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US experts call for more investment in the Arctic

G e N Iuvinale


In recent years, the United States has continuously formulated strategic plans for the Arctic area, published key documents, and conducted various military exercises in the region.


Although the United States is ambitious on Arctic issues, recent articles in US media have quoted military experts pointing out that the United States has not only failed to make targeted long-term investments, but also lacks the capabilities necessary to dominate the Arctic.

Winter industrial landscape with large satellite dishes. Telecommunications in the Arctic in the Far North of Russia. The harsh northern climate of Chukotka and polar Siberia. Photo: GettyImeages

Strategic feasibility is low


As the economic and strategic value of the Arctic region grows, the United States places more importance on the region and invests more resources.


In 2019, the US Department of Defense released a new version of its Arctic strategy, emphasizing that the US military must have the ability to shape the security environment in the region.


In 2021, the US Navy released the "Arctic Strategic Plan", stating that it must act more decisively throughout the Arctic region.


In the same year, the US military announced a new Arctic strategy, which set the strategic objective of regaining dominance in the region.


Finally, in October 2022, the United States announced a new version of its national strategy for the Arctic region, underlining that it will work with its allies to strengthen its military presence in the area.


According to the report, although the aforementioned strategic document indicates key areas needing attention in the Arctic, proposes objectives such as raising awareness of the area, increasing the frequency of operations and strengthening the rules-based order, and pays attention to the fact that exercises and training in the Arctic in extremely cold weather conditions are of a special nature, does not specify specific sources of funding and their distribution, and lacks feasibility.

​Ryan Burke, director of the U.S. Northern Command's Homeland Defense Institute and professor at the Arctic Studies Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, said the United States does not have the ability to maintain a long-term military presence in the Arctic. He pointed out: "We do not have the infrastructure, professional knowledge and corresponding institutional foundation to truly dominate the Arctic region."


According to the report, the United States has only two fully functional polar icebreakers, and plans for expansion have been repeatedly delayed. Sixty years ago, during the Cold War, the size of the U.S. icebreaker fleet could be up to four times the size of today's fleet. The U.S. Army's "Polaris" heavy icebreaker has been in service for nearly 50 years, and the newer "Healy" medium-sized icebreaker has been in service for more than 20 years. In contrast, Russia has more than 40 icebreakers of various types, with three more under construction. Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that the Russian Arctic fleet will have at least 13 heavy icebreakers by 2035.


The U.S. Navy and Coast Guard are jointly developing the Polar Sentinel heavy icebreaker. The U.S. military plans to build three ships with a total investment of $2.7 billion. The project has been stuck in the design phase due to the failure to supply key specialty alloy steels in a timely manner. A 2023 GAO report showed that the Polar Sentinel heavy icebreaker remains at risk of rework and further delays.


Burke argues that in addition to the icebreaker, the U.S. military needs more equipment to maintain a military presence in the Arctic region

Emphasizing development priorities


As of now, the U.S. military reportedly still lacks the necessary communications systems, general infrastructure, and critical polar environment survival training needed to survive and operate in complex polar environments.


The RAND Corporation, a U.S. think tank, released a report saying that based on the complex security situation in the Arctic, the U.S. still has a lot of work to do to strengthen. Chief among them is the establishment of domain awareness and operational readiness capabilities: accelerating the construction of communications systems, related equipment and other infrastructure, improving the maintenance and security capabilities of related assets, and increasing the sustained presence of relevant personnel so as to respond quickly when necessary.


Abby Tingstad, a professor at the Center for Arctic Studies and Policy at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, pointed out that in order to strengthen U.S. access and presence in the Arctic, it is necessary to secure funding sources first. Scott Savitz, a senior fellow at the RAND Corporation, noted that currently, the U.S. Coast Guard is the most active in missions in the Arctic. However, as the only military branch of the Department of Homeland Security, the Coast Guard is always strapped for cash and there is an urgent need to address this issue.


The report also said that although the U.S. has signed agreements with countries such as Finland and Sweden for the stationing of troops, it involves mainly Army units, and that other branches of the military should also be involved.


There is an urgent need to step up efforts in the Arctic as China and Russia target the Alliance in the region


Xi Jinping's regime is positioning itself to exert influence above the Arctic Circle through an alliance with Russia. Just as the invasion of Ukraine impacted the Arctic, so activity in the area will extend to other parts of the world. In the Arctic Council, Russia is isolated and the majority is made up of NATO countries. However, if the United States and NATO intend to properly deal with China, they should turn their eyes to Russia in the Arctic.


Measures must be urgently taken to protect one's interests before it is too late.

Professor Alfred Alfred McCoy, in his splendid article titled "Washington's Dominion Is Ending-but Not Without a Struggle" published in The Nation.com, last year noted, "and, northward in the frigid Arctic oceans, thanks to the planet's radical warming and retreating sea ice, a fleet of Chinese and Russian icebreakers have maneuvered to open a polar silk route, perhaps taking possession of the roof of the world."


