implementation of those from past encounters and operations can enable one to prepare well the own forces, and to wage with optimal performance a battle.

Third, luck and chance are, inevitably, elements that will be present in any battle[20], with the outcome of any being almost decided by these two factors. They can overcome the most fully prepared plans by any army or navy. As von Moltke once stated: “plans never survive the first encounter with the enemy”, with von Clausewitz remarking that luck is the ultimate element both in war and battle[21]. As such, it was at a good extent a chance and luck that the US Naval intelligence was able to break the Japanese coded due to their slight mistake of not changing them for a while; it was a matter of luck that the US carrier forces were able to detect first the Japanese the same way the Japanese submarines were not able to detect the US aircraft carrier forces as they were delayed in reaching their ordered position. It was also a matter of luck that the American dive-bombers found the air defence system of the Japanese concentrated on other threats, finding their way open, and exhausted by the actions of the previous uncoordinated waves of airplanes. And its was a matter of luck that all the dive-bombers converged almost simultaneously, with luck being the factor that made those airplanes to sink and empire, when a series of bombs happened to strike just were the ordnance was accumulated, sentencing the Japanese aircraft carriers and its aims.

And fourth, battles can be a decisive moment, yet not enough to put a war to an end inmost of the times; more encounters, a large campaign and more battles might be needed for one side to entirely defeat the other side.

At the seas, airpower is king

When thinking about naval warfare, the first thing coming to mind is about warships, facing each other with their guns or even with their missiles, and about submarines chasing each other or even threatening the commercial or military ships of the adversary. This is still true, somehow, but since the wake of the 20th century and both world wars, four new weapons emerged as important, with two of them becoming the capital ship for every important navy: those are the submarine, the missile, the aircraft carrier and the naval aviation. The last three are the ones that changed the shape of naval warfare. As controlling the air space is essential for any country during any war or campaign, having a warship capable of carrying airplanes is important to gain that control over the skies, so to protect the own forces and to defeat effectively the enemy forces, is important[22]. But also having the right airplanes for the task is necessary: planes able to neutralize the enemy air assets, airplanes capable of hitting the heart of the enemy territory, airplanes capable of defending the own naval forces, airplanes capable of hitting the enemy ships and submarines that are far away from the own forces[23].

The battles of Coral Sea, of Midway, of the Gulf of Leyte, the Falkland Wars, the same Battle of the Atlantic, and the series of small conflicts and interventions taking place in the third world after WWII, are all an evidence of the importance the aircraft carrier and naval aviation has regained for naval warfare and for the abovementioned operational objectives. Moreover, the aircraft carrier and the naval aviation are now an essential asset – and tool – for every major navy to assert its interests, project its power and determine the outcome (be military or political, or both) of any situation or crisis taking place somewhere else and that might affect those interests[24]. Also, the primacy of the airplanes shows how a small and comparatively cheap asset can change the course of a conflict or assert/deny the interests of a given nation, in a short period of time and with more room for action and agility in comparison to sea-based assets. And as with Midway, how a few decimated the best of a fleet.

In the light of this, it is clear that naval warfare evolved in both World Wars at the point of becoming the main weapon in relation to sea power, as its capacities allowed any navy to effectively neutralize and/or destroy the naval assets of the adversary, altering or changing the outcome of a conflict. The airplane proved its value and dangerousness as it was able to destroy the bulk of a carrier force in less time than an encounter with warships would have required, as it was the case in Midway. Or the capacity of the airplane to dislodge the ‘choking’ campaign against the shipping lanes by the U-boots, as it happened in the Battle of the Atlantic with the escort carriers and the aviation embarked there. Even more, the naval airplane proved to be capable of changing the fate of a nation, shattering its strategic and national objectives and ambitions or consolidating its hegemony over a disputed territory, let alone the national and strategic interests. Naval warfare has changed for good, with (naval) air power becoming as important as the battleships and guns were once. There is however, one striking similarity: as the old battleships and gunships, the aircraft carriers and their air assets are used as a political tool for intervention and crises. In any case, the introduction of new technologies hints that in the future, the carrier-based airplane will remain crucial in an era where power is airborne and where pilotless and intelligent air assets are gradually becoming mainstream. It is yet to be seen, however, how naval warfare will be changed by those new technologies and developments.




[1] See: Von Clausewitz, 1999, p. 37, p. 47, and pp. 291 – 309. And: Herwig, 1998, p. 70.

[2] Also, a war elsewhere can bring a given rising power into the area of interest of a local power – like the US-Spanish 1898 War did with the US – that will feel challenged, even more as the new power can see necessary to protect the newly acquired territories closer to the mainland of the local great power. This protection requires military/naval assets, obviously.

[3] As Friedman (2015) puts, Geopolitics basically frames the behaviour and pursuit of national interests by the nations – and their leaders – and other international actors (pp. 30-31). Owens, in turn, points out that Geography constraints or facilitates the foreign policy and strategy of every nation, and the way they assess their (in)security vis-à-vis other states (pp. 59-60).

[4] This competition can take place between a rising and a traditional great power, two rising powers or two traditional powers. And even between a local and an outsider great power.

[5] This lesson is similar to the one reached during the analysis of the Battle of Kadesh… simply because this is a sort of general law when studying the dynamic between great powers and the inevitable tendency for competition and conflict. See: The Battle of Kadesh, part III.

[6] To be fair, the Americans also underestimated the Japanese seriously up until Pearl Harbour, as Murray & Millet (2005) pointed out.

[7] Adaptability is a ‘must have’ attribute for every armed force, air force and navy, according to Murray (2009). Cfr. p. 1. In relation to arrogance, this is listed as one of the worst faults of the commander by Sun Bin (1996).

[8] See: Musashi, 2007, p. 39 and p. 49.

[9] The most prolific examples are the blockade of Germany by the Royal Navy in WWI, the German submarine campaigns in both world wars, and even the American submarine campaign against Japan in WWII. See also footnote 19.

[10] As Sun Bin (1996) puts, trying to compensate the things that are lacking and that an enemy state has in large surplus will harm the own forces. See: p, 143.

[11] Striking fear by a surprise in the hearts and minds of the enemies is an important tactic for Musashi (2007). The Tokyo Raid did basically that.

[12] As Murray & Millet plainly put, Japan simply made a political – and strategic – mistake when attacking US territory. See: p. 261.

[13] Following Musashi (2007), it is imperative to adapt by experience to the enemy, and to overcome and improve oneself, as well as to have always the initiative.

[14] See: Sun Tzu, 2014, p. 37.

[15] The Japanese lack of care with their own codes contributed the US Navy intelligence to break their codes and uncover their plans. And set the famous rouse.

[16] Knowing the enemy and knowing oneself is something that both Musashi (2007) and Sun Tzu (2014) point out as essential for any war or battle.

[17] Following Musashi (2007), the general – or admiral – is like the master-carpenter, managing the forces and how the plans will take place, while the soldiers – or sailors – are those who put into practice the plans (pp. 17-19).

[18] The reparation of the USS Yorktown, which was damaged in the Battle of Coral Sea, in a very short period of time, is a feat and an example of US capacities to recover any sort of loss. Noteworthy to remind that the Japanese actually considered her as sunken.

[19] Cfr. Cau, 2011, p.169; Macdonald, 1993, p. 64; and Canales y del Rey (2016).

[20] See: The Battle of Kadesh, part III.

[21] See: Von Clausewitz, 1999, p. 44.

[22] Cfr. Bergamino & Palitta (2015), Canales y del Rey (2016), Crawford (2001), and Kaplan (2008).

[23] As Ross & Sandison (2008) points out, aircraft carriers – and embarked air assets – have at either peace or wartime 9 tasks: corrective force; preventative force; precautionary force; demonstrative force; disaster relief; ASW; air defence; strategic/tactical reconnaissance and strike; and air-to-ground support (p. 79).

[24] As Kaplan (2008) points out, and in a more general approach, fleets are important instruments for political power, as it is the mean that facilitates the most the projection of national power far from the main territory, even more in combination with the air power – naval or land-based – and exerting political and diplomatic pressure (pp. 78-79). Friedman (2015) also points out that naval power is important for the control of the two main oceans, as well as of the international economic system (p. 23). This allows to understand more the capital importance aircraft carriers have for both naval and national power.




Bergamino, G. &., Palitta, G. (2015). El Gran Libro de la Guerra. [L’arte della guerra, Herminia Bevia, trans.]. Madrid, Spain: Editorial Tikal (Original work published in 2015).

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Murray, W. (2009). Military Adaptation in War. Alexandria, Virginia: Institute for Defense Analyses. Retrieved from: http://www.au.af.mil/au/awc/awcgate/dod/ona_murray_adapt_in_war.pdf on 26.06.2017 (IDA Paper P-4453).

Murray, W. & Millet, A. R. (2005). La guerra que había que ganar [A War to be Won, Critica S.L, trans.]. Barcelona, Spain: Critica. (Original work published in 1998).

Mushashi, M. (2007). Artes de Combate Samurai. [Gorin no-sho, Horacio Lasalle Ruano, trans.]. Buenos Aires, Argentina: Editorial Quadrata. (Original work published in c.a. 1645).

Owens, M. T. (Autumn 1999). In Defense of Classical Geopolitics. Naval War College Review, 52(4), 59-76.

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Sun Bin. (2005). El Arte de la Guerra II. Versión y comentarios de Cleary, T. [The Lost Art of War by Sun Tzu II, Alfonso Colodrón, trans.]. Madrid, Spain: Editorial Edaf. (Original work published in 1996 by Cleary, T.).

Sun Tzu. (2014). El Arte de la Guerra. (25 Ed.). Madrid, Spain: Ediciones Martínez Roca.

Thomas, E. (2007). Mar de tormenta. La última gran campaña naval de la historia [Sea of Thunder. Four Commanders and the Last Great Naval Campaign 1941-1945, Critica S.L, trans.]. Barcelona, Spain: Critica. (Original work published in 2006).

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The Battle of Kadesh (ca. -1274) – The Empires of the Deserts Collide. Part I


Image 'Egyptian Empire, B.C. 1450' by Norman B. Leventhal Map Center. Released under Creative Commons 4.0 (CC BY 4.0)

Image ‘Egyptian Empire, B.C. 1450‘ by Norman B. Leventhal Map Center. Released under Creative Commons 4.0 (CC BY 4.0) License.


The Egyptian Empire vs. the Hittite Empire

Battles are those events or moments important changes in human History take place. Even small moments and factors during a battle – like a horseshoe-nail that doomed a rider, for example – can decide the times to come and the fate of a civilization and even an entire century. A battle can also decide which nation is to be among the rulers and which nation is to decay and fall under the dominion of another.

The Battle of Kadesh is among those battles that shaped history one way or another. It is also among those battles that, despite being very far from our days, still provide valuable lessons for those interested in Military History, General History and even International Relations. A battle can also show that regardless of times and technological changes, the geopolitical needs among great powers and nations are still the same. Even the Battle of Kadesh – like any other battles in history – can provide a light for those interested in comprehending the human nature, for war is nothing but a manifestation and expression of human nature.

The Battle of Kadesh is a prolific example of how a small element or a moment – or even an accurate of wrong decision – can bring an end to a great civilization, or how an army can be saved by its adversary’s wrong calculations. Last but not least, the Battle of Kadesh is among those battles of Antiquity that was registered in both its phases and aftermath, with the added value that provides a light of the strategic and tactical understanding of the peoples from those days. And on a similar fashion as the geopolitics sphere, the tactics and fighting doctrines have many similarities with some modern tactics in regards to mobile warfare and other types of warfare [I].


Strategic (and Historical) Context – Empires bound to clash

To fully grasp the reasons behind a battle – why the armies clashed, what were the interests at stake, why the battle was fought on that specific area – it is important to look at those historical events and geopolitical forces that gave way to the battle. I am among those that considers a look at the very immediate context of any battle (and war) is a rather short-sighted approach, prone to miss important details. Details that can provide a better understanding of a certain battle.

Rising Empires, Rising adversaries

Both Egypt and Hittites had their respective expansion transforming them into two important Powers, especially during the Egypt’s New Kingdom (-1750 – -1085). Both Empires emerged after defeating either the local adversaries or defeating and expelling and invader, which was Egypt’s case. The Hyksos dominion of two centuries over Egypt meant the introduction of warfare innovation, such as the chariot, the horse and bronze age weaponry. Egypt learned and absorbed those innovations introduced by the Hyksos, ensuing a war in order to expel them during the reigns of pharaohs Kamose (-1555 – -1550) and Ahmose I (-1550 – -1525) (Egipto en el Imperio Nuevo, 1996; Carney, 2005; Egipto: Los Imperios Antiguo y Medio, 1989) [II].

The chariot was acquired and enhanced by Egypt, using it as a mean to expel the Hyksos and to expand its territory at the same time. The chariot also provided Egypt with increased strategic projection. As the Hyksos were pursued up into what is now Israel, Syria, and Lebanon, Egypt became an important Great Power and Empire [III]. It also became a militarily more active nation, as it understood that military campaigns were needed in order to protect the newly acquired territories (Egipto en el Imperio Nuevo, 1996; Carney, 2005; Egipto: Los Imperios Antiguo y Medio, 1989) [IV].

So Egypt consolidated its power in the aforementioned regions area before the rise of the Hittites, dealing initially with Mitanni. As Carrey (2005) remarks, the 18th Dynasty (-1550 – -1295) materialized – under Thutmose II and Thutmose III – such consolidation by advancing further into the abovementioned territories, having also the clashes with the Mittanians. Those clashes resulted in battles at Meggido and Kadesh. For instance, Thutmose III launched a surprise attack against Meggido and Kadesh, making use of the aforementioned chariots, even making them to pass through narrow passages deemed not suitable (Carney, 2005; Egipto, del -1570 a Alejandro Magno, 1989) [V]. A move that resembles the German advance through the Ardennes in WWII.

Changing the course, increasing the antagonism

However, and following Carney (2005), Queen Hatshepsut (-1473 – -1458) allowed the neighbouring Empires to gain strength by maintaining peace, with the Hittites being among those benefited. After her reign, it seems that the continuation of her policy resulted in the fashion of implementing relaxed policies in regards to the Egyptian northern territories and vassals vis-à-vis Hittites competition, competition that was increasing in intensity.

There was a state of peace between the Egyptians and the Hittites until their interests inevitably led to a clash. The same rise of the Hittites was a factor in the emergence of the Egyptian-Hittite clash, rise that began to take place after the Hittites subdued their enemies in Anatolia, the Mittani [VI]. Following this, the Hittites began to set their ambitions at the Northern and Central Syria, a place where Egypt was having important vassals, interests and ambitions (Murnane, 1990).

The same Egyptian policy over those areas was a wrongdoing, emboldening the Hittites to assert their interests in the region. Murnane (1990) explains that Egypt developed a policy of limited or little involvement in the region, at the point of ignoring or launching modest expeditions when a vassal requested military assistance. In fact, Egypt even tolerated the local small states under its control or influence to fight against each other, relying at the same time on local strongmen to deal with affairs in the area [VII].

Such policies are a fertile ground for any other Great Power to jump into the scene. And such Great Power, being much more willing to control those areas, will take advantage of its adversary’s self-inflicted weakness and advance in consequence. This is what basically took place:  Following Murnane (1990), the Hittite rise began to shatter Egyptian rule and allegiances system over its vassals, even taking advantage of many vassals’ disaffection [VIII]. A very troublesome blow for Egypt, as the power structure (an Egyptian administrator monitoring along the local rulers) also facilitated such outcome, considering also that many vassals were located in areas under Mitanni former rule, now subject to Hittite expansion and competition.

This also jeopardized the Egyptian interests there: commercial interests, ports and trade routes were under Hittites’ threat [IX]. Furthermore, Egypt proved unable to fill the vacuum left by the fallen Mittani by not making a strong military presence, being the Hittites far more willing to fill that vacuum (Murnane, 1990).

A Game of Vassals

A vassal state proved to be a crucial element in bringing the two Powers into conflict, reflecting also the games of power and allegiances of the region: Amurru. The Amurru issue took place during the last decades of the 18th Dynasty, starting during Akhenaten reign (-1352 – -1336). Amurru began to rise and take control over its own territory, going against the interests of Egypt while manipulating it over fake invasions on other Egyptian territories. As the balance of power changed with the increased rise of the Hittites, Amurru could assert more its interests. In the end, Amurru ended in Hittite hands and being also a factor in the outcome of the Battle of Kadesh (Murnane, 1990).

Kadesh also was another vassal that played an important role, being the most immediate reason behind the Egyptian-Hittite clash, and becoming its epicentre (Murnane, 1990) [X]. As the Hittites marched further South, Kadesh was on the way. It tried to block their advance with no avail, as it not received any Egyptian reinforcements. The Egyptian attitude of waiting for the course of events and not reacting while some of its northern provinces were invaded, explains why Kadesh fell into Hittite hands, threatening Egypt’s northernmost interests and territories (Murnane, 1990).

