Last August, a Russian tanker sailed direct from Norway to South Korea through the Arctic Ocean, the first time such a ship had done so without an icebreaker escort. It was a defining moment in the opening up of previously frozen northern trade routes – and it looks to have supercharged an already intensifying arms race and jostle for influence on the roof of the world. It’s a dynamic that brings particular challenge for the United States. In part because Washington has never regarded the High North as a major strategic priority, the area has been seen as falling within Russia’s sphere of influence. Now China too is stepping up its plans to become a major player in the region. Last week, China issued its first white paper on its national Arctic strategy, pledging to work more closely with Moscow in particular to create an Arctic maritime counterpart – a “Polar silk road” – to its “one belt, one road” overland trade route to Europe. Both the Kremlin and Beijing have repeatedly stated...

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