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Arctic Routes Connecting Corridors in Southern Waters

(by Willy Østreng)


Three transportation corridors connect the Arctic Passages to world markets: The Northern Maritime Corridor (NMC), the “Northern Pacific Corridor” (NPC) and the “Fram Corridor” (FC). The NPC connects with all three Passages in the East, as does the NMC in the West. In the short and medium terms, the Fram Corridor serves only as an alternative to the NMC due to sea ice conditions. For this reason we will concentrate our attention on the NMC and NPC only.

The Northern Maritime Corridor

The Northern Maritime Corridor stretches from the White Sea in the north, with partners in Murmansk, Nenets and Archangel regions, to multiple ports in the North Sea. The corridor involves 22 regions in 8 countries and was approved as an inter-regional project by the EU in 2002. The NMC connects North West Russia to the European continent and the European continent to the Pacific Ocean. The NMC is the High Way of EU to and from the Arctic – a visible sign of her economic and political interest in Arctic affairs. Non-Arctic states have been active in establishing a connecting “bridge” between the Arctic Ocean and themselves.

The Northern Pacific Corridor

The Northern Pacific Corridor has not yet been established or officially baptized. It got its name for the purpose of this study. As of today, it is a High Sea area pending the establishment of a cooperative corridor among the littoral states to the North Pacific. If and when established, it most likely will extend in two directions from the Bering Strait: southward to somewhere in South East Asia and eastward to the North American west coast.

The waters of the North Pacific have been used for transportation purposes for decades and will continue to be so also in the future. As such, there is no pressing need of a formally established corridor. However, as of now, these waters lack the political and logistical framework of an inter-state corridor. Such a corridor will add some extra navigational value to these waters and contribute to reduce regional political tensions and provide more safety of navigation.

There are signs in regional politics that these waters may be converted into an inter-state corridor through cooperation among North Pacific countries, in particular Japan, South Korea and China. If this materializes, non-Arctic states will be instrumental also in the North Pacific to link the Arctic to their own markets.

The Corridors in Comparison

 The NMC is by far the safest and most developed of the three corridors. It was established by EU in collaboration with Russia and Norway. Regional tensions and lack of pressing needs explain why the countries of the North Pacific have not yet established a similar corridor in the Pacific Ocean. Indications are that this may change in due time, possibly with China as a prime mover. If and when that happens, non-Arctic states in the North Atlantic and North Pacific clearly signal their interest to take part in Arctic resources developments and to pool resources with the Arctic five.


    Willy Østreng, 2010, Arctic Routes Connecting Corridors in Southern Waters, CHNL.©