Following Murnane (1990), as Egypt needed the vassals to halt the Hittites, Amurru then became an important element for this objective. Yet at the same time it was a troublesome vassal as it was playing a double game by having strong ties with the Hittites [XI]. After an Egyptian assault on Kadesh, which failed, the Hittites invaded in retaliation two Egyptian provinces. A second Hittite invasion forced this time Egypt to respond to the challenge with small incursions, being Kadesh the obvious target.

In addition, and as Murnane (1990) points out, the invasion of Upe, another important Egyptian vassal, increased the tensions and made Egypt to hold its grip on Amurru [XII]. At this point, the confrontation had the shape of turf wars, with the vassals being the object of contest instead of a direct confrontation, similar to the Cold War in the 20th century.

Setting the scene: Kadesh as the epicentre of the conflict

Kadesh was, indeed a largely contested city: by the times of pharaoh Thutmose III, the city was the subject of an 8-year long campaign to control it. Latter it became the centre of an alliance against Egypt when the Hittites took the city while advancing from Anatolia, being an advanced southernmost post allowing to threat the remaining northern Egyptian territories and vassals. The Egyptians were not willing to accept the loose and the Hittites were willing to keep it (Breasted, 1905; Murnane, 1990). The Egyptians, as a result, launched an incursion against Kadesh. The Hittites, in response, invaded the northern Egyptian provinces once and again, after addressing the threats posed by Carchemish and Hurria (Murnane, 1990).

However, by -1380 the Egyptians curiously kept on their relaxed attitude in regards to their northern territories. By this year, during the reign of Pharaoh Amenhotep III (-1390 – -1352), the Hittites launched a campaign to take northern Syria. Egypt did not answer back, even less when Ugarit – an Egyptian vassal state – defected to the Hittites. Kadesh fell once and again, while Egypt was much more worried about a religious reform than implementing a more assertive policy on the area, thus not defending its northern territories (Wanner, 2005).

Diplomatic attempts

Diplomacy was also set into motion during the period of -1473 to -1295, which marked the height of Egyptian-Hittite tensions and confrontations. The widow of Tutankhamen (-1336 – -1327), Queen Ankhesenamun, proposed her marriage to one of Hittite princes in order to put an end to the conflict. Something the Hittites received positively, for it would have meant the easy neutralization of an adversary, bringing it into Hittites’ influence. Yet they also received the proposal with caution, as they mistrusted the real intentions behind the proposals, mistrusts heightened by the death of a Hittite prince in Egypt. Also in the wake of the Battle of Kadesh, two treaties, one before the battle and another after it, came into place (Murnane, 1990; Wanner, 2005).

Recovering from a Crisis

When a country suffers a large political crisis, it either solves it or looks for places where to make its power to be felt and ease domestic tensions. Egypt was going through a period of inner revolt – and basically civil war – by the last years of the 18th Dynasty, under Amenhotep III and Akhenaton, that were put into an end after a military coup – by general and latter pharaoh Horemheb (-1323 – -1295) – sought to restore order (Cau, 2011; Egipto en el Imperio Nuevo, 1996; Wanner, 2005; Egipto, del -1570 a Alejandro Magno, 1989). This situation had its toll on Egyptian influence over the Eastern Mediterranean coast, and when the crisis was solved and the 19th Dynasty came to power, the logical option for Egypt was to gather itself and launch military campaigns to retrieve the weakened control over Syria.

As a result, according to Cau (2011) and Wanner (2005), Seti I (-1294 – -1279) launched campaigns – all victorious – against Hittites in a moment they were under Mitanni and Assyrian pressure. But as he waged the campaigns in Syria in order to retrieve and consolidate Egyptian control over the region, engaging the Hittites in Kadesh and Amurru and taking Kadesh for a brief period of time, the conflict escalated (Murnane, 1990; Egipto en el Imperio Nuevo, 1996).

Following Seti I campaign, the initial Hittite policy of a defensive and inactive approach was soon replaced with a more proactive stance, as Egyptian threatened their southern buffer zones. Despite Hittites’ reaction, Seti I eroded Hittites influence in Syria, indirectly aided by Assyrian offensives against Hittites in the East – which came to be thanks to a Hittite rejection of normal relations proposal by Assyrians – and the lack of will of the Hittites to antagonize openly with them [XIII].

Imminent confrontation

In regards of the immediate context, it is clear that Ramses II (-1279 – -1213) ambitions – and also those of Muwatalli, king of the Hittites – were the most immediate reasons behind Kadesh. For instance, Ramses II wanted to expand Egypt’s power and continue the mission of Seti I thus further disputing the northern territories. To do so, it was important to retake Kadesh and press further against the Hittites southern flank, so Ramses II marched with an army of 20000-strong towards Kadesh (Breasted 1903; Cau, 2011; Ralby, 2013; Egipto en el Imperio Nuevo, 1996; Murnane, 1990).

The Hittites were, following Wanner (2005), more concerned on defending their western areas. But apparently they were also for the next clash with Egypt, by rallying vassals and allies to fight and concentrate on Egypt.

The scenario was ready. The mightiest Empires of the Dessert were about to wage one of the most epic and remarkable battles in History.



[I] Or as General Sir John Hackett (1994) remarks, the changes in weaponry and military techniques have had little impact on the limitations imposed by the geographical factor, with the battle techniques of Ancient times being used by modern armies (pp.8-9).

[II] The Hyksos rule came to be known as the 15th Dynasty (from -1650 to -1550) with 4 Hyksos pharaohs, being simultaneous with Theban rules that would constitute the 16th and 17th Dynasty, ruling almost at the same time as the Hyksos rulers. See Antiquities Museum of Bibliotheca Alexandrina. (n.d.). for dates and pharaohs reference: http://antiquities.bibalex.org/Attachments/images/Ancient%20Egyptian%20Kings%20List%20-%20English(2).pdf

[III] Egypt rule over these regions began during the reign of Thutmose I. See: Egipto en el Imperio Nuevo, 1996, p. 30.

[IV] This expansion gave Egypt wealth but also clashes with the Mitanni over the region that would be latter contested with the Hittites and mainly for control over trade.

[V] As Carney (2005) remarks, Thutmose III managed to capture both cities, and even pressed further north into Lebanon. See: Carney, 2005, p.6.

[VI] Interestingly and according to Murnane (1990), nor the Hittites neither the Egyptians security interests were mutually threatening. In fact, an arrangement similar to the one that took place between Egypt and Mitanni – its adversaries by the time – was feasible. In any case and despite of this, the confrontation was imminent. See: Murnane, 1990, p. 1.

[VII] As Murnane (1990) explains, such policy would have been effective only if the Egyptians would have committed more military power to enforce its influence, avoiding many vassals to fell under Hittite influence or control. See: Murnane, 1990, p. 21.

[VIII] The vassals of both sides, according to Murnane (1990), actually played a role in bringing the conflict closer, as they approached both Great Powers to their side in order to ensure victory over the adversary local state. Both powers seemingly thought it was of best interest to satisfy the political request of the vassals. In addition, many vassals, not willing to accept Hittite rule, called Egypt or preferred to remain loyal to it. See: Murnane, 1990, p. 2-3 and p.21.

[IX] Noteworthy to mention that, according to Wanner (2005) the interests all the parties were having comprised: trade networks and influence over the local states. Interests that were also shared by the Assyrians and Amurrians. See: Wanner, 2005.

[X] According to Murnane (1990), Kadesh was not that loyal to Egypt and indeed became a hub of Hittite influence, prompting a military intervention against it. See: Murnane, 1990, p. 12-13.

[XI] Following Wanner (2005), It changed sides many times, becoming a second ground for the Great Power’s contest. Its importance consisted on its strategic location on the Eleuthero Valley, allowing mobilization and further control northward, and because of a nearby golden mine. See: Wanner, 2005.

[XII] The invasion of Upe seems to have tookn place also during Akhenaten’s reign, according to Murnane (1990). See: Murnane, 1990, p. 122 and p. 126.

[XIII] As Murnane (1990) and Wanner (2005) remarks, this attitude only encouraged Seti I and the reluctant vassals to press on the Hittite Empire. See: Murnane, 1990, p. 64; and Wanner, 2005.



Antiquities Museum of Bibliotheca Alexandrina. (n.d.). Ancient Egyptian Kings List. Retrieved from: http://antiquities.bibalex.org/Attachments/images/Ancient%20Egyptian%20Kings%20List%20-%20English(2).pdf on 15.05.2016

Breasted, J. A. (1903). The Battle of Kadesh: A study in the Earliest Known Military Strategy. Chicago, IL: The Decennial Publications, University of Chicago Press. Retrieved from: http://www.societaitalianastoriamilitare.org/libri%20in%20regalo/1903%20BREASTED%20James%20Henry.%20the-Battle-of-Kadesh-A-Study-in-the-Earliest-Known-Military-Strategy.pdf on 09.04.2016

Carney, R. (Spring 2005). The Chariot: A Weapon that Revolutionized Egyptian Warfare. History Matters: An Undergraduate Journal of Historical Research, (2). Retrieved from: http://historymatters.appstate.edu/sites/historymatters.appstate.edu/files/egyptchariots_000.pdf on 10.05.2016.

Cau, P. (2011). Batallas del Mundo. [Battaglie, Maria Pilar Queralt, trans.]. Madrid, Spain: Editorial Tikal (Original work published in 2006).

Gral. Sir Hackett, J (1994). Prologue. In MacDonald, J. Enciclopedia visual de las grandes batallas de la historia del mundo (pp. 8 – 9). [Great Battlefields of the World, Gearco, trans.]. Barcelona, Spain: Editorial Rombo (Original work published in 1988).

Egipto en el Imperio Nuevo. (1996). Atlas de la Historia Universal El Tiempo. Bogota, Colombia: Casa Editorial El Tiempo.

Egipto, del -1570 a Alejandro Magno. (1989). Gran Enciclopedia Didactica Ilustrada: Historia Antigua. Mexico: Salvat Editores.

Egipto: Los Imperios Antiguo y Medio. (1989). Gran Enciclopedia Didactica Ilustrada: Historia Antigua. Mexico: Salvat Editores.

Murnane, W. J. (1990). The road to Kadesh. (2nd ed.). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. Retrieved from: https://oi.uchicago.edu/sites/oi.uchicago.edu/files/uploads/shared/docs/saoc42_2ed.pdf on 09.04.2016.

Ralby, A. (2013). Atlas of Military History: from Antiquity to the Present Day. Bath, UK: Parragon Books.

Wanner, R. (2005). Kadesh. Retrieved from: http://www.militaryhistoryonline.com/ancient/articles/kadesh.aspx on 10.05.2016



Image 'Missile Torpedo Boat (4)' by Sten Dueland. Released under Creative Commons 2.0 (CC BY-SA 2.0) license.

Image ‘Missile Torpedo Boat (4)‘ by Sten Dueland. Released under Creative Commons 2.0 (CC BY-SA 2.0) license.

* This article and the image were originally published in globalpublicpolicywatch


The Viking Saga IV: The Viking Realm and the Frozen Gates between the West and the East

On a cold night in the year 1194, a group of Drakkars reach a group of islands known to the ships’ crews as the ‘Svalbarði’. As they approach the snow covered land, illuminated by the Northern Lights and stars in the northern skies above, they can see that theirs are not the only ships sailing towards the islands. A Lodje, a ship used by the Pomors, people from the frozen north lands, is sighted. And then another, and another. The Vikings land ashore, with the Pomors following closely behind. Driven by curiosity, the two groups decide to approach each other on the frozen shore. They meet, and as a meteor streaks across the northern skies, the Vikings and the Pomors interact for the first time.

Today, those islands are called “Svalbard” and, although it is Norway who claims sovereignty of the archipelago, they are still a meeting place for the East and West, with members from many nations, such as Russia and the US, living there from time to time. Svalbard can also be seen as an Arctic boundary between the East and West, being a gateway through which Russia can access the Atlantic Ocean. These gateways, and the countries they belonged to, were especially important during WWII and the Cold War and with the growing interest in the Arctic they are once again becoming increasingly important. Nowadays Svalbard is particularly important for Norway as both the islands and their surrounding waters are a cornerstone for the country’s Arctic policy and strategy. Because of Svalbard, Norway is the only Scandinavian country with a direct coastline along the Arctic Ocean and that northern area is a fundamental element for Norwegian actions regarding the area.

Norway denominates this region as the “High North” and has designed a policy for it over the last 20 years which has been developed since the end of the Cold War, taking its current, more defined shape, around 2005. From those days until now the High North policy has had 7 important elements: a deepened and renewed cooperation with Russia[i]; the development of a broad diplomacy, aimed at including countries outside the Arctic region as well as the same institutions created for the area (such as the Arctic Council); the knowledge of the climate change rate and its effects, which are being accounted as an opening for new resources and new trade routes but also as a new obstacle for the livelihoods and traditional way of life of indigenous people; the integrated maritime management of resources, namely fisheries, which has brought a harmonisation between Norway and Russia on the topic; the appearance, and exploitation, of oil and gas fields in the waters to the east of Svalbard; the acceptance of the Rule of Law , or to be more accurate, the Rule of the Sea which in turn provides Norway sovereignty over important resources (and as a basis to solve any dispute); and finally, the establishing of a network through other Arctic countries and Institutions, even the EU, and partnerships like the Nordic Dimension (Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2011).

The latest High North policy has since added new objectives, based on those previously mentioned. The first objective is to establish the emergence of a new energy source for Europe, which would then provide secured oil and gas for the continent. The second, in close relation with the previous objective, is the forging of a new industrial age in the High North involving the exploitation and sustainable management of gas, oil and fisheries in the Barents Sea as well as cooperation with Russia on the matter[ii]. This drives into the third objective, which is the pioneering work on integrated maritime management, all to be performed in the light of the previously mentioned cooperation with Russia and within the frameworks given by the Arctic Council. The fourth objective is to take measures following the increasing attention towards the Arctic Ocean’s potential as a shipping route, which presents an opportunity and a challenge to both Norway and Russia in terms of provision of services to the ships and the risk that they might encounter respectively. This objective also takes account of the increased interest shown by outsider states, namely China, South Korea, Japan and Singapore (Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2011). The fifth objective is the implementation of measures in order to support and perform research activities in and on the area, since it is being perceived as source of knowledge on climatic and environmental change[iii]. The sixth is the cooperation between academic and research institutes, institutions, Arctic, and Non Arctic countries, and with a focus on environment, native peoples and resources management, along with tourism and SAR operations. The seventh and final objective is the implementation of actions oriented at the increased military presence of Norway in the light of the increased importance that the High North/Arctic is acquiring once again. Cooperation with Russia and the hosting of NATO exercises are the main actions to be taken and the exertion of sovereignty is beyond any doubt the aim behind this objective (Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2011).

All of the previous objectives are framed within four more general objectives of the current High North Policy: the safeguarding of peace and stability while providing stability; the ensuring of an environment friendly resource management; the strengthening of international cooperation and rule of international law; and the strengthening of basis for employment, value creation and welfare through regional, national and international cooperation. Three key words capture the soul of the Norwegian High North Policy: Knowledge, Activity, and Presence (Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2011).

Environment is one of the core preoccupations of the Norwegian strategy, along with the issue of resources and potential new Arctic shipping routes. But the fact that Norway, along with Finland, is a country that shares an immediate border at sea and land with Russia makes cooperation with Russia an imperative action, as Huebert, Exner-Pirot, Lajeneusse, & Gulledge (2012) all remark. Cooperation, as it seems, is the main feature of the Norwegian policies on the High North, but on the other hand the desire to increase military presence and capabilities is another feature that takes into consideration a possible failure of the cooperative dynamics. It is a possibility that Norway takes very seriously into account, not only because of the fact that Norway is a neighbouring NATO country with Russia but also because of the strategic implications of an opening Arctic in which exertion of Sovereignty turns into an important matter [iv] (Huebert, Exner – Pirot, Lajeneusse, & Gulledge, 2012).

As a matter of fact the policy recognizes that, regarding Russia, there are some important nuclear units present there and the High North area is being used as the scenario for military exercises involving air and naval units of great capacities. Norway also aims at protecting its interests in the area, which includes a climate of stable and predictable relations with Russia and other actors present in the area, along with the protection of maritime resources, as Skagestad (2010, p.12) explains.

