Courtesy Reuters

The Soviet Conquest of the Far North

THE search for the Northeast Passage to Cathay, which for four centuries stirred the imagination of European mariners, has at last ended in triumph. We seem at the beginning of a new phase of man's relations with the North.

In this great polar saga are three historic dates. The first to seek the short-cut route from the Atlantic to the Pacific was Sir Hugh Willoughby, who in 1553 perished with all hands on the Murman coast. In the ensuing centuries navigators of many of the seafaring nations resumed the search. Some turned back before being caught; others were lured eastward to their doom in the ice. In 1878-79, A. E. Nordenskiöld made the first through-passage by "freezing in" for the winter. The only other expeditions subsequently to pass -- those of Vil'kitsky, Amundsen on the Maud, Toll, and Nansen on the celebrated Fram -- pursued the same method. It remained for the Soviet ice-breaker, Sibiryakov, sailing from Arkhangelsk to Vladivostok in 1932, to complete the through-passage in a single navigating season -- the first time in history.

This feat was not an accident of Soviet exploration. It was preceded by years of Arctic studies, especially of the movement and behavior of ice. In the sequel are matters of high potential importance. Discovery of the through-passage has given impetus to vast Soviet schemes for the exploitation of northern Asia hitherto remote; for populating regions never trod by civilized man, nor even by savages; and for developing the Arctic as a normal artery of sea and air commerce. The program introduces new factors into the politics of the Pacific Ocean which America, as close neighbor of the Soviets in the Arctic, cannot afford to ignore.

While the details of Soviet achievements in the Arctic are not yet available, the following facts may be gleaned from recent Russian materials. Soviet scientific studies began with the creation of the Commission for Study of the North in 1919. The first stage in opening the passage was the Kara

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