The Coming Battle for the Falklands, By Richard Miller (London)

The UK Commons Environment Audit Committee (EAC) has received information that Russia has discovered a huge oil field in Antarctica, which mainly is in British Antarctic Territory. These territories are claims, rather than secure parts of a nation, and there are competing claims by Chile and Argentina. The closest land mass is the Falkland Islands, and if Russia intends to extract oil in defiance of Britain, it will need a base like this. A war between Britain and Argentina occurred in 1982, which the British won. But a new war, backed by Russia could be a different story now, given the rapid decline that the UK military has undergone.

Certainly, an attack now upon the Falklands will be an act of war, that could swing NATO into action. And then, it is on. If not sooner.

https://www.yahoo.com/news/falklands-just-become-most-valuable-121604015.html?guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cuZ29vZ2xlLmNvbS8&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAACiQiCOlAKqUWyeGXaj9eV1rC3yREEAsvUv6HClqlHtqCJrSPcKm0pygy1ZZAd8cCqeAFQJDJs1lPBa6VBn2EYehxhYQcEnxRmE0FbKrJWJEbfW5pdIdl3DEqaVwhM3g4-TzloG0t2JYESQte0Fm9DlX_C0atY57tw2IHB3LHT7t#:~:text=According%20to%20evidence%20given%20to,Sea's%20entire%2050%20year%20output.

"According to evidence given to the Commons Environment Audit Committee (EAC) last week, Russia has discovered an oil field in Antarctica roughly ten times the size of the North Sea's entire 50 year output. Much of the field is believed to be in the Weddell sea, just to the east of the Antarctic peninsula and very much in the middle of the UK's "cheese slice" down there – the British Antarctic Territory.

In Antarctica, boundaries are just "claims" rather than solidly "owned", but it is of note that Britain's claims in the region overlap with those of Chile and Argentina. It's a perfect chance for Vladimir Putin to start causing trouble – and it may have made the Falklands islands the most valuable real estate on earth.

Understanding why means understanding what it's like in Antarctica. In my experience, operating down there is a mix of wonderment at the vast bleakness of it and having to be on top of your game as the weather does its best to catch you out. The trope that "you get all four seasons in a day" is not quite correct. You get three – the bad ones. Occasionally the sun comes out, presenting a fleeting opportunity for the most perfect photos, but that is invariably just a tease – freezing gales are imminent.

Having said that, the location of these oil fields in the Weddell Sea is not the hardest place to work. You are protected to an extent from the oceanic swell that endlessly circles the continent by the Antarctic Peninsula, and also by the sea ice that further dampens it. But the further south you go, the thicker that ice becomes, and by the time you get to the UK base in Halley, you need to be on your ice game. The irony of working down there in HMS Endurance, named after Shackleton's ship that got stuck in thick ice and crushed in that exact sea, was not lost on us. The point is, working down there is ultimately demanding and to a large extent, the reason the non-exploitative component of the Antarctic treaty – which which works to maintain the region as a natural reserve devoted to peace and science – has been upheld. Until now.

In addition to invading Ukraine, Russia is involved in any number of maritime grey zone activities around the world. Smuggling oil through the Baltic and elsewhere using the uninsured and poorly maintained "dark fleet" tankers is one. Ongoing submarine activity around the undersea cables on which the functioning of our economy depends is another. Blockading the Black Sea is another, although this has been beaten back for now. The Russian presence in western Yemen around the time the undersea cables were cut is another, as is the military installation building with China in the High North, and on, and on, and on.

These activities are all designed to be hard to (legally) counter and, should you decide to counter them, produce "with what?" as a swift response. In the case of its activities in Antarctica, Russia, of course, claims to be conducting scientific research rather than prospecting for oil. As Klauss Dodds put it, "Russia's activities need to be understood as a decision to undermine the norms associated with seismic survey research, and ultimately a precursor for forthcoming resource extraction". Saying they are looking to extract resources is a world away from actually doing so, but the direction of travel is clear.

The next step in the Russian grey zone playbook will surely be to involve Argentina. With their "cheese slice" of territory overlapping ours, collaboration down there is all but a given and on a diplomatic level will bear fruit more quickly than the oil itself. The ebb and flow of Argentinian rhetoric professing an interest in retaking the Falklands has been steady since 1982 although a combination of our defences there and their ageing military stops most people from taking it seriously. But were they to be emboldened by Russian diplomatic and possibly military assistance, with the added temptation of having "las malvinas" available as a forward base for the new oil in Antarctica, it's not hard to imagine them having another go.

At which point, if we have to defend them, the "with what" issue comes back. The Royal Navy is at a low point, with both hull and personnel numbers creating tension at every turn. Whatever form the Defence Review takes after the election, this issue should be higher up the list than it has been in recent years. Promises of 2.5% of GDP by 2030 or whenever "conditions suit" need to be shelved for cold, hard cash now.

https://www.yahoo.com/news/russia-finds-vast-oil-gas-153120845.html 

 

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Tuesday, 21 May 2024

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