Jensen, Jensen & Rottem (2011) explains in a similar way that the military presence in the High North responds to an aim of “traditional state security” (p. 18), where deterrence is the absolute top of such measures in order to tackle any desire of high-level military confrontations[v]. NATO is a cornerstone for such aims but Norway also wants to deal with “minor strategic” conflicts by itself, such as a conflict taking place on one of its fisheries, for example [vi]. As such, sovereignty, protection of national interests and resources, and deterrence are the primary reasons behind the dual approach of Norway on its Arctic area, not forgetting that its policy has cooperation with Russia in every single instance as the second-most important framework, along with the discussed (military) presence in the area. In a deeper way, the High North Strategy points out that the Armed Forces have as a priority the preparations for strengthening their presence in the High North, becoming the gravitating objective around which the Armed Forces will be organized. Particular attention is being paid to the Coastal Squadron and the Coast guard, along with the Norwegian Intelligence Service. New vessels are being incorporated (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2011) and the modernization of the Navy and the Air Force are also set as actions to do on the list of priorities: new vessels, helicopters for both Navy and Coast Guards ships and the replacement of the current F – 16 fighter flotilla (with possibly F -35, advanced 5th Generation multirole fighter in which Norway took a part on its development) for the sake of surveillance and rapid reaction in the area. Following this, the Armed Forces Joint Headquarters has been established at Bodø, in the north of the country (Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2011). Moreover, there is a convergent recognition of the High North/Arctic as a place strategically important for Norway and Russia in military and energetic aspects, and subsequently demanding the presence of the Armed forces in the area (Norwegian Ministry of Defence, 2013).

NATO might be one of the cornerstones of Norway defence policies, but the Nordic Defence Cooperation is another important element for the Norwegian High North Defence. Fighter training is currently taking place among the air forces of the member states, in the High North area, along with a cooperation between Norway and Finland on artillery systems, the Finnish purchasing of Norwegian-made SAM missiles and the possible joining of Sweden and Finland on the NATO Air Situation Data Exchange (Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2011). The assets in which Norway has been investing to give the High North Strategy and policies the strength to be executed are of great importance and capacity. First of all it has introduced 5 stealth Fridtjof Nansen class Frigates that are multi-role, capable of attacking surface and submerged targets. What makes these vessels so special is that have incorporated the Aegis System, marking a close cooperation with the United States, and have provided the vessels with a high-rank anti-air defence. Secondly, the Norwegian Navy has introduced a class of 5 small and stealth patrol vessels class Skjold, with anti-surface and anti-air capabilities (though the latter is a one of short range) and also capable of speeds over 100 knots. It also has six diesel Ula class submarines and there are plans for the purchase of large support ship for the frigates, increasing the naval assets and their capabilities for the High North. There is also a research ship capable of gathering intelligence and 8 OPVs, three of them capable of having a helicopter and some armed with a 57 mm gun and NBC (Nuclear, Biological, Chemical) protection, the latter being operated by the Coast Guard[vii] (Wezeman, 2012; Huebert, 2010; Huebert, Exner – Pirot, Lajeneusse, & Gulledge, 2012).

As was mentioned, there are plans for the replacement of the 60 F-16 fighters for 48 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, complemented by six P-3 Orion ASW and long-range patrol aircraft (Wezeman, 2012; Huebert, 2010; Huebert, Exner – Pirot, Lajeneusse, & Gulledge, 2012). Finally, since 2009 the Brigade Nord has been stationed above the Arctic Circle having winter training and is a heavy mechanized unit meaning that it has infantry fighting vehicles like the M-113 and CV 9030 within its ranks, along with BV 206 all-terrain carriers, Archer self-propelled artillery systems, and Leopard 2A4 Heavy Battle Tanks (Regehr, 2012). This, according to Pettersen (2012), is a reaction to the declaration by Russia a year beforehand that it would create units capable of operate in the Arctic [viii].

Like Denmark, Norway is among the few countries that it is taking the right measures in the light of the changing Arctic, its transformation into a new geopolitical hotspot, and the everyday possibility of a Russian comeback with a similar aggressive attitude as the days of the Cold War. Norway’s position makes it clear that stabilization and cooperation with Russia in order to reach it is an important issue for the sake of stable and peaceful relations with its powerful neighbour (which reminds one in a certain way of how things were during the Cold War). Being a NATO member also seems to push Norway into such direction. Still, Norway is far more conscious than other nations such as Finland, Iceland and Canada, about the possibility of a conflict involving China or Russia. In the Russian case, Norway hold all the keys to the immediate gateway that would allow Russian vessels, or not, into the open seas of the North Atlantic in the case of a conflict. That gateway is Svalbard, where Norway and Russia, the Vikings and Pomors, might collide in the light of those potential conflicts. In Regards to China, the need to exert sovereignty is more than clear for a Norway that will see more than one flag sailing through its waters in the near future. This of course includes the provision for controlling potential harmful ships as well as SAR operations and disaster management. Sovereignty also comes into the fact that Norway must control and secure the resources, and their exploitation, in the area.

Norway is relying on its preparations to defend itself and manage a potential situation of conflict with its NATO membership and with the Nordic Defence Cooperation. This is an important step taken in the light of a conflict that, as it has been reviewed with the previous Scandinavian cases, will affect them entirely in one way or another, having an Arctic Littoral or not. For instance, if Finland is very vulnerable due to its large border with Russia, Norway, in turn, is very vulnerable for its great maritime border with Russia and the shape of its coasts, just as Iceland is very vulnerable to the sight of Russian warships and submarines raiding near its waters. Therefore, it is very positive that Norway is boosting its cooperation in every sense with some Scandinavian nations, moreover when it comes to dealing with some immediate potential threats.

Norway, in other words, is ready to contribute by peaceful means to a good environment in the Arctic area, but it is also ready to hold the axe and fight if tensions spark. The Cold War might be over, but given recent Russian actions, Cold War instruments and mentality might partially return to the minds and desks of the politicians and generals of Norway. And if so the Arctic might become a very warm place, but not necessarily because of the environmental change.



[i] The document accounts the good trend the relations between Norway and Russia had, although it recognizes that differences still remain due to some issues Norway has, such as being a NATO member. See: p. 11.

[ii] Bear in mind the prospective presence of oil and gas in Arctic waters.

[iii] This includes the acknowledgement that pollutants impact the region, as well as the impact of the radioactive pollution made by the Soviet Union at the Kara Sea during the Cold War. According to the Organization Bellona, there are 17000 containers of radioactive waste, 19 ships with such type of waste, 14 nuclear reactors – 5 of them still contain nuclear fuel – and 735 pieces of radioactive contaminated machinery, along with one nuclear submarine – the K27 – whose two reactors are still loaded with nuclear fuel. See: http://bellona.org/news/uncategorized/2012-08-russia-announces-enormous-finds-of-radioactive-waste-and-nuclear-reactors-in-arctic-seas

[iv] Other “soft” security considerations includes SAR and environment.

[v] It will be very interesting to see how this is going on in the next case: Russia.

[vi] Surprisingly, Jensen & Rottem (2009) point out that the Norwegian policies on the Hard area apparently responds not only to a Russia increasing its military presence in the area, but also to the consequences of a rising China, making such policies to be understood in the light of the geopolitical changes and are not isolated from such.

[vii] Some of them are from the (and named) Svalbard class.

[viii] See: Pettersen, T (2012). Norway establishes ‘Arctic Batallion’. Barents Observer. Retrieved from: http://barentsobserver.com/en/topics/norway-establishes-arctic-battalion on 15.01.2014



Bellona (2012). Russia announces enormous finds of radioactive waste and nuclear reactors in Arctic seas. Retrieved from http://bellona.org/news/uncategorized/2012-08-russia-announces-enormous-finds-of-radioactive-waste-and-nuclear-reactors-in-arctic-seas on 15.01.2014

Huebert, R (2010). The Newly Emerging Arctic Security Environment. Canadian Defence & Foreign Affairs Institute. Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

Huebert, R., Exner – Pirot, H., Lajeneusse, A., & Gulledge, J. (2012). Climate Change and International Security: the Arctic as a Bellwelther. Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. Arlington, Virginia, USA.

Jensen, L. C.; Jensen, Ø; & Rottem, S. V (2011). Norwegian foreign policy in the High North. Energy, international law and security. In: Atlantisch Perspectief, 3/2011 (35). Den Haag, Netherlands.

Jensen, Ø; & Rottem, S. V (2009). The politics of security and international law in Norway’s Arctic waters. In: Polar Record 46 (236), pp. 75 – 83. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.

Norwegian Ministry of Defence (2013). Competency for a new era. Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Oslo, Norway.

Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2011). The High North 2011. Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Oslo, Norway.

Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2011). The High North. Visions and Strategies. Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Oslo, Norway.

Pettersen, T (2012). Norway establishes ‘Arctic Batallion’. Barents Observer. Kirkenes, Norway. Retrieved from: http://barentsobserver.com/en/topics/norway-establishes-arctic-battalion on 14.01.2014

Regehr, E (2012). Circumpolar Military Facilities of Norway. The Simons Foundation. Vancouver, Canada.

Skagestad, O, G (2010). The ‘High North’. An Elastic Concept in Norwegian Arctic Policy. Fridtjof Nansen Institute. Lysaker, Norway.

Wezeman, S. T (2012). Military Capabilities in the Arctic. SIPRI Background Paper. SIPRI. Stockholm, Sweden.


Image 'Iceland' by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center's photostream (NASA/GSFC/Jeff Schmaltz/MODIS Land Rapid Response Team). Released under Creative Commons 2.0 (CC BY  2.0) license.

Image ‘Iceland‘ by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center’s photostream (NASA/GSFC/Jeff Schmaltz/MODIS Land Rapid Response Team). Released under Creative Commons 2.0 (CC BY 2.0) license.


* This arcticle and the image were originally published in globalpublicpolicywatch


The Viking Saga III: Snæland, the Far Island of the North

The Viking Drakkars navigate through the mist and the snow, hoping to catch a glimpse of dry land. They sail for hours but there is no sighting and the mist continues to blind the men on the longships. But then suddenly, as though a curtain was opened for all but a split second, the mist clears. There is a shout, a cry: land. Slowly it reveals itself to the men. Mountains, and lots of them, all covered with snow and towering above the sea shimmering ominously under the Northern Lights. There is little wonder that Naddod the Viking, impressed by such a sight, named the land Snæland, or Snowland. Today that land has a different, albeit very similar, name: Iceland, a name given by Floki, son of Vilgerd.

Nowadays, despite not having any direct coastline with the Arctic Ocean, Iceland is within the Arctic Circle and is an Arctic state facing a similar situation to those already reviewed in this series. It is a state that will also be very sensitive to any rise in any tension there, and it is not the first time Iceland faces such a situation, having been involved in both the Second World War and the Cold War with Iceland being a key member of NATO. And while the Arctic issues won’t be any different for Iceland, it will be an important actor and element if tensions and clashes erupt in a similar way to Finland.

The Icelandic stance regarding the Arctic already takes account of the previously mentioned changing conditions that are giving the Arctic a new importance in the International and Geopolitical spheres, stating that the possibilities of conflict are minimal but mindful that disputes over continental shelf expansion claims can take place and harm relations among the Arctic states. Additionally, Iceland perceives itself as an Arctic State with great interests at stake in the area, which in turn are shaped by its position and access to resources. Increasing the influence of Iceland on the destiny of the Arctic, the safeguarding of economic, environmental and security issues, and furthered cooperation between other nations and other actors are the main aims of the Icelandic arctic policy (Althingi, 2011).

The Arctic Policy of Iceland is, therefore, supported 12 pillars that frame every action and measure taken by the country in a general sense:

  • The first of them is the strengthening of the Arctic Council as a multilateral instance where decisions are to be taken and in which Iceland can play a significant role.
  • The second pillar is related to the first and states that Iceland must have an increased protagonist paper on Arctic decision making, that the EEZ to the north lies within Arctic area and that Iceland has rights to areas at the north of the Arctic Circle, a claim that ought to be supported by government and institutions.
  • The third pillar is based on the promotion of an extension of the geographical demarcation of the Arctic, including the northern part of the Atlantic Ocean to address issues of economic, political, security and ecological natures.
  • The fourth pillar is the use of International Law for the resolution of dispute and resource exploitation (Althingi, 2011; Hanesson, 2012).
  • The fifth is the increasing of cooperation with Greenland and Faroe Island for their respective and common positions.
  • The sixth is the support of Arctic Indigenous peoples’ rights.
  • The seventh is the construction of agreements and cooperation with other stakeholders in the Arctic.
  • The eighth is the protection of the environment and the promotion for a sustainable development along with the contribution to preserve the culture of the Aboriginal Peoples.
  • The ninth is the prevention of militarization in the Arctic Area, aiming instead at a “civilian security” for the area[1].
  • The tenth is the intent to deepen the development of trade between the Arctic States and provide job opportunities for nationals in the new markets and industries created.
  • The eleventh is the provision of information to citizens on Arctic issues as well as promoting Iceland and its Arctic-related institutions for being the host of related meetings and for its cooperation with other organizations respectively.
  • The twelfth and final pillar is the increasing of domestic consultations and cooperation (Althingi, 2011; Hanesson, 2012).

The Foreign Affairs Minister of Iceland, Össur Skarphéðinsson (2012) explains the reasons behind the Icelandic Arctic policy, by pointing out that Iceland and its population depend on the climate and the exploitation of fisheries. As such, Iceland is very vulnerable to the effects of any alteration in climate; fisheries are dependant on climatic and environmental fluctuations and are extremely sensitive to pollutants carried on the currents that flow between the Arctic Ocean and the North Atlantic. Even a minor contamination can jeopardize the fisheries and thus one of the main economic activities of the country.

However, environmental and economic concerns are not the only important reasons why Iceland looks to the Frozen North. Hanesson (2012) remarks that on the area of security, that in terms of reaching of an enhanced general security, mutual trust, confidence and the prevention of militarization of the Arctic are all essential, along with the improving of civilian prevention, preparedness and response mechanism to an environmental or other disaster. Hanesson (2012) also recommends that forms of cooperation are be strengthened, not just amongst the Arctics and the EU, but NATO too, which makes the Icelandic case equally interesting. In the same way as Denmark, Canada, Norway and the U.S., Iceland can call upon the presence of NATO in the area as well as serve as a passage due to its location, a geographical quality shared only with Greenland. This is especially important given that the Arctic is turning into a new geopolitical competition between the US, Russia, and China.

It is important to point out that, in respects to the newly open shipping lines, given their location, Iceland can have a key role in the opening of a Transarctic Route. This could help make the country a hub for commercial shipping, as well as a key interchange point along the Euro – Asian and North American Arctic routes, aided by an Icelandic company willing to develop such an initiative. Iceland can also play a role in the research and maritime study of the new shipping routes[2].

In this regard, the President of Iceland remarks that the Arctic is the strategic backyard of the US, having been militarized during the Cold War, and now is a region where there is an Institution like the Arctic Council that exists in order to reach cooperation and agreements among the Arctic states. The council has become especially important since the region gained greater strategic relevance due to its resources which are attracting other states like China[3], India and South Korea. The president also notes the potential new trade routes and points out the need for the US to pay more attention to Arctic events and how they can affect its homeland security (Miks, 2013). Regarding NATO, there are two aspects that makes Iceland a strategic gateway for a NATO commitment in the arctic. The first fact, following Stringer (2009), is that the opening of new shipping routes means civilian and military ships from non-Arctic nations (such as China) will have access to the area as well as the fact that the territorial disputes between the Coastal Arctic Nations’ claims can lead to high disputes – and do not forget that every arctic nation is increasing its military presence and capacities in the region – making the Arctic prone to facing a volatile situation with the presence of all the elements needed for a perfect storm. The second fact according to Pétursson (2011), is that the Air Policy that followed the withdrawal of US forces in 2006 allows for NATO members to provide air defence with jet fighters and their logistical support for a short period of time[4]. Cooperation with other Nordic nations like Denmark and Norway are, for instance, based on the NATO frameworks, as well as the one with the UK.

This means that Iceland is likely to bring NATO onto the stage in the same way as Norway, given the importance of the organization and that it is a cornerstone in the defence strategies of all the Arctic states except one. This then gives NATO an even more important role in the Arctic, in both military and political aspects, and is an important point to consider when one is reminded that Russia intends to create an aircraft carrier-based combat group along with the possible marauding of Russian submarines in the area and flights of bombers, as in the Canadian case. This means that, no matter Icelandic intentions, the militarization of the Arctic is likely to continue, adding the fact that new shipping routes means new routes for naval as well as merchant shipping (Pétursson, 2011). Surprisingly, according to STRATFOR (2012), Sweden and Finland decided to collaborate with the Icelandic Air Policy, showing that the security of the Arctic concerns not only NATO and Iceland, but also Scandinavian nations that, although not part of the Alliance, are willing to contribute to it. Additionally, it is a strong sign of cooperation among the Nordic Nations as well as a sign that NATO can cooperate with said countries.

