ARCTIC NATION: Homeland Security Priorities in the Arctic UPDATE

September 19, 2019 at 11:58 pm Leave a comment

Falling Behind.

UPDATE: Adds 6 new paragraphs at the end, to detail testimony on how the United States is falling behind other Arctic nations in asserting its role and status as an Arctic power. 

The American people and their leaders need to wake up to the fact that the United States is an Arctic Nation before it loses control of its commercial, environmental and strategic  interests in the rapidly warming — and developing — region, a panel of experts told a congressional subcommittee Thursday (September 19)

USS Comstock Arrives in Seward, Alaska to continue AECE

The amphibious dock landing ship USS Comstock transits the Gulf of Alaska headed for Seward, Alaska during Arctic Expeditionary Capabilities Exercise 2019. (U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Nicholas Burgains)

Changing climate reduces polar sea ice and opens up access to untapped natural resources as well as maritime trade routes across the top of the globe — including Alaskan waters. And many nations, including Russia and China, which have both identified increased presence in the Arctic as a strategic priority, are moving faster than the United States to take advantage of the changing situation.

The U.S. Geological Survey estimates the Arctic  holds 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil and 30 percent of the world’s undiscovered natural gas. Russia, one of five nations that border the Arctic Ocean, has seen a five-fold increase in commercial activity along its Northern Sea Route. It has invested heavily in building ice breaker ships, and at more than 50, has the largest ice breaker fleet in the world

Meanwhile, China — which recently declared itself a “near Arctic state,” even though it is located nearly 1,000 miles from the region — is moving to take advantage of the commercial opportunities in the Arctic’s warming waters. It, too has an ice breaker construction plan, and is investing strategically in economic activity like liquid natural gas drilling in Russia’s Yamal Peninsula. Beijing is planning a virtual “Polar Silk Road,” of deepwater ports in friendly nations to help cut shipping time from China to Europe by two weeks.

sea_ice_polar_bear

Sea ice still thinning.
(Photo courtesy of NASA Earth Observatory website)

No longer an “emerging issue,”  Mike Sfraga, director of the Polar Institute, told the House Homeland Security Committee’s Transportation and Maritime Security subcommittee “the Arctic has emerged.”  The Arctic “is no longer an isolated or remote region: rather it is a critical component of our global political, economic, social, physical and security landscape,” added Sfraga, who is also director of the Global Risk and Resilience Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

He was one of four panelists from Washington area think tanks that research Arctic issues — the RAND Corporation; the Arctic Institute and the Heritage Foundation — called to testify about Homeland Security priorities in the Arctic.

Russia has invested heavily in militarizing its Arctic territory — which contains half of the world’s Arctic region and half of the Arctic’s population, said Luke Coffey, director of the Allison Center for Foreign Policy at the Heritage Foundation. Over the past decade Russia has built or re-activated 14 operational airfields in the Arctic along with 16 deep-water ports, he added.

Arctic Region

Arctic Region (Source: CIA World Fact Book via wikipedia)

Meanwhile, the United States does not have a major deepwater port along 1,500 nautical miles of its Arctic coastline — from Dutch Harbor to Alaska’s North Slope. Without a viable string of ports in the U.S. Arctic commerce, search-and-rescue capabilities and national security interests will not be met, said Sfraga.

The U.S. Coast Guard has only two ice breakers, only one of which — the Polar Star — is a heavy ice breaker capable of dealing with Arctic ice. Congress has voted funding for an additional U.S. icebreaker, the Polar Security Cutter, but it won’t be available for years.

“How did this happen?” asked a stunned subcommittee member, Representative John Katko, a New York Republican. “How did we let our guard down to this extent?”

“It goes back to our lack of awareness of our role and our status as an Arctic power” in terms of the policy makers at the Defense Department, Homeland Security and NATO, said Coffey. He noted five of the eight Arctic nations are members of NATO but the latest NATO Strategic Concept, “which highlights all the challenges to the alliance, doesn’t even mention the Arctic.”

“The U.S. is often called the reluctant Arctic nation,” said Victoria Herrmann, president and managing director of the Arctic Institute. She noted the post of special representative to the Arctic region has been vacant for two years. “We do not promote ourselves as an Arctic nation. We are thousands of miles away from Alaska, and those voices just aren’t heard in these halls [of Congress],” she said.

*** *** ***

ARCTIC NATION is an occasional 4GWAR posting on the Far North. The U.S. “National Strategy for the Arctic Region” describes the United States as “an Arctic Nation with broad and fundamental interests” in the region. “Those interests include national security needs, protecting the environment, responsibly managing resources, considering the needs of indigenous communities, support for scientific research, and strengthening international cooperation on a wide range of issues.”

 

Entry filed under: Arctic, ARCTIC NATION, climate change, Coast Guard, HIGH NORTH, Homeland Security, International Relief, National Security and Defense, Navy, News Developments, Technology, U.S. Navy. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , .

FRIDAY FOTO (September 13, 2019) FRIDAY FOTO (September 20, 2019)

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