This week’s decision by the Arctic Council, led by the eight nations with Arctic territory, to accept China, India, Japan and three other countries as new observers points to the region’s growing importance. It’s also a sharp reminder of the need for the U.S., the council’s biggest player, to do more to prevent a destabilizing Great Game from unfolding at the top of the world.
Behind the Arctic’s intensifying geopolitics are some powerful geophysics. Climate change is causing Arctic ice to melt at an accelerating rate. Last summer, the area of ice covering the Arctic Ocean was about half what it was, on average, from 1980 to 2000. The thickness of the remaining ice had diminished by 80 percent over the same period. The late-summer Arctic could regularly be ice-free as soon as the 2030s, according to some estimates.