The fact that Iceland is part of NATO, along with Norway and Denmark, is a good and positive sign for its real security, as well as the fact that an increasing cooperation and integration between the Nordic countries might further increase Iceland’s security. Still, as Benediktsson (2011) remarks, NATO is the main cornerstone for any defence plan of Iceland, and in this sense, Iceland has being kept bilateral consultation with the US, continues to advocate for the continuation of the NATO-led exercises known as Northern Viking (in which Sweden as well as Finland took part), and vows for the continuation of its Air Policy. A membership to the EU can only help Iceland even further and in turn, bring the EU into the Arctic Scenario as a new actor. The active taking part on defence consultation at the Nordic Council are also steps that improves the security of Iceland, as it faces the very uncertain and dangerous changes taking place in the Arctic.

The perspectives then, seem quite eased for Iceland and there is more than one aegis shielding Iceland from any possible aggression as during the Cold War. But the fact that there are some Institutions like the Arctic Council and a less tensed environment than there was during the Cold War does not mean that conflicts will not to take place. On the contrary, the Arctic will become another Geopolitical hotspot with the ‘Great Powers’ contesting for the dominion of important parts of it, as well as control over resources and new routes, while increasing their own military presence either to defend or act on their claims.

The positive aspect is that Iceland is furthering on the security aspect no matter the somewhat nïave prediction of a low possibility of conflicts, even if the country wishes no militarization of the Arctic, as it is a process that will take place sooner or later, as though it were a plot of a Greek tragedy. In this sense, cooperation agreements with the Nordic Nations and NATO are on to be furthered, and Iceland is considering bringing back America and other nations to station jet squadrons for longer times to increase the air surveillance system (for air defence and SAR tasks), and to even allow the building up of a harbour to shelter some naval elements of NATO and Nordic navies facing a possible conflict in the area. One way or another, Iceland’s strategic position is too important to be ignored, even if such moves make the island the front-row spectator, along with Finland, to witness and experience any turn in the geopolitical tides. WWII and the Cold War both offer lessons that must not be forgotten in regards to the Arctic. Just as the climate change that affects the currents that flow through the economically vital fisheries, a political-military change in the Arctic will affect the life and stability of the country that could lead to far worse than economic problems.



[1] In other words, the provision of welfare, SAR capabilities and environment protection, to be met through cooperation with other states as well. See: Althingi, (2011), p. 2.

[2] See: Icelandic Government (2007). Breaking the Ice: Arctic Development and Maritime Transportation. Prospects of the Transarctic Route – Impact and Opportunities, p. 26.

[3] As it was reviewed on the First Article of the Arctic Series, China is one of the new outsiders with a strong impact, and most, if not all of the reviewed states, takes that factor into account.

[4] NATO, as a matter of fact, also provides cooperation in surveillance and Search and Rescue.



Althingi (2011). A Parliamentary Resolution on Iceland’s Arctic Policy. Reykjavik, Iceland.

Benediktsson, E (2011). At Crossroads: Iceland’s Defence and Security Relations, 1940 – 2011. Strategic Studies Institute. United States Army War College. Retrieved from: http://www.strategicstudiesinstitute.army.mil/index.cfm/articles/Icelands-Defense-and-Security-Relations-1940-2011/2011/8/18 on 30.12.2013.

Hannesson, H. W (2012). Iceland and the Arctic. [Power Point Presentation]Reykjavik, Iceland: Ministry for Foreign Affairs. Retrieved from: http://www.institutenorth.org/assets/images/uploads/articles/Nor%C3%B0ursl%C3%B3%C3%B0astefna_Alaska_2611_2012.pdf on 30.12.2013

Icelandic Government (2007). Breaking the Ice: Arctic Development and Maritime Transportation. Prospects of the Transarctic Route – Impact and Opportunities. Conference Report. Akureyri, Iceland: Prentstofan Stell. Retrieved from: http://www.mfa.is/media/Utgafa/Breaking_The_Ice_Conference_Report.pdf on 30.12.2013.

Miks, J (2013). Iceland’s President: Arctic Crucial to America. Retrieved from: http://globalpublicsquare.blogs.cnn.com/2013/10/03/icelands-president-arctic-crucial-to-america/ on 30.12.2013.

Petursson, G (2011). Cooperation in the High North: the case of Iceland. In: Nordia Geographical Publications 40: 4, pp. 77 – 86. NGP Yearbook of 2011. Oulu, Finland: Nordia Geographical Publications.

Skarphéðinsson, Ö (2012). Icelandic Perspectives on the Arctic. Arctic Frontiers – Arctic Tipping Points. Tromsö, Norway.

STRATFOR (2012). Finland, Sweden: A Step Toward Greater Nordic Security Cooperation. In: International Relations and Security Network. Retrieved from: http://www.isn.ethz.ch/Digital-Library/Articles/Detail/?id=154657 on 31.12.2013.

Stringer, D (2009). Iceland: NATO Charts Out Battle for the Arctic: Arctic’s thawing seas bring new security risks. On: Globalresearch, Centre for Research on Globalization. Retrieved from: http://www.globalresearch.ca/iceland-nato-charts-out-battle-for-the-arctic/12085 on 03.01.2014.



Image 'Royal Aircraft Factory SE5a Scout'. Released under Creative Commons 2.0 (CC BY 2.0) license

Image ‘Royal Aircraft Factory SE5a Scout‘ by Barry Lewis. Released under Creative Commons 2.0 (CC BY 2.0) license


* This article and the image were originally published in globalpublicpolicywatch


On the highway to hell: The reasons behind the First World War (Part 3b).

The third stage: At the gates of Hell, 1890 – 1914 (Continuation)

The Titans’ Rush into a Clash: The rise of the New-comers


Of all the belligerents in the Great War, it was the United States and Japan who benefited the most, and Italy the least despite joining the Allies. Such outcomes where not a surprise however, since the first two were already on the ascending path long before the War started.

The United States was enjoying the recent fruits of its victory against Spain in the 1898, where Guam, the Philippines and Puerto Rico became part of the territory under American control, while Cuba became independent but continued to be influenced by the United States[1]. Moreover, the United States was not as quiet as we commonly think, since it was actively intervening – especially in the last half of the 19 century and the first year of the 20th century – in Latin America and the Caribbean. The war with Spain, which will be briefly reviewed in detail, reflected the importance given by the United States to the Caribbean, Latin America and Asia and the Pacific. The latter was increasingly important for the United States mainly because of the markets in China, secured by the “Open door policy”. Therefore, the United States concentrated more in these three regions. This focus contributed to its rise, and would later turn it into an important and decisive player in the upcoming Great War (Segesser, 2013; Kennedy, 2004).

Indeed, the United States benefited (and its own rising fuelled) from high economic development (like the railroads, for example), and it was enjoying an important level of industrialization that allowed it to invest in a fleet. This fleet played an essential role in the US’s rise as a Great Power and allowed it to secure its own interests in the abovementioned areas; it was also the key element for its victory against Spain in 1898. As a result of both its fleet and its economic development, it became an important financial hub and a Power with significant economic influence around the globe. That economic aspect would be decisive for the outcome in the Great War and its accelerated ascension in the international system (Kennedy, 2004).

In detail, those events were not a product of mere luck but of a calculated strategy, whose grounds where at the ‘American Weltpolitik’[2]. There was a strong moral approach that imprinted America’s foreign policies of the time with a special trait, but there were also pressure from the industrial and agricultural sector to secure the overseas territories. The Monroe Doctrine and the ‘Manifest Destiny’ doctrines were already present and helped to craft the American strategies and actions. They both made America seek for supremacy in the Western Hemisphere, yet they did not impede America’s intervention beyond such a hemisphere (Kennedy, 2004)[3].

Like the British Empire, it tried to avoid any permanent alliances yet diplomacy was proactively used and regarded as an important element for the foreign policies. Still, the United State had little, if any, trust at all in the other Powers. Some neutrality policy was kept in regards of the Great Powers disputes, yet the Navy was increased in order to provide support to America’s diplomacy. As a result, a possible war against the British Empire was estimated as a feasible event; a worldwide visit by the ‘White Fleet’ (The US Navy as it was known then) was made in 1907 as a demonstration of power and influence. The United States controlled a valuable and strategic asset – the Panama Canal. Those actions and the increased naval build-up where also the result of their lack of confidence in the other Great Powers, being a measure of power demonstration and deterrence[4]. Interestingly, the United States was reluctant to have a big army (Kennedy, 2004).

Adding to its fleet and its presence in Asia would inevitably set that Great Power into a collision course with Japan, but the latter’s alignment with the Allies only postponed such clash until 1941. Japan also followed a similar path as of the United States. It enjoyed industrialisation, following its period of modernization[5]. The crisis in Europe and the continuous clashes between the European Powers meant for Japan a wide open window to meet its interests in China, Manchuria and Korea, while attempting some expansion towards the south and the Pacific[6]. But within the last stage towards the war and the war itself, Japan slowly secured and strengthened its positions in the mentioned area, thus acquiring more territories or zones of influence in Korea, Formosa (Taiwan), Liaodong and Pescadores. Diplomacy for Japan was also a useful tool, mainly by the alliance it established with the British Empire. It made Japan the main and uncontested Great Power in Asia (Segesser, 2013). Japan was increasing its military assets and complementing them with its diplomatic actions as well. It increased and created a new and powerful navy, following the Royal Navy model, but unlike America, it was very prone to give way to a big army, following the German model. Moreover, the military began to exert a strong influence on the political and economic situation in Japan. The defence sector had the lion’s share in the production plans and the ‘zaibatsu’ – an important portion of the Japanese society and the heads of the private enterprises – worked hand-in-hand with the army. This became even stronger following the privatization of the Japanese industries and their controlling by the ‘zaibatsu’ (Segesser, 2013).

That gave good results. In 1894 and 1905 Japan was victorious against China and Russia respectively. An example is the Battle of Tsushima, where the Russian Fleet was literally decimated, and the Battle of Port Arthur in 1905, where both the Russian Fleet and the Army were severely damaged. The victories of Japan came not only after the mere expansion of its fleet and army, but also by the careful preparations in both tactics and technical aspects prior to the wars. The Navy followed the Royal Navy model and also had some British-made ships or locally made ships with British technical assistance[7]. The artillery in turn was acquired from the Krupp factories. Also in qualitative aspects Japan prepared its soldiers and sailors, by giving them a highly motivated combat spirit. However, the cost were dangerous since Japan came close to a bankruptcy, although it was being financed by the British Empire and the United States (Kennedy, 2004).

On the contrary, Italy was not in the same league as the United States and Japan. Like Germany it was also a newly-formed state by the same time and received a certain degree of industrialization, especially in the period from 1896 to 1908, yet the productivity was very low. National unity was very weak, as well as the relations between the military and the civil sector: as a consequence Italy was not so prone – very reluctant, on the contrary – to any military expansion and a more proactive foreign policy. As a result, the few attempts for an active foreign policy lacked strength. Italy was the only nation by those times to be defeated by a non-European power (or army) in the battle of Sadowa, in 1896. The war in Libya in 1911-1912 was almost a disaster, and to make things worse, the Navy was too small and insignificant to give any support. The only success scored by Italy was its alliance with the British Empire, aimed at neutralizing France, who was a rival for the control of the Mediterranean Sea, but it was also a move against Austria. All in all, Italy was the weakest of all the emergent and eccentric Great Powers, thus playing a very little role in the following war (Kennedy, 2004).

Those small wars…

Three were the wars that either contributed to the rise of certain Great Powers or the weakening of others, or accelerated the already fast speed towards the Great War of 1914. The first was the Spanish – American War of 1898, the second was the Russo-Japanese War of 1904 – 1905, and the Balkan Wars. Despite being local conflicts, they had strong repercussions that led to the First World War and that still can be felt nowadays.

The night of February 15, 1898 at the Havana harbour: An American battleship, the USS Maine, is anchored at the bay. A sudden explosion rips the ship apart, sinking it. That explosion sparked a war between a rising Power and a decadent Empire, and along with the battleship, the Spanish’s last traits of power sank as well. However, the United States emerged victorious. The reasons of the war can be summarized in the interests that the United States had in Cuba (it wanted to purchase it from Spain), with important investments of around $50 million in the sugar plantations, and the unrest that took place during those times[8]. The Spanish inability to solve the crisis forced the American intervention following the imposition of martial law and the allocation of population under Spanish troops’ control. The sinking of the USS Maine decided American intervention and took down the moments of hesitation prior the war (Library of the Congress, 2011).

Like the battles of Tsushima and Port Arthur, the Spanish naval assets at Manila Bay, Havana harbour and San Juan were entirely decimated by the American Navy, while the Spanish army suffered high casualties inflicted by the American, Cuban and Filipino effectives and guerrillas. The outcome then was inevitable and it has been already pointed out – The United Stated gained control over Puerto Rico and Guam, while it purchased the Philippines and secured the independence of Cuba (Library of the Congress, 2011)[9].

The Russo-Japanese war was also a war between a rising Power and a decaying one. The rivalry for the control over Manchuria and Korea led the two Powers to collide in 1904, following a Russian pressure on China in 1898 to grant a leasing of Port Arthur, strategically valuable for Russian interests in Asia and the Pacific. This port would allow Russia not only to have access to the mentioned ocean, but it also allowed them to build across the Chinese-held Manchuria the Trans-Siberian Railroad until Vladivostok following an alliance agreement with China and aimed against Japan. Japan did not stand passive and began to augment its military power in the area, which it was basically doing after its victory over China in 1894, and utilized it after Russia decided not to fulfil a 1903 agreement to withdraw its troops (Encyclopædia Britannica, 2014a).

Russia fared poorly during the war and even a case of incompetence and corruption took place when the commander of Port Arthur’s garrison surrendered the position without any consultation with his superior and having enough supplies to sustain a three-month fight. This poor leadership led to inefficient military actions. And although Japan did not have an easy campaign at the sea, it had the opportunity to destroy the Russian Baltic Fleet on its way to relieve the Russian forces at Port Arthur and trying to make into Vladivostok at the Tsushima strait. Along with the defeats suffered in both land and sea, the unrest decided the whole war in Japan’s favour and even affected Russia two months after the armistice. Nonetheless, and after American mediation, Japan gained control over the Liaotung Peninsula, Port Arthur, the South Manchurian railroad, half of the Sakhalin Island, and a full recognized control over Korea, while southern Manchuria was restored to China (Encyclopædia Britannica, 2014a).

Finally, the two Balkan Wars of 1912 and 1913, an often forgotten set of conflicts, marked the last stage of acceleration towards the Great War. Unlike the two previous conflicts, those involved the European Great Powers, placing each of their interests against the others’. The wars depended of the Great Powers intentions, mainly Russia and Austria, but also France, Germany and the British Empire, acting as a replacement of the Ottoman Empire. Their intentions, of course, were to secure their own territorial, economic or political interests, puppeteering the young Balkan nations against each other (Segesser, 2013).

The first war was waged by an alliance promoted by Russia and comprised by Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece and Montenegro against the Ottoman Empire’s last territories in the Balkans and for the control over Macedonia. As a result, Macedonia was divided amongst the Balkan allies and Albania was established as an independent state upon the Great Powers insistence. Yet in 1913 another conflict between the former allies broke due to disagreements over their conquests on Macedonia, resulting in a Bulgarian defeat and with Serbia and Greece dividing most of Macedonia among them. Bulgaria, then, sought Austria for support and Serbia was forced to give up its Albanian advances due to Austrian pressures, thus being resentful against Vienna and looking at Russia for further support. The final outcome was increased tensions between Austria and Russia and in the end, the Balkan Wars were the last but fast mile towards the Great War (Encyclopædia Britannica, 2014b).

In the next section, the plans of War will be reviewed, along with the structural explanations of why the War took place and the discussion about the Great Powers’ responsibility for the war.



Encyclopædia Britannica (2014a). Russo-Japanese War. Retrieved from: http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/514017/Russo-Japanese-War

Encyclopædia Britannica (2014b). Balkan Wars. Retrieved from: http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/50300/Balkan-Wars

Kennedy, P. (2004). Auge y caida de las grandes potencias [The Rise and the Fall of the Great Powers, Ferrer Aleu, trans.]. Barcelona, Spain: Mondadori (Original work published in 1987).

Library of the Congress (2011). The World of 1898: The Spanish-American War. Introduction. Washington DC, USA: Hispanic Division, Library of the Congress. Retrieved from: http://www.loc.gov/rr/hispanic/1898/intro.html

Segesser, D. M. (2013). Der Erste Weltkrieg in globaler Perspektive. Stuttgart, Deutschland: Marixverlag.



[1] This meant that America were controlling strategic locations that allowed it to secure its own trade and to support and protect the markets it has on those areas, especially in China. Not to mention it was acquiring territories where it could expand its influence. In addition, it was having access to resources located in the mentioned places.

[2] As it was stated before, the United States of America was not entirely passive.

[3] The most prominent examples are the abovementioned “open door” policy and the mediation in the Russo – Japanese war.

