BOWLING GREEN - The gradual warming of the Earth's climate has the potential to bring back Cold War-like tensions between the United States and Russia, as the two countries assert themselves over parts of the Arctic Circle that once were impassable for ships.
Melting ice also will likely cool relations between the United States and Canada, long viewed as the world's friendliest neighbors.
Those and other predictions emerged yesterday during the 21st annual Reddin Symposium at Bowling Green State University, an event sponsored by BGSU's Canadian Studies Center and attended by about 125 people.
"We are on the cusp of a series of disagreements," Rob Huebert, one of the symposium's three speakers, told the audience. "We are heading into some very rocky territory."
Mr. Huebert, a University of Calgary associate political science professor and associate director of that university's Centre for Military and Strategic Studies, said the Arctic will never be dismissed as a frozen wasteland again now that ships have an easier time getting through the northwest passage and the price of oil has hit the $100-a-barrel mark.
Disputes are already erupting over largely undefined - or, at least, unenforced - boundaries.
"The potential is there for an outbreak of tensions we have not seen since the Cold War days," Mr. Huebert said.
All countries that extend into the Arctic Circle - including Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Iceland - have a stake in the fight.
So does Denmark, because Greenland is a self-governing Danish province.
Those most deeply affected could be the Inuit, who will be fighting to keep their native culture intact on limited resources as the region becomes more coveted by outsiders.
Rosemary Cooper, political coordinator of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, Canada's national Inuit advisory organization, said the Arctic Circle "defines who we are."
Inuit face the difficult task of trying to preserve their heritage while coping with widespread drug and alcohol abuse, violent crime, unemployment, and education issues.
Sixty-three percent of Can-
ada's Inuit do not have a high school diploma. Their suicide rate is 11 times that of the rest of Canada, she said.
In June, several British publications and news outlets said Russia was claiming ownership rights to the North Pole. An article in London's Daily Mail said Russian President Vladimir Putin was "making an astonishing bid to grab a vast chunk of the Arctic" to tap its potential for oil, natural gas, and diamonds. The article said his scientists claimed that an underwater ridge near the North Pole is really part of Russia's continental shelf.
"Today, we are scrambling to respond to Russia's planting of the flag at the North Pole," Ms. Cooper said.
Terry Fenge, principal of a Canadian firm called Terry Fenge Consulting Inc., which specializes in aboriginal rights, environmental affairs, and public policy for the Arctic region, said Inuits and others native to that area view Arctic borders as "artificial boundaries."
Melting ice will have a "profound impact on indigenous people" because of their reliance on native wildlife that faces extinction threats, he said.
While many people believe the planet simply needs to adapt to its warming climate, Mr. Fenge said they may be rationalizing adaptation to "cultural annihilation."
"Our histories with indigenous people is not something to marvel at," he said.
The trio of speakers agreed that sovereignty claims to the Arctic Circle will intensify as the region's value rises, whether or not dire predictions pan out.
"Even when you get beyond the Cold War, Canada's security is threatened. We are in the midst of a transformation we don't understand," Mr. Huebert said.
"The stakes are high and are about to get higher."
Contact Tom Henry at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6079.