Doctor Eclectic

Doctor Eclectic
Doctor Eclectic

Thursday, July 14, 2016

The Northeast Passage

Northeast Passage vs. Suez Canal
A couple weeks ago, a press release from the Russian press announced the commissioning of a multi-billion dollar nuclear icebreaker.  The backstory was in the accompanying phrase that essentially said, “This will put an end to the American embargo.”

Why might that be?

For several years I have attended a seminar in the Bay Area by one of my Alma Maters, The Naval War College in Newport, RI.  About three years ago there was an interesting presentation on the unintended consequences of the U.S. Fleet decimation.  In particular, they mentioned that we no longer had any useable Hospital Ships, because we can airlift casualties in shorter time to U.S. hospitals and we have limited resources in Germany now.  Another casualty has been icebreakers, of which we have only two, old, conventional ships that rotate between the yards, the Arctic and the Antarctic.

Aside from the fact that icebreakers used to provide a billet for a dentist, why should that be of importance?  The answer is that the ice in the Arctic is going away. 

While the fact that the Polar Bears are losing their hunting grounds is of little consequence unless you are a young boy sitting on a remaining ice flow wondering if you are going to be a Polar Bear breakfast, what is means this that the ice, which restricts passage of the Northeast Passage and more importantly the North Sea as it borders Russia in 2013 allowed for passage for more than three weeks, when ten years previous it had been open for about one week.  With icebreaker assistance that could be tripled or even quadrupled.

Use of the Northeast Passage chops about 23,000 miles off the Suez Canal passage.  This has great economic advantage for both China and Russia and both are greatly increasing their presence and influence in the region.  The major savings is in fuel and the construction of nuclear icebreakers is an intentional investment in ships that can remain on station without assistance for longer periods of time.

The Peabody, out of Beluga
What has slowed the process in the ensuing years is the fact that Russia’s major export is oil, which has decreased dramatically in value and need by the rest of the world. If Russia could open trade markets in Europe and China could cheaply increase its influence in Africa, the game might truly be changed.

Interestingly, the Passage is a two-way street with Germany going in the other direction.  Most of the previous icebreakers have in fact been German, including their own nuclear ship, The Peabody.  With Great Britain’s Brexit, it will be interesting to see if Europe desires to increase trade outside of the EU.

It will also be interesting to see what the next President is inclined to do about rebuilding the U.S. fleet.  Our present policy with our naval presence being treated with open disdain by both China and Russia would argue that something needs to be done.

In my next Post I will offer observations on children of cancer patients and the effect that cancer treatment of parents and grandparents have on their lives.  I hope you will join me.

4 comments:

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