[4] For instance, the German brief naval blockade of Venezuela came to an end after an American warning of intervention, and it contributed to the definite border between Venezuela and the British Empire (Guyana) following a dispute between both countries.

[5] Although a great part of the economy consisted yet of the economic sector.

[6] And the Great War represented a much wider opportunity for Japan to control the territories it sought.

[7] The alliance with the British Empire served Japan to access the British naval technology and know-how, and this could have been another objective behind its establishment. Nevertheless and following Kennedy (2004), it served also to ward-off any intervention against Japanese interests and interventions.

[8] Such investments began to take place after the Ten Years War (1868 – 1878).

[9] It is important to point out that the United Stated supported the independence movements in Cuba and the Philippines, with the pro-independence parties having their headquarters in American territory. See: http://www.loc.gov/rr/hispanic/1898/intro.html



Image 'Finland Grunge Flag‘ by Nicolas Raymond.  Released under Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0) License. Original image available at www.freestock.ca and released under Creative Commons 3.0 (CC BY 3.0) license

Image ‘Finland Grunge Flag‘ by Nicolas Raymond. Released under Creative Commons 2.0 (CC BY 2.0) license. Original image available at www.freestock.ca and released under Creative Commons 3.0 (CC BY 3.0) license


* This article and the image were originally published in globalpublicpolicywatch


The Viking Saga II: In the Land of Ice and Snow…

Green pines and a soft carpet of snow covers the ground where the wanderer walks. As he looks towards the heavens and sees the Northern Lights shining in the dark night sky, a shooting star flies past. On the horizon, far to the north, there is a fire. The wandered might not reach the Frozen Seas but the fire lies within reach. There is warmth there, the warmth of a future, although a future not without its risks. Still, the wanderer cuts a path to that northern horizon, heading towards the fire’s glow. This is his land, the land of Ice and Snow. This is Lapland.

Although Finland is not a littoral State in the Arctic, the Arctic region does include the northern part of Scandinavia, and the country has territory within the Polar Arctic Circle. For these reasons Finland is a member of the Arctic Council and is involved in arctic matters, especially in regards to its most northern region of Lapland; every event occurring in the Arctic might affect Finland and its Arctic/Northern Region. Furthermore, in the event of high tensions or an open conflict, Finland will arguably be one of the most affected States and will share the greatest burden of such a situation; it will be on the front line in a war against Russia, a position that might be worsened by the recent NATO enlargement in the country and the wider Scandinavian and Baltic region. And it must be remembered that Russia has had interests in Scandinavia over the last 400 years, waging wars with the Swedish Empire and seizing and attacking Finland in turn during the Winter War (Winter 1939 – 1940).

Finland sees itself as an active actor in the Arctic region, and one that will address the limitations and the opportunities given by the Arctic in a sustainable, environmentally friendly way, and through cooperation (Prime Minister’s Office, 2013). As such, Finland’s Arctic strategy rests on the fact that Finland is an Arctic country and that it will address policies and actions as such, which it states as the first pillar of its strategy. Arctic expertise is stated as the second, while sustainable development and environment is the third, and International Cooperation is the fourth. The Finnish aim is the promotion of growth and enhancement of competitiveness.

The country, of course, recognizes the changing environment in the Arctic and its future activities thus aim at the protection of the environment and the promotion of stability in the region. Finland also plan to take advantage of the new opportunities given by the Arctic, via the region of Lapland, which is within the geographical area of the Arctic. One of the current benefits Finland enjoys is the fact that – as mentioned in previous articles – it is a leader in Arctic maritime technology and shipping. In other words, Finland is a leading country in designing and building ships able to sail through iced-waters[i], and it aims to further enhance this area through cooperation with other Arctic countries. Mining, transport and logistics, and energy resource development (oil and gas) are sectors that the Finnish Arctic Strategy also aims to develop and reinforce, as an example of how Finland is following through with the second pillar of its strategy and how it aims to take advantage of the expertise it has in the previously mentioned areas [ii].

The last pillar has a lot to do with the security of the Finnish Northern Region and the Arctic as well, keeping in mind that every escalation of tension will be highly sensed in Finland. Finland accurately labels that the development of the Arctic economy and people’s welfare needs a stable and secure region. Preparedness is the core element in this area along with cooperation between the authorities, industry, NGOs and citizens. The Finnish defence forces are primarily tasked with supporting civilian safety and rescue services in SAR operations as well as in the event of a natural catastrophe or environmental damage, as the possibility of an armed conflict in the Arctic was assessed as improbable given the declaration of cooperation and observation of international laws signed by the Arctic states (Prime Minister’s Office, 2013).

However and as Colonel Aikio (2009) pointed out, a traditional threat against Finland is much more likely than an unconventional one such as terrorism. Although the cooperation between the EU and NATO has improved, a war is still possible just as what took place in Georgia in 2008 (Aikio 2009). Still, the tasks of the Finnish military forces are concentrated on Crisis Management and the seeking of alliances, along with a decrease in capabilities. A threat then, might come in a Regional crisis, or a political, economic and military pressure format, as well as any strategic attack that aims to seize territory. The regional crisis pointed out by Aikio (2009) might be an Arctic or Scandinavian one, especially when he recognizes that the increased accessibility of the Arctic will trigger the military presence of other nations and disputes for the resources in the region.

Following this, it is easy to deduce that Finland is somehow forced to increase the quality and quantity of its military forces, moreover if tensions between Russia and Norway, Denmark or all of NATO increase, forcing Finland to face a similar situation as the Winter War or at best, the Cold War[iii]. The Finnish Strategy fortunately takes note of the possible outcomes of these events and points out the need of having forces with preparedness and cooperation that are fully prepared to execute operations in the Arctic/Lapland area thanks to investing in equipment and training for specific Arctic operations. As cooperation is an important aspect for Finland, there is a prioritization of the Nordic Defence Cooperation, and the air forces of the Scandinavian Nations, with the exception of Denmark, have held some joint exercises aimed at the enhancement of Arctic capabilities. Sea surveillance has seen also some cooperation with other Arctic area Nations and some EU nations as well. According to the Finnish Security and Defence Policy (2012), the monitoring of the development of issues at the Arctic is also important along with using different initiatives and institutions to address any situation that might arise [iv].

According to Rudd (2010), NATO is proving to be a key element for Finland’s co-operation and defence strategy; the Finnish Armed Forces are making themselves meet NATO standards for capabilities and are taking part in NATOs Partnership for Peace as well as with Sweden in a strategic airlift program. Similarly, the EU is viewed as important for combating terrorism and organized crime, along with the promotion of a defence industries co-operation. Finland aligns itself with the EU approach of civil-military deployments when managing crises abroad and places a strong emphasis on the EUs frameworks for the Arctic (security) policy. Yet both commitments are perceived as essential for the nation’s security taking into account the Russian actions in Georgia and the political development as well. Even a full membership at NATO is being considered (Rudd 2010).

According to Rudd (2010), the assets that Finland has are intended to be deployed only within Finnish territory and in Arctic operations, unless an EU neighbour is under threat such as with the mutual defence assistance between Finland and Sweden. Conscription is to be kept and the high level of those on compulsory service will be taken as an advantage for future training. Hardware is also to be re-capitalized on and is aimed at meeting NATO standards, though there is a presence of both Western and Soviet/Russian equipment within the ranks. Upgrades are to be done with an emphasis on ground-bases, reserve ground units and regular ground units.

The unit present at Lapland, the Jaeger Brigade, is tasked with the development and evaluation of tactics and weapons for Northern use. The navy won’t suffer any transformation and will keep its fast attack crafts, mine warfare and coastal defence ships. The air force has a squadron of F/A – 18 C/D at Lapland and it is receiving an upgrade of its air-to-air and air-to-ground capacities, given the fact that the F/A – 18 are a multirole assets optimized for air-to-air and ground attack operations. Exercises with tankers from partner countries have also taken place (Rudd 2010). Huebert, Exner – Pirot, Lajeneusse, & Gulledge (2012) remark that Finland is aiming at acquiring a new aircraft and the F – 35 option has been on the table, and such desire is a mere manifestation of Finland’s growing concerns about the Arctic and what events might take place.

Finally, Finland states that for internal security issues, several similar models can be implemented within the framework of cooperation with other Arctic nations, such as cooperation in air and sea rescue operations. Finland, according to the same strategy, has expertise in that sort of operation and can export such knowledge to other Arctic areas. A project involving a Coast Guard cooperation mechanism is on the Finnish wish-list to enhance the internal security of its own waters and territory along with that of the neighbouring nations’.

What then should Finland do regarding its Arctic/Lapland policy? Indeed, Finland is placed in a undesirable strategic position in which it is almost surrounded by a Russia that can – and recently has – turn to aggressive behaviour, and a NATO and EU that, if anything, desires to expand to the East. Last but not least, all of the Finnish neighbours have aims and potential clashes in Arctic territories and resources. In any situation the security of Finland is tied between those three elements and a problem in one area means problems in the others. Finland might rely on the assumption that a conflict is very unlikely but that does not mean that it is an entirely impossible situation and a Russian re-awakening should be a fact that Finland and its Armed Forces should consider. The cooperation between NATO, the EU and Sweden are great steps in order to guarantee a certain degree of security, but Finland must also think to increase and update more of its assets and the presence of units not only in the North but in the whole territory – especially in the areas bordering Russia.

Enrolment with NATO might provoke a negative attitude from Moscow but it would also increase the deterrence of a Russian invasion like in the Winter War of 1939 – 1940. Also, Finland should work more closely with Sweden for the sake of its hardware if NATO equipment is unavailable, as it would allow both nations to secure themselves and their Northern regions from any geopolitical storm in the Arctic. They should also further their defence cooperation beyond consultancy and assistance in war-time to a closer and joint development of land combat systems, naval assets and even air assets, if those are to be upgraded[v]. This can also help Finland to continue to lead one of the Arctic economic sectors of navigation and ice-breakers. Besides Sweden, Norway, Denmark and other Western nations might be interested in Finnish products or Finnish technical assistance.

Finland has a lot of opportunities in the arctic area despite the fact that it does not have an Arctic Coast. But it must realise that a deeper and further procurement of security is a need not only for the economic development of Lapland and its safeguard, but of the whole country as well. And that may mean that a hard approach should be taken in a future.



Col. Aikio, H (2009). Finnish Defence Forces in Transformation. Military Power Revue der Schweizer Armee. N 2. 2009, pp. 44 – 55.

Huebert, R., Exner – Pirot, H., Lajeneusse, A., & Gulledge, J. (2012). Climate Change and International Security: the Arctic as a Bellwelther. Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. Arlington, Virginia, USA.

Prime Minister’s Office (2013). Finland’s Strategy for the Arctic Region 2013: Government resolution on 23 August 2013. Prime Minister’s Office Publications. Helsinki, Finland.

Prime Minister’s Office (2012). Finnish Security and Defence Policy 2012: Government Report. Prime Minister’s Office Publications. Helsinki, Finland.

Rudd, D (2010). Northern Europe’s Arctic Defence Agenda. Journal of Military and Strategic Studies. Vol. 12, N.13, spring 2010, pp. 45 – 71.



[i] Clients of Finland in this area are: Canada, Norway, Russia, the United States, and China. Also, there are several Finnish companies are involved in Arctic development projects.

[ii] The Saami – Lapland native people – and Finnish population are also an important aim whose welfare is to be provided by education, infrastructure and socio-economic opportunities.

[iii] Even Finnish troops took place in a NATO exercise hosted by Sweden in 2009, at the Swedish Lapland territory. See: Huebert, Exner – Pirot, Lajeneusse, & Gulledge (2012), p. 20.

[iv] It is important to point out that the same Defence Strategy mentions the Swedish attitude of supporting and acting in favour of any EU or Nordic country suffering a disaster or being under attack, willing to provide and receive military assistance. Actually there are some security-related relations between Finland and Sweden which are strong and makes each other consult and express their own points of view when it comes to defence and security policies. See: Finnish Security and Defence Policy (2012), p. 71. One explanation might come from the fact that both nations share a close history, since Finland was part of the Swedish Empire until the Napoleonic Wars and there is a significant amount of Swedish population in Finland and Finnish population in Sweden.

[v] Col. Aikio (2009) points out some potential areas for defence and assets cooperation between Finland and other Scandinavian countries. See: p. 54.



Image 'HMS Hannibal, unknown port' by James Morley. Released under Public Domain Mark 1.0

Image ‘HMS Hannibal, unknown port‘ by James Morley. Released under Public Domain Mark 1.0


* This article and the image were originally published in globalpublicpolicywatch


On the highway to hell: The reasons behind the First World War (Part 3a).

The third stage: At the gates of Hell, 1890 – 1914

Fatidic Decision


Berlin, 1890. Otto von Bismarck, the architect of the realpolitik and the ‘Gleichsgewicht’ policies that preserved some peace and equilibrium in the continent after the German Unification, is removed from his position as Chancellor of the German Empire by the Kaiser Wilhelm II. With that removal, the speed of events that would eventually lead to the First World War increased, and terrible tragedy that was waiting its time to happen.

From 1890 to 1914, Germany’s foreign policy was mostly in the hands of Kaiser Wilhelm II, taking very different paths from the ones Bismarck intended from the beginning. And while it is true that ill-conceived actions such as not renovating the security pact with Russia or the naval race with the British Empire, along with the desperated search for colonies accelerated the pace towards the war, it is not the only factor to explain the War. During the 1890-1914 period, the other powers around the globe also had their share of responsibility besides the German Empire. This question will be partially discussed in this section and the next one.

The Titans’ Rush into a Clash: The Central Powers

Germany, for instance, was a strong emergent state that was an industrial power by 1914, thanks to the meteoric industrialization and economic growth after its foundation, and especially after 1890. As a consequence of the increased industrialization, the agricultural sector diminished to such an extent that it would play a decisive role during the food shortages during the war and following the Royal Navy blockade. The country was also having a strong debate between democracy and authoritarianism, but it was one of those cases where autocracy met modernization (Kennedy, 2004; Segesser, 2013).

Additionally, as mentioned in the previous article, Germany was enjoying high levels of education and possessing significant amounts of capital, factors contributing to economic growth as the factories, businesses, laboratories and other sectors were receiving high-qualified personnel. This in turn led to high levels of industrialization in sectors such as electricity, optics, and chemistry, where benefits from technological advances where being enjoyed by the German economy. The country also had the second biggest merchant navy and was the European financial centre of the times, after the British Empire (Barth, 2012; Kennedy, 2004). This prosperity took place in the same period where the Kaiser’s foreign policies where being implemented, and where such conditions might have encouraged the Kaiser’s decisions to change the course.

Nevertheless, the policies implemented broke the delicate efforts made by Bismarck and destroyed the existing equilibrium entirely: First, the breaking of relations with Russia and the negligent lapsing of the Reinsurance Treaty signed with it prompted Russia to approach to France; second, the Kaiser decided to implement a ‘Weltpolitik’ that complicated a strategic situation that was already complicated for Germany; third, the naval race with the Royal Navy, mainly encouraged by Von Tirpitz under the argument of Germany becoming a true Great Power; and fourth, the rivalries due to German interests in the Balkans and Africa, mainly with the British Empire and because of the colonies (Barth, 2012; Segesser, 2013, Morgenthau, 2006)[1].

To blame the Kaiser solely for the consequences of the foreign policies after 1890, however, is unfair: In fact, the strategic objectives and their perception in the military and among businessmen and investors, as well as in the general public was erratic and unfocused. The Navy was focussed on preparing for a war against the British Empire for the control of the seas, the army on neutralizing France, while businessmen and investors where pushing the German Empire to assert its economic interests in the Balkans, Turkey, and the Middle East. And, the public opinion was mostly in favour of the ‘Weltpolitik’ to such extend, that it was forcing the Kaiser and the government in General to look for a conflict in which to follow nationalistic feelings and a political test for a Kaiser that needed to alleviate inner tensions (Kennedy, 2004). These situations were creating a tragic trap.

The Austrian Empire, in turn, was a great power that was very dependant of the German Empire, especially in regard to strategic issues, a cooperation with its own geopolitical complications. The annexation of Bosnia only made Austria strategically compromised by Serbia and its nationalist movements following a change of dynasty in 1903, and the divide-and-rule strategy to check the interethnic tensions was not a guaranty to fully cope with such and the ones created by Serbia. At some point those tensions reached such a scale that plans to occupy Hungary where contemplated (Kennedy, 2004; Segesser, 2012) openly.

Those tensions also complicated the situation of Austria abroad, due to the fact that many of the non-German minorities were the same of most of Austrian neighbours, surrounding it with enemies or hostile nations. The Austrian army, for example, considered a pre-emptive strike against Italy in 1900 after tensions rose with the Italians at the countries’ southern border. Rumania was also a factor to consider because Romanian minorities were looking more towards Romania, while Serbia was the biggest risk of all, given the special interests of Russia. In the case of a general war, the Austrian army had to face the decision of preparing to engage Italy or Russia, or Serbia and Montenegro (Kennedy, 2004).