"America cannot afford to fall behind," Hudson Institute member Luke Coffey said yesterday. In fact, on July 18, Coffey testified before the U.S. Homeland Security Subcommittee on Transportation and Maritime Security.

He and the other witnesses said that Russia's invasion of Ukraine has impacted the world in so many ways that even the Russian leadership could not have predicted. One such impact occurred in the Arctic States Council.


The Arctic States Council is an intergovernmental forum of the eight nations that exercise sovereignty over lands within the Arctic Circle, and these constitute the council's member states. They are: United States, Russia, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Canada and Iceland. Other countries may be admitted only as observer states. The council does not deal with military or security issues.


The Arctic Council makes its decisions by consensus. It has already approved three legally binding agreements.


These are the Agreement on Cooperation in Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue in the Arctic (2011), the Agreement on Cooperation in Marine Oil Pollution Preparedness and Response in the Arctic (2013), and the Agreement on Enhancing International Scientific Cooperation in the Arctic (2017).


When it invaded Ukraine, Russia was in the midst of its two-year council presidency. In response, the other seven members stopped cooperating until Norway assumed the presidency in May 2023.


The formerly neutral countries, Finland and Sweden, applied to join NATO. Finland was admitted in April 2023 and Sweden is expected to be admitted substantially soon. This means that Russia would be the only non-NATO member of the Arctic Council.

With 20 percent of its gross domestic product dependent on the Arctic and more than 2 million Russians living there, a diplomatically isolated Russia will seek international partners. China has already indicated its willingness to help Moscow, and it is not hard to see why Beijing is so interested in the Arctic.


"In 2008, the U.S. Geological Survey estimated that up to 13 percent of the world's undiscovered oil reserves and nearly one-third of the world's undiscovered natural gas reserves are located in the Arctic," noted Luke Coffey at the U.S. Homeland Security Subcommittee on Transportation and Maritime Security. Most of these resources are located in Alaska and Russian territories.


In addition, the Arctic Ocean is considered a rich resource for commercial fishing. The Chinese regime has a large fishing fleet that has shown complete disregard for international law and custom, denounced Rep. Carlos Gimenez (R-Fla.), chairman of the subcommittee. "They are raping the oceans," he said.


China makes no secret of its intentions to creep into the Arctic by referring to itself as an "Arctic neighboring state," a made-up term that gives it no rights over the area.
"There have been many unintended consequences from the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the Arctic is no exception," added Luke Coffey.

Russia also hopes to benefit from the Northern Shipping Route (Northern Sea Route - NSR), touted as an alternative to the route through the Suez Canal. The NSR provides faster access to some European and Asian ports from the north.


Russia would like to control the sea lanes and even charge for their use.

Coffey added that few ships have taken advantage of the NSR since the invasion and no international ships have used it. Only the French navy has conducted some "freedom of navigation" patrols to assert its rights to sail there.


Ronald O'Rourke, a naval specialist with the Congressional Research Service, told the commission that the United States must adequately fund the U.S. Coast Guard if it is to protect its interests in the Arctic.


Russia occupies the largest geographical area in the Arctic Circle. Almost half of the population of the circle is Russian.

Even China, which has no territory or people in the Arctic, has two icebreakers.

Although China's borders do not extend to the Arctic, China is one of the Arctic Council's 13 "observers" and has become increasingly active in the region. It was granted permanent observer status in 2013 after five years of courtship with member states and two failed attempts. The observer granted China the opportunity to attend all council meetings and participate in seminars.


China's interest in the Arctic also appears to be driven by potential energy, commercial, and geopolitical benefits.

First, the region is rich in energy and natural resources, boasting about 13 percent of the world's undiscovered crude oil and 30 percent of undiscovered natural gas. While these oil and gas deposits are locked up under the Arctic seafloor by thick ice sheets and adverse weather conditions, the steady retreat of sea ice has paved the way for future feasible extraction efforts.


As the situation evolves, the United States must also grow, O'Rourke said. The United States will need bases, aircraft and personnel in the region to protect its interests. Experts said the United States is building a deep-water port in Nome, Alaska, but more needs to be done.


Coffey and Brimmer added that the United States needs to strengthen diplomatic relations with all countries with an interest in the Arctic; Russia already has systems in place to deal with any security problems it might encounter.


Just as the invasion of Ukraine had an impact on the Arctic, so will activity in the area spread to other parts of the world. If the United States intended to deal properly with China, it should turn its gaze to Russia in the Arctic.

It is also possible that an ever-isolated Russia could become so indebted and desperate for an Arctic ally that it would give China a small piece of Arctic territory, thus facilitating admission to the Arctic Council. The two nations, which pose the greatest threat to the West, will be inseparable in the maritime theater.


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