Book Review: Cold Front

Cold Front:  Conflict Ahead In Arctic Waters, by David Fairhall

It would be fair to say that the author is at least a bit too concerned about global warming, because even he recognizes that it is unlikely to be an entirely straightforward matter, but it is also true in the author’s favor that the author’s thoughts about the history and the geopolitics of the Arctic region are not too different from my own [1].  Even if I find the author to be a bit irritating when it comes to his whining about climate change, then, I cannot find him entirely tiresome because he offers a lot of serious questions and thinking about the struggles various areas have when it comes to trying to make the most of the opportunity to expand into the Arctic North.  I am also inclined to agree with the author, regardless of our differences about climate, that the expansion of geopolitical concerns into the Arctic regions is likely to present a great deal of conflict between nations, especially but not only between Russia and everyone else, but even between Canada and much of the world (including the United States) and between Norway and the United Kingdom, even.

The contents of this short book of just over 200 pages are very scattered and disorganized but generally interesting at the very least.  The author discusses climate change and the geopolitical world of the Arctic.  He then moves on to discuss the assets of the region, including oil, natural gas, and fishing, that different nations would fight over.  After that there is a discussion of the law of the sea and the reluctance of the United States to pass the UN treaty that governs it.  The author discusses the role of the Arctic in the Cold War, the history of efforts to explore the Northeast Passage.  After that there are discussions of attempts to shortcut the barrier of ice in the Arcitc, more discussions of the Russians in the Arctic during the Cold War, and efforts at icebreaking.  The author then offers some ideas of the future exploitation of the Northwest and Northeast Passages as well as the Transarctic Passage and some possible outcomes both in terms of the melting of ice, the possible end of the Gulf Stream, and a shipping forecast as well as a fairly brave attempt at encouraging a lot of people to prognosticate about the future of the region.

In some ways, the scattered nature of the book serves to make this volume more enjoyable.  For one, the author shows that he is certainly aware of the lengthy and complicated history of trade and military action in the region as well as the high death toll of exploration efforts.  Likewise, the scattered nature also demonstrates the scattered nature of the author’s sources and the parties involved in the Arctic, including the United States, Canada, Denmark/Greenland, Norway, Russia, and the United Kingdom, and other nations whose trade efforts would intersect with Arctic concerns like Egypt and Panama.  The scattered nature of the book also helps demonstrate that the author is not merely focused on one aspect, one ax to grind, but that he has a larger view of his subject.  All of that combines to make this a book that, even if I disagree with certain aspects of the author’s approach and perspective, at least is a book that I can recommend as background reading about the contemporary geopolitics and possible near future of the Arctic region, all of which is interesting.  Not everyone may be fascinated by such matters, but I am, and likely quite a few other people will find this book and its subject material of great interest.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Book Reviews, History, International Relations and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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