Economically speaking the picture was not entirely positive for the Austrian Empire either. It was weak despite the considerable level of industrialization and productivity in coal, textiles, oil, beer, sugar and other agricultural products, and the weapons production (Kennedy, 2004). This situation would leave Austria in a very complicated strategic position where the geopolitical and security objectives could not be entirely met due to the weak economic base, and considerable inner tensions that were fuelled by the countries’ neighbours involvement in them, all adding up to the already complicated geopolitical situation. Consequently, Germany was a core ally for achieving Austria’s objectives, but in the end, as Germany, it was a victim of a structural trap.

The Ottoman Empire was, beyond any question, the weakest among the Central Powers. Victim of the ambition of the great European Powers in the Balkans as well as of the national aspiration and ambitions of the newly-created Balkan states, it was depending on Europe as a provider of industrial products (Segesser, 2013).

The Titans’ Rush into a Clash: The Allies

Of the Allied Great Powers, the two most important ones were the British Empire and France. The British Empire was the most powerful of all, in the military (especially with the Navy, which was as big as the two following fleets combined) and economic spheres. It had the most important merchant fleet and a strategically important wide network of bases and communication lines around the globe and controlling no less than 20 million kms². The Royal Navy, the Indian Army, the Australian and New Zealand contributions to the defence of the Empire and the Alliance with Japan by the first year of the 20th century contributed to the security and strategic superiority of the Empire, improved by the 1904 alliance and agreement with France and Russia on colonial issues. It was also the most important country economically speaking (Kennedy, 2004; Segesser, 2013).

The Empire had important African interests (where the Suez Canal was only the tip of the iceberg) as part of its overall strategic interests, where the defence of India, the maintenance of the Naval supremacy (the German naval challenge for sure provoked high amount of anxiety for the Admirals and Politicians), the attempts to preserve the European equilibrium on its own way, and the preservation of the Empire were other objectives with the same importance for London (Kennedy, 2004; Segesser, 2013).

Yet, the British Empire was facing important challenges in every aspect. The industrial revolution was no longer benefiting the British Empire alone, leading to a decline of the industrial supremacy and resources for defence were diminishing. There were important issues with the colonies that were actively seeking for more autonomy and concessions – like Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa – while keeping the contribution for the defence of the Empire, being their naval and military assets under British control in case of war, and an India that was strictly controlled given its importance for the British economy and international position (Kennedy, 2004; Segesser, 2013).

These concerns, moreover, were making it more sensible to any clash in Africa and the Asia-Pacific, facing Germany on South Africa, the United stated and the Venezuelan Borders with British Guyana. It was the least affected by the German rise until 1904, but it was being affected by the American rise and actions in the Caribbean, Canada, and the American economic penetration of Latin America, jeopardizing the British investments there. The Russian railroad expansion compromised its interests in the Middle East and India, any event in China could also affect its position there. As a result of those colonial concerns, the Royal Navy was reaching its maximum strategic operability while the small army was not able deploy in every needed scenario and was more prepared for waging colonial wars rather than long term European wars. Still, the British Empire enjoyed a strategic superiority in Europe should a war break out on the continent, although it was very overconfident in diplomatic agreements (Kennedy, 2004; Segesser, 2013).

France, on the other hand, was undergoing an inner crisis where civilians and the military were the main actors – and this crisis in particular would not be solved entirely until 1911 – while at the same time it was witnessing an economic diversification where the investments in Russia played a strategic role by securing Russian support in case of a war (and making it very dependent of France). However, its investments also contributed to its geopolitical objectives in Italy (bringing Italy closer to France despite their rivalry in/on/for the Mediterranean Sea), China with the securing of railroads and other sectors concessions, as well as in Turkey and the Balkans. The countries’ industrialization was important for this case, all the while 40% of the population were still dedicated to agriculture, resulting in some way in a military inferiority facing Germany (Kennedy, 2004; Segesser, 2013)[2].

It was France that predominantly benefited from the Germany’s shift of policies and the dismissal of Bismarck, having now an open road to reclaim the lost territories after 1871 cleared and settling the Entente Cordiale with the British Empire.In doing so it strengthened its general position while convincing the British empire of the importance of the security of France for the sake of the Empire’s own security. Similarly, benefited from the solution of the colonial stand-offs with the British Empire in 1898, but was still struggling for the control and access of markets and territories around the globe (Kennedy, 2004; Segesser, 2013).

Russia was, contrary to the British Empire and France, the weakest of the allied powers. It was a country with low levels of industrialization, large amounts of debt and banks in foreign hands (as well as its comparatively few industries), depending heavily on French investments and placing itself at the mercy of French interests and desires in case of war (such as asking Russia to attack Germany). The country’s overall productivity was inefficient and the economy was mostly agrarian, although railroads – the Trans-Siberian route – were intensively being constructed. Russia, additionally, was still recovering from the defeat of the 1894 and 1904 wars with Japan while facing huge inner social tensions that involved the intervention of the army in 365 cases by 1902, just to control peasant riots, as well as ethnic problems in a similar way as Austria (Kennedy, 2004; Segesser, 2013).

Militarily, the general weakness of the country was having an impact on its capabilities in arms. The troops where low-skilled while logistics and railway managements were inadequate for a fast mobilization and deployment plans. Similarly, the nature of Russian foreign policy did not helped: pan-slavic nationalism, the total obedience of the state to the Czar and open xenophobia pushed Russia to take active part in every international event, even beyond it own capabilities. Similarly, the countries’ eagerness to support Serbia and France was forcing Russia to execute an offensive it was not prepared for, with fear of a French defeat were urging Russia to do so. East Asian ambitions before the war with Japan needed to be met and Russia was simply trying to assert its interests where the British Empire, Austria and French were doing the same, leading to clashes of interests most of the time.

Questions about the potential event of a war in Europe were of that importance that the spending in defence on a high level, seeking to recover the decimated fleet after 1905 and trying to modernize its armed forces where central during the period. How and where to deploy the army (if against Germany or Austria), what to do about the fortresses in Poland where the most modern artillery was placed, and whether to execute a total or partial mobilization in case of war were troubling the minds of the Russian government and military as well. In any case, the leadership was of such bad quality that Russia, alone, was no match for the German Empire, making its alliances all the more necessary, but also putting the country into a strategic trap that would have a decisive consequence in 1917 (Kennedy, 2004; Segesser, 2013). In the next part the “eccentric powers”, like Japan, Italy and the United States will be reviewed, as well as the small conflict that shaped the decision-making and the conditions of some Great Powers, as well as a review on the plans of war and a final discussion about the responsibility of each and single Great Power in the tragedy of the First World War.



Barth, R. (2012).1871 – 1919: Aufstieg und Untergang. Preußen. Die eigenwillige Supermacht. Zum 300. Geburtstag von Friedrich dem Großen. STERN Extra, 1, 86 – 97.
Kennedy, P. (2004). Auge y caida de las grandes potencias [The Rise and the Fall of the Great Powers, Ferrer Aleu, trans.]. Barcelona, Spain: Mondadori (Original work published in 1987).

Morgenthau, J. A. (2006). Politics Among Nations. The Struggle for Power and Peace (Revised by Thompson K. W, & Clinton D. W. 7th Edition). New York: McGraw Hill.

Segesser, D. M. (2013). Der Erste Weltkrieg in globaler Perspektive. Stuttgart, Deutschland: Marixverlag.



[1] More accurately and according to Barth (2013), the reasons behind such actions might be explained by the Kaiser’s desire to be popular, along with his inner chauvinism and narcissism.

[2] 4500 machine guns of the Germans versus the 2500 machine guns of the French, 6600 77mm guns of the Germans versus 3800 similar weapons of the French, and the absolute German supremacy in heavy artillery. See: Kennedy, 2004, pp. 359 – 360.


Image 'Hvidbjørnen dockside in Grønnedal' by Boegh. Released under Creative Commons 2.0  (CC BY-SA 2.0) license

Image ‘Hvidbjørnen dockside in Grønnedal‘ by Boegh. Released under Creative Commons 2.0 (CC BY-SA 2.0) license


* This article and the image were originally published in globalpublicpolicywatch


The Viking Saga I: When Erik the Red went to Greenland…

It was the year 982 a.d., a strong snow falls under a grey sky and a drakkar – a Viking longship – appears on the horizon. As it reaches the shore, a figure can be made out standing at the helm: Erik the Red arriving from the Viking colonies in Iceland, sets his feet for the first time in Greenland. That moment not only marked the Viking relation with Greenland but also the later European connection. Ultimately Denmark became the nation that controlled Greenland, although there is a special provision for its autonomy.

Just as Greenland was an opportunity for Erik it is also an opportunity for Denmark, given the current changes taking place in the Arctic and the resources that are now being discovered in Greenland, among other economic issues. According to Degeorges (2013) the island is now a key strategic location with valuable resources that will have several implications, some of which are already being seen. Indeed, Greenland is in the middle of a new geopolitical hot-spot in which the interest of Great and Middle powers will meet and collide and many of these powers are already being attracted to the island. Additionally, those same resources can boost Greenland’s desire for independence, which, following Degeoirges (2013) ideas, is being perceived as a potential source of risks that may turn into a threat, because of the fact that a small, weak nation immersed within such a hot-spot would be exposed to influences from outsiders.

These resources however also present opportunities for Denmark in the shape of resources that can benefit the Kingdom of Denmark (Greenland, Faroe Islands and Denmark itself). They can also go some way to the maintenance of the harmonic relations between Greenland and Copenhagen, in which the former has autonomy in deciding domestic issues while the latter is in charge of foreign policy; defence; the needed increase of Denmark in Greenlander resources and the foreign investments to develop them; and projects related to resources and infrastructure[i].

Regarding the Great and Middle powers’ interests, it is worthwhile to highlight the interests of China and South Korea, although it is the Chinese interests that are the most “worrisome” ones. China, according to Degeorges (2013), is pursuing an access to strategic resources that are placed in Greenland[ii]. Currently it is looking at the extended coast of Greenland close to Iceland for a location that may be used as a potential hub for shipping for a number of supposed reasons. The main reason is most likely China looking for access to the Arctic Council and a vote so it can promote its interests in the Arctic. Other reasons included the fresh water present there that could become a value resource in the future, and the ice caps which are useful to measure the effects of climate change and thus understand adaptation to it [iii].

Furthermore, and as Degeorges (2013) points out, there have already been some diplomatic contacts and visits between Greenland/Danish authorities and Chinese Representatives and President Hu Jintao between 2011 and 2012, in which Greenland and Arctic interests were the main topic on the Chinese agenda.

According to Degeorges (2013), South Korea on the contrary, mainly has interests in education and research exchange programs, some mineral natural resources, the issue of climate change and environment, and trade[iv]. According to Wezeman (2012), to fulfil its task of protecting Greenland, currently the Danish government is using 3 unarmed maritime patrol aircraft, and there are plans for F -16 deployment in the area (taking into consideration that those were deployed once at Kangerlussuaq in Western Greenland) with the potential reutilization of the Thule Air Base. Also, as Wezeman notes, the Kingdom has two military units operating in the area: the frømanskorps (Frogman Corps) special forces unit, and the slædepratrulje (Sledge Patrol) Sirius. It also has 3 frigates reinforced by 4 Thetis class frigates, two OPV patrol vessels class Knud Rasmussen, and a larger patrol vessel capable of operating in ice waters. The Danish navy has a base at south Greenland, in Grønnedal.

Although Denmark mentions that the main reasons for an increased presence in the area is for environmental protection, enhancing international cooperation, promotion of sustainable development, and security, the real reasons and steps taken go in a very different direction, as Huebert, Exner – Pirot, Lajeneusse, & Gulledge (2012) all point out. As a matter of fact, the increased activity following the diminishing of the ice is forcing the Kingdom to increase its policing and security actions, as well as to increase the military assets for the protection of the national Arctic interests[v]. The fact that Denmark, for example, is increasing its presence with its navy and still develops strong ties with NATO sends the message that it will be prepared for the worst and that will use force if needed (Huebert, Exner – Pirot, Lajeneusse, & Gulledge; 2012).

The Danish Defence Agreement recognizes the importance that the Arctic and Greenland are having for the Kingdom, mainly because of the rights that the Kingdom has for extracting the natural resources present there following the mentioned effect of climate change in the area. The defence then, will be adapted to the new situation as well as of the resources issue, but the defence of Greenland aside, it is also intended to perform task both natural and civilian, and to support other authorities. This means that civilians are to be involved in the defence of the island. Replacement for the older patrol cutter is intended, and the replacement vessel will have marine environmental and research support capabilities. Nine new MH – 60 Seahawks will also be incorporated within the Danish Forces’ ranks and will reinforce the navy’s tasks in the Arctic, as well as the search and rescue services.

A new command, called the Arctic Command, emerged after the union of the North Atlantic Command with the Greenland and Faroe Island Command, proving again the importance that Greenland has for Denmark[vi]. An Arctic Response Force has been established too, having of course the tasks of defending and preparing the troops to execute defence in the Danish Arctic. Surveillances with UAV are intended to be executed in order to make a risk analysis near Greenland’s waters [vii].

Secondly, and furthering on what the Defence Agreement mentioned, Denmark is currently executing a program of naval modernization. In other words, a modernization of those assets that will be used in the Arctic/Greenland scenario. The Kingdom for instance has 11 Flyvefisken Class patrol ship with a modular design thus being able to be prepared to missions such as patrol, anti-ship or anti-air[viii]. Also, it has 4 Thetis class light-frigates capable to sail on ice-waters and used frequently in Greenland. Two communication and control vessels Absalon class will be incorporated, capable for anti-ship and anti-air missions and capable also to have helicopters and to transport battle tanks and other heavy equipment where needed. Three light Ivar Huttfeldt OPVs will follow too equipped with Harpoon and Tomahawk missiles thus being optimized for Anti-ship and surface-surface deep strikes. The already mentioned Knud Rasmussen ice patrol ships were incorporated in 2008 – 2009. All of the previously mentioned assets show that Denmark intends to have a strong and multi-role Arctic navy in order to protect its national interest, exert sovereignty and secure resources in Greenland (Huebert, Exner – Pirot, Lajeneusse, & Gulledge; 2012).

The steps taken by Denmark are, beyond any doubt, much more defined and focused than the ones taken by Canada. Both may have the similarity of mentioning the environment as one of the main reasons for their interest in the arctic along with the furthering of cooperation and working under International Law, but Denmark is moving in reality for the sake of protecting its national interests. And it is increasing its military assets and presence in the area in a stronger way than Canada. Put simply, Denmark is following the right path with the aim of securing its Arctic interests, having Greenland – no matter the type or relationship between the Metropolitan Denmark and Greenland – as a focal point for doing so. The risks and challenges are as high as the opportunities for the economy of the Kingdom as a whole.

As Huebert, Exner – Pirot, Lajeneusse, & Gulledge (2012) remark, an important point to consider is the relations between NATO (remember that Denmark is part of the Alliance) and Russia in a potential future conflict may involve the region. Additionally they point out another scenario in which tensions between the West and Russia will be felt and lead to the West, not only Denmark, to increase its presence in the area. Additionally, cooperation might be a wish but not a materialized one, given the recently unilateral steps taken by Russia in other scenarios like the Arctic, the Middle East with Syria and now Ukraine.

Another potential conflict might come from a dispute between the EU and Russia and may also have the Arctic as the main, or one of the scenarios, if escalation follows. And Denmark is, for instance, one of the 5 littoral states that will be on the front line. In the same way and as Huebert, Exner – Pirot, Lajeneusse, & Gulledge (2012) point out, there is the issue of the extension of the Exclusive Economic Zone and the UNCLOS: will the Russians and other parties stick to the rule of law or will they try to gain and meet their objectives by the use of force? And will there be place for a military cooperation or will the dynamic be of facing a common threat? The latter seems to be more likely in the Russian case. But it happens that Russia is not the only thing the Danish sailors and pilots will have to be worried about. The Chinese are jumping into the scenario and, as has been mentioned throughout this current series, the Chinese navy will increase its presence not only for protecting the Chinese civilian shipping, but also to use the Arctic as a strategic playground against the United States if a conflict arose with South East Asia and the West Pacific. And with the recent events with the Air Zone area over Japanese islands, the Chinese attitude will be more of “command and control” rather than of making business only. A possible “String of Pearls” involving Iceland and Greenland could take place which could be directed against the United States and even the European Union and Arctic states, if they wanted to push for the winds in their favour.

And finally, as was said with the Canadian case, the environment might be a noble objective to be protected, but military assets are still needed to do so, especially if the opening of new shipping routes brings with them the presence of vessels that might infringe environmental laws and pollute waters. Denmark, it seems, has understood this well and the increasing presence of a refurbished navy is a good sign and an example that other Western countries in the area should be following. Not only for protecting their Arctic environments, but also to face together any possible threat coming from the other side of the world and the other shores of the Arctic. The absence of submarines is, however, a worrisome gap on the Danish defence assets and no increase of air assets, save the SAR helicopters, is strongly felt. Denmark will need more new air assets than just the F – 16 to effectively secure Greenland and provide a support to its navy. The solution might lie in a stronger cooperation with the airforces of Canada and the US under the NATO frameworks, while Denmark looks for a replacement for the current F – 16 fleet, a replacement that it is in dire need.

The Vikings may have abandoned the island 500 years after the shoring of Erik the Red on that day of 982 a.d., but this is something that Denmark, if it wishes to secure and benefit from the resources discovered in the island, will not do. A good sign of this is that this time there are frigates flying the Danish flag sailing around the island, and not drakkars abandoning it.



Degeorges, D (2013). Denmark, Greenland and the Arctic: Challenges and opportunities of becoming the meeting place of global powers. The Royal Danish Defence College. Copenhagen, Denmark.

Government of Denmark (August 2011). Denmark, Greenland and the Faroe Islands: Kingdom of Denmark Strategy for the Arctic 2011 – 2020. Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Copenhagen, Denmark.

Huebert, R., Exner – Pirot, H., Lajeneusse, A., & Gulledge, J. (2012). Climate Change and International Security: the Arctic as a Bellwelther. Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. Arlington, Virginia, USA.

Danish Defence Agreement 2013 – 2017 (November 2012). Copenhagen, Denmark.

Wezeman, S. T (2012). Military Capabilities in the Arctic. SIPRI Background Paper. SIPRI. Stockholm, Sweden.



[i] Even in a case of independence, Degeoirges (2013) mentions the possible and beneficial idea of reaching a mutual defence agreement between Denmark and Greenland. That would keep at a certain way the things in a similar way as they are currently.

[ii] Those resources are: Rare Earth Elements, Iron ore, Uranium, oil, and gas.

[iii] See the First Article of this Series: ‘Winter Skies, Frozen Seas and Northern Shores (I). Part 1: On the Frozen Seas of the North a Red Dragon’s flight is worth to note.

[iv] The United States also had and still have in a little sense an interest in the Danish Arctic territories, mainly for the defence of North American airspace.

[v] Diplomacy and cooperation for conflict resolution are being mentioned also as important pillars for Danish actions in the area, as well as the International Law, according to the Denmark Artic Strategy 2011 – 2020.

[vi] Its headquarters are in Nuuk.

[vii] Interestingly, the Agreement mentions along with surveillance the need of combating piracy in the Arctic for the home guard and navy. See: Danish Defence Agreement 2013 – 2017, p. 17.

[viii] “Modular Design” means that the ships can change their weapons to execute the mission they are intended to do, instead of having a fixed ones. This results in a very flexible and versatile platform.



Image ‘17th Battery, Canadian Field Artillery, firing a German 4.2 gun on the retreating Germans', by Canada. Department of National Defence. Library and Archives Canada, PA-001018. Released under Creative Commons 2.0 (CC BY 2.0) licence

Image ‘17th Battery, Canadian Field Artillery, firing a German 4.2 gun on the retreating Germans‘, by Canada. Department of National Defence. Library and Archives Canada, PA-001018. Released under Creative Commons 2.0 (CC BY 2.0) licence


* This article and the image were originally published in globalpublicpolicywatch


On the highway to hell: The reasons behind the First World War (Part 2).

The second stage: 1871 – 1890 Sedan, 1870.

The guns are silent now, the soldiers can rest. And they can smile, because their nation raises victorious after the battle. And then they see him, the architect of the victory, the creator of the diplomatic moves that led to the wars that he won, the man that on the following year would materialize the dreams of many and create a new nation that would be one of the main protagonists of the 19th and 20thcentury. Even nowadays it is among the most relevant nations of the world. They see him on a horse, escorting a carriage that transports a very important prisoner: Napoleon III. From that very day, a new nation would emerge, and its impact would be of an unprecedented scale to such an extent that it would become one of the most important nation of the era.

That very same day also marked the beginning of the second stage on the path towards the First World War, setting the course of the defeated nation and its hunger for a revenge, while in turn the challenges of the victorious nation were increased. The two decades following that battle had a key figure that not only brought Prussia a decisive victory over France, but marked the pace and shaped the diplomacy that would eventually increase the speed at which the Great War was approaching after his dismissal in 1890: Otto von Bismarck.

The rise of Prussia and the Birth of Germany

The appearance of a new power such as Prussia had a huge impact for the other great powers but it did not come from nowhere. It’s appearance on the world stage shattered the status quo that the Austrian Empire was so keen to keep and the same status quo that even Prussia itself had sought to keep. For both Prussia and Austria, the issue was the impending German unification and under whose leadership it should be under: Berlin or Vienna. These tensions finally led to the German War; the clashes over the administration of Schleswig-Holstein, the immediate spark of the war, and the first victory of Prussia against a former ally and a local important foe.

This war was just the first milestone of the German Unification and the country’s eventual rise as a Great Power. As Kennedy (2004) points out, it was a victory that no one expected given the relatively weak position of Prussia and the small size of its army. This surprise was possible simply because of two main factors: the diplomatic abilities of Otto von Bismarck, which meant that no other power would intervene during the German war, and the fact that the already weakened Austrian army was more concentrated on asserting its interests in Italy rather than over the small German States[i]. Moreover, the Austrian concentration on Italian matters were, again, a result of Bismarck’s diplomacy after pushing Italy into a limited war against Austria as a strategic diversion. As a result, Prussia incorporated territories such as Schleswig Holstein, Hannover, Hesse-Kassel, Nassau and Frankfurt, while Italy in turn received Venetia[ii].

The second milestone was the Prussian-French War which led to the definitive rise of Germany and which, in turn, increased the tensions between Prussia and France following the annexation of the aforementioned territories. As Kennedy (2004) remarks, it was the fight for supremacy in the West. This war in particular saw the defeat of France as a result of its overconfidence in its military strength and a misled belief in a possible Austrian and Italian intervention in its favour, as well as in its increased naval power. But yet again, Bismarck’s diplomacy in rallying allies among the same German states while securing the promise of no intervention from other great powers played in favour of Prussia and against France.

The other factor behind the Prussian victory was the military preparedness of Prussia which marked the country as one of the first to begin a military revolution and take advantage of the new technologies brought by the industrial revolution[iii]. That same preparedness would be feared and be a cause of concern primarily for France, and later on for the British Empire, in the years prior to the war. Along with that preparedness came the fact that Prussia was economically strong and thus able to sustain a powerful army, and its population had a generally high level of education and preparation in comparison to other nations (Kennedy, 2004).

This means that despite the efforts of the previous Kanzler to maintain the status quo along with Austria and Russia, the matter of the German Unification and the fact that Prussia was strong (despite being the less important of the Great Powers after the Napoleonic Wars), such status quo was doomed to be altered by a rise that now seems imminent but was unexpected at that time.

An altered equilibrium

Does this mean then that the rise of Prussia and the unification of Germany are the ultimate cause for the outbreak of the First World War 42 years later? The answer might be obvious for some but in reality it isn’t. Simply because, as it was stated in the first part of this series, the same multipolar structure of the international system and the eagerness to preserve the equilibrium after the Napoleonic Wars paved, if not shaped, the long path towards the tragedy of 1914 – 1918 and each and every Great Power, by its action, ingenuity or even inaction and the lack of the study of the American Civil War, shares its part of the blame[iv].

Indeed, the rise of Prussia/Germany caused a great trauma to the equilibrium of power and left the French without the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine, paying war compensations to the Germans (the idea was to leave France weakened) and with a thirst for a revenge[v]. Russia was also concerned and resented witnessing the rise of a stronger Germany instead of the weak and always keen to cooperate Prussia, but it approached Germany to obtain support for its interests in Central Asia and the Balkans regardless. Meanwhile Italy – also recently unified – closed ties with Germany as well as Austria (Kennedy, 2004).

In turn Italy, with its own emergence, concerned the French sparking a strong rivalry between the two for the control of the Mediterranean Sea.

The British Empire expressed little concern on the German Unification and rise until the 1890’s while facing a naval race and a colonial contest mainly with France and facing some clashes with Russia in Central Asia. Germany in turn, found itself being an even stronger power with considerable influence backed by an industrial and economic strength and by being the center of diplomacy in Europe. But that same strength was creating concerns for others and challenges for the new Great Power itself; challenges that needed to be tackled (Kennedy, 2004).

However, Germany was not alone in affecting the equilibrium of Europe. It was Austria that really helped further accelerate the path towards the Great War. After its catastrophic wars with Germany and Italy and after losing territories in the latter, the Empire focused more on the Balkans by annexing Bosnia and Herzegovina, infuriating both Russia and the Ottoman Empire. It was Russia, the strongest contender and the main cause of concern for Vienna, who came closest to provoking a war in 1879 until Bismarck came to the rescue. Ultimately, despite the avoidance of war, the annexation simply increased the internal problems that Austria had been already facing for many years (Segesser, 2013).

Bismarck: Realpolitik and Gleichgewicht.

Bismarck was conscious of the impact that the victory in the German War and the subsequent Unification and rise of Germany and the concerns it raised. In response, he decided to set up diplomatic and strategic schemes in order to decrease the impact on the international system, keep the peace and even keep the new equilibrium, while promising that Germany would not make further expansions and keeping the decadent yet useful Austria alive, and also avoiding a war in 1875 against France and aiding conflict resolution in the Balkans that would have sparked another war (Kennedy, 2004)[vi]. But Bismarck also intended on keeping the newly political position of Germany intact. To prevent a French revenge war, he created diplomatic and strategic schemes that were essentially a set of alliances, such as the Triple Alliance (Germany, Italy and Austria) in order to neutralize Austria and France should the latter seek support from Italy or Austria (Kennedy, 2004). The League of the Three Emperors (Germany, Austria and Prussia) was also created and in turn, by 1879 a secret defensive alliance between Austria and Germany against Russia was created, along with a treaty of reinsurance with the latter in order to ensure its neutrality in case Russia or Prussia were at war with a third party (Kennedy, 2004; Morgenthau 2006). Besides securing Germany and its new position, German foreign policy had another aim and tool which was the intended isolation of France so the latter could not find a potential ally to wage a revenge war against Germany (Segesser, 2013).

As a result, Germany, through these alliances, not only secured itself against France and its own position within the international system, but also persuaded Russia and Austria away from supporting France and succeeded in being perceived as a country that promoted peace to such extent that during the Anglo-Russian clashes, German neutrality was useful for Bismarck to drive attention away from German and French clashes.

The main countermeasures made by France were an investment of capital in Russia and making some efforts to modernise the Russian army and also investment in Italy in order to take away from German influence (Kennedy, 2004). This counter diplomacy contributed to the acceleration of the pace towards the Great War simply by shaping a later coalition against Germany, an objective aided by the clumsy policies adopted by Kaiser Wilhelm II after Bismarck’s dismissal which ended the isolation of France allowing it to find powers like the British Empire a useful ally to fight against Germany.

The Colonialism

The decade of the 1880’s also saw a spark of colonisation primarily in Africa leading to competitions and races, not to mention clashes, between France and the British Empire in which the Suez Canal was the main object of disputes, along with Egypt, West Africa and Congo. This went along with a naval race while France was having tensions with Italy and while it was also preparing for a revenge on Germany (a fruitless effort at the time). This colonial contest and naval race was frightening the British Empire as it was not only affecting its strategic strength but was also creating a general atmosphere of a potential conflict between England and France, and perhaps repeating the same set of alliances and belligerents of previous wars waged by each Great Power (Kennedy, 2004).

In the short term this situation was countered by the Berlin Conference of 1884 – 85 in which Germany played again as the great balancer by contributing to the definition of the African colonial borders, trade and navigation and was helped by Germany’s apparent lack of interest for its own Colonies, despite actually creating some (Kennedy, 2004). The problem with the African issue in the long term is that later on Germany was not satisfied with the division and unleashed its own challenge to the order – and the British Royal Navy – after 1890, the next and last stage of study. Italy would do the same even after the First World War. Still, and paradoxically, a conference that was intended to be a mechanism to solve disputes and set a new status quo on Africa was later used by a less brilliant late German government as an alibi to contest the division over the continent.

The lessons (?) of the Prussian – French War

This par might sound positive but it wasn’t at all, simply because every European army, following the defeat of France by Prussia, wanted to structure its military actions for the future with victories a la Prusse: the use of railroads for deployment and supply; a large scale mobilization of troops; and the implementation of their own General Staff preparing fast and short-term operations (or wars) to be executed by troops equipped with fast-shot rifles and with those troops coming from massive and short service-based armies. This in the hope of gaining a victory within a few weeks.

The problems here are twofold. First, that the dynamics of the American Civil War were not studied despite the fact that many of the previously named elements were already present and secondly that there was little understanding of the new weaponry’s nature, which would help the troops that were more of a defensive rather than an offensive attitude (Kennedy, 2004).

If that explanation is not evident enough just remember that 100 years ago, when the declaration of war began to cascade, all of the General and Staffs believed that a short victory could be achieved in few weeks by troops with fast-shot rifles in their hand or at least by Christmas. Moreover, all of the plans made in the final stage (1890 – 1914), had that assumption as their core or to put it in other words, a victory a la Prusse was the soul of every plan and the undeclared objective of all of the armies. But the First World War would teach a terrible lesson with the lives of many soldiers that had expected to be back home and victorious by Christmas of 1914, but would instead find death by the hand of those new weapons that favoured defence more than the offence with the trenches being their mortal sister. At some point, then, the victory of Prussia/Germany in 1870 not only altered the international equilibrium and opened the way for a crisis just waiting to explode, but also set an unfortunate mindset in every army as a consequence of its brilliance and impact.


Austria was the most affected by the German rise aside from France. It won a new ally by securing an alliance with Germany after it sought for German assistance in the event that it were attacked by Serbia as a result of its ethnic problems thus shaping one side of War that by now was almost an inevitability. However, despite this alliance, Austria was the least important power and suffered the sad fate of being important only because of its position on the map, acting as a counterweight of convenience.

Elsewhere, Japan was under the Meiji restoration and despite being on the rise was yet to play a significant part during this period and focused instead on asserting its domestic interests. Similarly, the United States was simply increasing its economic power, while Russia was witnessing a gradual worsening of its inner problems (Kennedy, 2004; Segesser, 2013).

Towards the last stage (1890 – 1914)

It is clear that the efforts made by Bismarck to secure an equilibrium were initially fruitful but they were not able to counter the French desire for revenge and to some extent paved the way towards a war. His diplomacy granted the equilibrium and contributed to the change in the international structure by unifying Germany as well as to decrease the impact of such an event. But that style of diplomacy and the institutions or alliances that he created were useful and harmless in skilled hands such as his. The war he fought in France marked a brilliant milestone but had the unintended and unfortunate effect of reshaping the military mindset of the Generals of practically every army. The problem is that a successful strategy can be used, at most, twice – something that by 1914 not every commander fully understood and as a result, many would pay with their lives, especially when the weapons used in 1870 weren’t that much akin to those of 1914. It simply stimulated an unrealistic strategic approach.

Overall, Germany with Bismarck at the head, was able to keep the equilibrium and maintained the peace for a good amount of time until 1890 when he was dismissed by Kaiser Wilhelm II. The mechanisms and policies implemented by him then fell into less skilled hands and that dismissal, rather than Bismarck’s policies of the German preparedness for 1870 war, are an important factor to explain what really sparked the Great War. The fact that Austria also decided to intervene in the Balkans as a way to compensate for the defeat with Prussia simply worsened the overall situation and created a condition that in the long run was impossible to tackle for less prepared decision makers (Wilhelm II, for instance), regarding German Foreign Policy. Last but not least, France was preparing for a revenge on Prussia and to recover Alsace and Lorraine. As a result it also shares a large part of the responsibility due to this political obsession.

If a sentence of Otto von Bismarck could sum-up the times to come after his dismissal, it is certainly this: “Jena came twenty years after the death of Frederick the Great; the crash will come twenty years after my departure if things go on like this”. And the crash came in a very tragic way, a crash that not only caused a certain crown to be lost, but shattered the lives of many and irreversibly changed the course of world history, politics and the future of warfare.



Encyclopaedia Britannica (2014). Seven Week’s War. Retrieved from: http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/536531/Seven-Weeks-War on 26.07.2014

Kennedy, P. (2004). Auge y caida de las grandes potencias [The Rise and the Fall of the Great Powers, Ferrer Aleu, trans.]. Barcelona, Spain: Mondadori (Original work published in 1987),

Morgenthau, J. A (2006). Politics Among Nations. The Struggle for Power and Peace (Revised by Thompson K. W, & Clinton D. W. 7th Edition). New York: McGraw Hill.

Segesser, D. M (2013). Der Erste Weltkrieg in globaler Perspektive. Stuttgart, Deutschland: Marixverlag.



[i] It also helped the Prussian cause the fact that Russia was very weak and still recovering from its defeat in Crimea. Great Britain was also not so interested in interfering on continental issues, precisely as a consequence of the aforementioned war and its own policy of not interfering.

[ii] See: Encyclopaedia Britannica (2014). Seven Week’s War. Retrieved from: http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/536531/Seven-Weeks-War on 26.07.2014

[iii] Kennedy (2004) denominated such preparedness as a “Military Revolution” that implied an investment not only in equipment but also in the quality of the army, by introducing a short service time and reserve, increasing (and taking advantage of) the high level of education among troops and officers and by introducing the General Staff system, which in turn, made the operation plans prior any contemplated conflict, introduced the implementation of manoeuvres, the study of the military history, the supervision of the railroad for the sake of a fast an effective deployment of troops and supplies, the operational independence of the units and the stimulation for initiative and the openness for self-learning.

[iv] And that is why it is important to look, with a more historic and retrospective maturity, the causes for the First World War in a longer term and assessing the factors that appeared in the three proposed periods of study and their responsibility that each Great Power had for the First World War.
[v] That thirst set the course of most of the French foreign policy for the rest of the century until the Great War, and such attitudes explain not only the patriotism during the war but also the French insistence on a high and strong punishment for Germany in 1919. See also: Segesser, 2013, pp. 29 – 30.

[vi] This mediation led to a compromise for Russia to be respected. This unleashed nationalism in Russia that was resentful against Germany due to that same compromise forged by Berlin. The conflict in question is the Russo – Turkish War of 1877 – 1878.


Image 'Incoming Icebreaker (Samuel Risley)', by E Green. Released under Creative Commons 2.0 (CC BY -NC-ND 2.0) license

Image ‘Incoming Icebreaker (Samuel Risley)‘, by E Green. Released under Creative Commons 2.0 (CC BY -NC-ND 2.0) license


* This arcticle and the image were originally published in globalpublicpolicywatch


Part 2: The Cold Dilemmas of the Maple Leave

2.2: ‘Protecting the Frozen Shores! Yes… but how?’

The environment and the provision of services and fulfilment of needs are naturally of utmost importance for every state whose main concern is to exert sovereignty – as with the case of Canada and the arctic – over its own territory. But beyond that, the issue of security by conventional means continues to be of even more importance since it is the provision of such security that can allow every development project to be executed and the environment to be effectively protected.

And more importantly, according to Huebert (2009), the resources that are potentially present have to be controlled and protected. But, to what extent has the provision of these basic needs been achieved? Have they been effective? Riddel – Dixon (n.a) remarks that the Canadian Strategy has a focus on Sovereignty and Resource Development, and that the first is a prerequisite for the second[1]. However, Riddel – Nixon (n.a) also points out that some measures regarding resource development are becoming very short on their intended impact. For instance, the Canadian government has invested 100 million Canadian dollars on resource research, and provided funds to Aboriginal businesses, entrepreneurs, and local development programs with a special focus on infrastructure. As a result, a fishing harbour in Pangnirtung is under construction. Still, some policies are not as effective as they could have been or have had little impact. Problems such as unemployment and economic depression continue to persist and the partnership between the Government and the Aborigines still has room for improvement, according to Riddel – Dixon (n.a).

In turn, and according to Riddel – Nixon (n.a), on the aspect of the problem and in the sphere of Sovereignty have been partially made or not made at all. For instance, an airstrip that was intended to be used by jet fighters has been increased in length and quality, enabling it to be used by other kinds of aircrafts. The communication systems are shown as being back-warded and the facilities are either non-existent or usable for only six months. Additionally, the control of the maritime transit is weak, according to Riddel – Nixon (n.a). Vessel registration is practically “voluntary” and only the ones that weigh over 300 tons have to register[2]. The lack of icebreakers compromises the capacity and readiness of the Canadian Coast Guard or Royal Canadian Navy to cope with any threat or emergency.

In the same way, Riddel – Nixon (n.a) identify a number of changes that Canada needs to make, such as: the need of the SAR (Search and Rescue) helicopter fleet to be modernized; the need to expand the Ranger forces – which have been insufficiently increased; the need to solve the maritime disputes that Canada has; and to define the areas that would be under Canadian sovereignty[3]. They also recommend that cooperation with the US regarding the Northwestern Passage must be made along with the agreements on the Beaufort Sea.

In 2008 Canada issued the Canada First Defence Strategy, which presented as main objectives for the Canadian Forces: the undertaking of national and continental operations, including the Arctic and through NORAD; the support of a major international event taking place in Canada (the 2010 Olympics); the response to terrorist attacks; the supporting of civilian authorities in case of a domestic disaster; the leading/conduction of any important international operation for a long period of time; and the deployment of forces as a response to a crisis and for a short period of
time[4]. As a precondition needed for the fulfilment of the mentioned objectives, the Canada First Defence Strategy states that an increase of the defence budget of $490 Million Canadian Dollars for the period 2008 – 2028, and a renewal of some of the current assets that the Canadian Forces has by the hand of a partnership with the local Canadian Defence Industry[5], would be necessary.

The Arctic itself is being recognized by the Defence Strategy as an important issue given the changing climate conditions that makes the area more accessible to maritime traffic and economic activity such as tourism, resource exploitation and shipping. But it also means that the Canadian Arctic will be open for illegal activities and “new challenges from other shores” (Government of Canada, 2008, p. 6). Therefore, there are important challenges for Canadian sovereignty and security that will need the provision of military support. According to the Canadian Government (2008), any support will require a modern, well-trained, well-equipped military that possesses the core capabilities and flexibility to secure the Arctic (and to perform in the other specified missions)[6].

There are four pillars on which the Canadian defence strategy stands: Personnel, Equipment, Infrastructure and Readiness. All four of them are grouped under these headings and have set preconditions to be met, such as the increasing of budget and the renewal of assets important for the fulfilment of each. Regarding the pillar of Personnel, the strategy mentions an increase of the Canadian Forces and a Reserve personnel increase of 1000 and 750 effectives per year, while in the case of Equipment it suggests the purchase of 17 SAR aircraft, the construction of 15 frigates/destroyers to replace the current Navy ships, the buying of 10 – 12 Maritime Patrol Aircraft (the new Boeing P-8 Poseidon for example) along with 65 new generation fighters (such as the F-35 stealth Joint Strike Fighters, in which Canada has collaborated on its development) to replace the current CF – 18, and the introduction of new land combat vehicles and systems[7]. Radars and satellites for the improvement of surveillance in the Arctic were considered as well.

In the areas of Infrastructure and Readiness, the Defence Strategy recommends the replacement of the 25 – 50% of the structures owned by National Defence in the next 10 – 20 years, and the planned investment in personnel training and relief for both personnel and equipment, respectively.

But, as Lieutenant-General (Retired) Macdonalds (2009) points out, there is an even darker scenario than Riddel – Dixon (n.a) on the security or “hard” aspect of the Canadian Arctic dilemma. In the area of Personnel there is a problem of a decrease in experience and quality levels given the reducing numbers of active personnel. Furthermore, Macdonalds (2009) states that the plans for an increase of personnel have no size or capability equilibrium so there is a lack of capacity orientation, and an aim for a simple increase in numbers but not in quality. In the chapter of Equipment, Macdonalds (2009) points out that no new ships would be received after 2015, the new fighters may arrive by 2017, and by now the first of both the C – 130J Hercules and CH -47 would be arriving. Additionally, the SAR assets has seen no program executed while the old CP -140 Auroras will remain as maritime patrol aircraft until 2020. Only the program for the fighters’ replacement seems to be on the go (the F -35 would be on duty for 4 decades), being the exception of the mentioned ones and of other failed programs (like the Joint Support Ship) or ones as the Arctics/OPV[8]. Along with the fighters, the land combat systems programs have received more attention.

In the chapter ‘Infrastructure and Readiness’, Macdonalds (2009) also explains that there are no new projects in sight and that there has been a prioritization of replacements where the Canadian Forces are currently present inside the national territory. He also states that on the latter it is still to be seen what the impact will be since the Strategy effectively plans to put more financial resources in this area so there won’t be a shortage of spare parts and decreased training in the future so there will be more vehicles available either for training either for executing other operations.

According to Wezeman (2012), currently Canada has 18 ASW CP – 140 Auroras capable of operating over the Arctic from their bases on the Eastern Coast and 80 CF – 18 fighters that are being used occasionally over the Arctic with the task of intercepting Russian bombers that approach Canadian air space which are also able to operate in secondary bases in locations in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, supported by 7 tankers. The helicopter fleet and transport aeroplanes, being the new acquisitions of C17 Globemaster and C – 130J Hercules, are operating regularly in the area and using improvised bases on snow or ice for Arctic purposes. There are also some radars placed there as part of the NORAD defence network system.

Wezeman (2012) also points out that currently Canada has 5000 Ranger troops stationed in northern Canada, although their effectiveness and of other Canadian Army units were affected negatively by the focus in Afghanistan. There are currently two important bases: one in Alert (Ellesmere Island) and another one for training purposes in Resolute Bay. Wezeman (2012) also states that the 12 surface units and 4 conventional submarines are capable enough to patrol the Arctic, even though there is a lack of ice, and are strengthened for surface combat except for the 5 large or medium and 6 small icebreakers that are operated by the Canadian Coast Guard for 6 months of the year. The small coastguard base placed at Nanisivisk is being expanded into a naval base.

It seems then that although Canada is doing well in recognizing the Arctic as an important territory and that their plans are looking good, at least on the paper, that there is a great distance between the paper and the reality. The practical responses to the paper are not being carried out properly, and the fact that the programs for the renewal of equipment are suffering delays or cancellations due to the lack of political clarity and will is simply worrisome.

Canada needs to increase its naval assets in the Arctic so it can provide better protection of the territory with the commercial shipping lines that are emerging after the ice receding, the Aboriginal and Northern communities that currently live there, and the overall environment. The current financial situation of Canada and the whole world is a fact and must be taken into account, but cannot continue to provide Canada an alibi for its lack of actions, nor can the “political procrastination” as Macdonalds (2009) calls it.

The Coast Guard is part of the solution for the control of the more internal waters and sea shores, but without a doubt the presence of the Royal Canadian Navy is more than needed in an area that, as it has been pointed out in the two previous articles of the series, will become a very sensible and important geopolitical hot spot in the future – perhaps at the same level or greater than it was during the Cold War. The presence of foreign navies with a hostile attitude, for example, is a risk that must be taken into account and, as it has been possible to appreciate with the Chinese and Russian presence (especially the latter) it is a situation that is more than likely to take place in a mid or long-term future.

If Canada wants to protect and exert sovereignty on the waters it must create at least one or two more naval bases able to serve for both the Royal Canadian Navy and the Coast Guard, and provide both services with assets suitable to do the task in any condition of the year and in a meaningful number. It could also create a separate branch of the navy with the sole task of operating exclusively on the Northern and Arctic waters in either peace or war, capable of halting more effectively the transit of any ship and to tackle the risk of hazardous (illegal crime, terrorism and others) and hostile ships, and also to minimise any activity taking place within the Canadian Northern and Arctic territories[9]. Submarines should also be taken into account within the planned assets renewal, mainly because of the very potential presence of similar units from China and Russia, capable of launching nuclear missiles. Canadian submarines, either nuclear or diesel-electric might be the perfect assets and a great contribution for the defence of both North America and the Canadian Arctic. It is very curious to feel the absence of a renewal in that sense[10]. Following the acquisition by Russia of 4 Mistral class amphibious assault/helicopter carrier ships from France, the Canadian Navy should be thinking on investing in hover landing amphibious ship to carry troops and equipment to the islands placed in the Canadian Arctic and following a possible Russian landing on those area, or even an airborne assault against those islands.

The secondary aerial bases from which the current CF – 18 operate should be transformed into permanent, strengthened and main bases for the future fighters or at least an important number of them, able to secure air superiority over the Arctic air space and to provide the Navy/Coast Guard with air support, as well as to the army units in the area[11]. The positive aspect is that the land combat systems have received enough attention, as Wezeman (2012) remarks, capable to execute operations in the area – although the capacities have been compromised not only by previous policies but also because of Afghanistan. The army would have to increase their capacities to operate and respond to any threat against Canadian Northern soil.

Finally, cooperation not only between the Canadian Armed Force branches and the Coast Guard is needed, but also the cooperation between Canada and the United States, as well as with other NATO countries with territory in the Arctic. This also implies that every territorial dispute must be solved and that an agreement must be reached, as Griffiths (2009) and Huebert (2009) also point outs. With all of the mentioned policies in the matter of defence, Ottawa might have a shield to provide the needed protection of the Arctic environment, the provision of socio – economic and infrastructure development to the Aborigines as well as of the new resources.

The Maple Leaf may perceive the Northern and Arctic territories as a heritage, a north and a future. But without the provision of an effective protection, it may become the north, the heritage and the future for other nations.



Gordon, R (June 11 2013). Canadian’s submarine fleet’s future could be at risk. CBCNews. Nova Scotia, Canada. Available at http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-scotia/canadian-submarine-fleet-s-future-could-be-at-risk-1.1334667

Government of Canada (2008). Canada First Defence Strategy. Ottawa, Canada. Author.

Liutenant – General (Retired) Macdonald, G (2009). The Canada First Defence Strategy – One Year Later. Canadian Defence & Foreign Affairs Institute. Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

Riddel – Dixon, E (n.a). Canada’s Arctic Policy. Research Note No. 2. The Canada – US Institute. The University of Western Ontario, Canada.

Wezeman, S. T (2012). Military Capabilities in the Arctic. SIPRI Background Paper. SIPRI. Stockholm, Sweden.


[1] And actually, as the author is pointing out, the policies oriented on promoting social and economic development are orbiting around the Resources Development/Exploitation.

[2] Riddel – Dixon (n.a) furthers on this point by pointing out the gap formed by such regulation, and that which would be used by international terrorism, organised crime and illegal migration with vessels below the mandated 300 tonnes.

[3] Riddel – Nixon (n.a) mentions that the (scientific) data to support the claims is to be delivered to the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf by the end of the current year, so it seems that the areas under Canadian control will be defined by early-mid 2014. It will be interesting to see the results and the answer given by the Commission.

[4] See: Government of Canada (2008). Canada First Defence Strategy, p. 3.

[5] It is important to highlight the importance of the general frameworks of the Defence Strategy, since those same frameworks can provide the Canadian Forces to exert sovereignty and protect the territory and population, as well as to respond effectively to any military threat against the country’s Northern and Arctic territory.

[6] The Defence Strategy remarks that the defence of the Arctic is somehow vital for the defence of North America and not only Canada. And also, that the Canadian Forces need to receive adequate resources for training, spare parts and equipment if they aim to be effective in the Arctic scenario. See: p. 18.

[7] During the development of the Canada First Defence Strategy, the Canadian Government introduced strategic and tactical transport air platforms like the C – 17 Globemaster, the C-130 Hercules, the CH – 47 Chinook helicopters, trucks, new battletanks (Leopard II) and mine – protected vehicles, along with new Arctic/offshore patrol vessels, the Maritime Helicopter Project, and the Joint Support Ships (though this one was cancelled). See: Government of Canada (2008). Canada First Defence Strategy, p. 16. And, Lt – G(R) Macdonald, G (2009), The Canada First Defence Strategy – One Year Later, p.4. Wezeman (2012) points out the incorporation of 6 UAVs for maritime and Arctic patrol (p. 3).

[8] In the case of the F – 35, it seems that Ottawa has not decided yet to proceed with the purchase. In the case of the Arctic/OPVs, Macdonalds (2009) points out that the requirements were decreased, compromising the utility: First, the fire power was decreased (from 40 mm guns to 25 mm guns) as well as the type of ship (ice – cutter). Second, the size, speed and capabilities were reduced as well. And third, there is a lack of political support and the task of securing the Arctic would fall into the hands of the Canadian Coast Guard rather than the Canadian Royal Navy.

[9] Since the Canada First Defence Strategy mentions the importance of the Canadian Defence Industry, those ships should be made locally, with an export of technical know – how from the South Korean shipyards or with local research to acquire that technical capacities. Doing so may enhance the aim of jobs creation for the industry.

[10] A very interesting discussion and review on the submarines topic can be found in: Gordon, R (June 11 2013). Canadian’s submarine fleet’s future could be at risk. Available at http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-scotia/canadian-submarine-fleet-s-future-could-be-at-risk-1.1334667

[11] Provision of an AEGIS system as it has been done in the Norwegian frigates could be an ideal, previous technical assistance of the fabricants of the Frigates, the Spanish firm NAVANTIA, and the US approval and support.