Posts tagged ‘Arctic’

FRIDAY FOTO (February 6, 2015)

Cold Plunge.

U.S. Marine Corps photo by Corporal  Charles Santamaria

U.S. Marine Corps photo by Corporal Charles Santamaria

Marine Corps Staff Sergeant John Freeseha begins singing the Marines’ Hymn after completing a plunge into freezing water during an ice-breaker drill.

The drill — plunging chest deep into icy cold water and then dragging oneself  out using ski poles — is part of the Winter Mountain Leaders Course at Levitt Lake on Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center in Bridgeport, California.

To see other photos of this grueling survival exercise click here and here.

Once students got out of the water, they sprinted to the warming tents, where they stripped off their wet clothing and put on dry clothes to restore the body’s normal temperature.

The six-week course, which began January 5 and is scheduled to end February 18, is designed to train Marines on what to expect in a cold weather environment.

February 6, 2015 at 8:09 am Leave a comment

ARCTIC NATION: Nordic Defense Worries; Special Ops Up North; Alaska Oil Fight; Canadian Patrol Boats

Russia’s Nordic Neighbors Worried.

A Swedish JAS-39 Gripen during a flight exercise in 2013. (U.S. Air Force photo by 1st Lt. Christopher Mesnard)

A Swedish JAS-39 Gripen during a flight exercise in 2013.
(U.S. Air Force photo by 1st Lt. Christopher Mesnard)

Sweden’s military is trying to get the country’s new government to boost long-term defense spending by adding as much as $620 million.

Russia’s aggressive actions in Ukraine and suspicions that unidentified underwater craft violating Sweden’s territorial waters in late 2014 were Russian have onvinced military planners that more defense spending is needed to acquire needed upgrades to fighter aircraft and submarines., as well as financing military exercises, according to Defense News.  Unlike all its Baltic and North Sea neighbors (except Finland), Sweden is not a member of NATO.

The Armed Forces Command (AFC) is pushing the newly elected socialist-green government to add between $380 million and $620 million to the spending plan, which is set at about $5.5 billion in 2015. The AFC’s position is that $380 million is the absolute bare minimum amount required to cover the Swedish Armed Force’s basic needs in operations and procurement in 2015-2020.  Defense chief General Sverker Göransson has warned the government that if the annual budget remains at $5.5 billion, the armed forces could not finance key or even small scale programs, such as the next-generation Gripen fighter or submarine modernization projects. Meanwhile, funds would be stretched to pay for equipment for soldiers, multi-branch military exercises or vehicles.

Sweden’s Parliamentary Defense Committee roundly supports increasing the defense budget, Defense News said.

Meanwhile, the other non-NATO in the High North may be drawing closer to the Western alliance.

According to Alaska News Dispatch, a recent poll in Finland shows  63 percent of Finns surveyed say that an advisory referendum would be the best way to decide whether or not Finland should join NATO.

In the poll, commissioned by Yle and carried out by Taloustutkimus Research, 63 percent respondents supported a referendum — even if the president, government and a majority of parliamentarians hold the same view regarding NATO membership. Only 27 percent of respondents felt that Parliament should make the NATO membership decision.

Ten percent of respondents said they did not know how the matter should be decided.  Just over one thousand people were polled between December 29 and January 8.

The strongest referendum supporters were Finns Party and Left Alliance voters. The conservative National Coalition Party (NCP) and Swedish Peoples Party were least enthusiastic about the idea. Public opinion polls have consistently shown that a solid majority of Finns are against joining NATO, so a referendum would be unlikely to rubber-stamp membership, the Dispatch noted.

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USSOCOM-Norway

Two members of the Norwegian Naval Special Operations Command.  (Photo by Torbjørn Kjosvold, Norwegian Armed Forces)

Two members of the Norwegian Naval Special Operations Command.
(Photo by Torbjørn Kjosvold, Norwegian Armed Forces)

WASHINGTON – The head of U.S. Special Operations Command and top theater commanders will be going to Norway soon to discuss how to deal with aggressive Russian behavior in the Arctic region.

Norway, a NATO member that shares a  195.7-kilometer (121.6 mile) land border with Russia, announced in December it was suspending bilateral military activities with Russia — because of Russia’s aggressive activities in Ukraine — until the end of 2015. “Military bilateral cooperation has been suspended since March 2014, since the illegal annexation of Crimea and destabilization in eastern Ukraine,” said a press release from Norway’s Ministry of Defense

Army General Joseph Votel said the main concern is “Russia and its coercive activities” in the Arctic. “It’s important to engage and understand what’s happening out there and understand the spaces in which they can exert their influence,” he told a SOF-industry conference last week (January 27).

To that end, Votel said he and U.S. SOF commanders (probably from Northern Command, European Command and Pacific Command – which all border the Arctic) will meet in a few weeks with their Norwegian counterparts who are “paying significant attention to this.” Norway, a member of NATO, is one of five nations that border the Arctic. The others are Canada, Denmark (which controls Greenland), the United States and Russia.

Russia has been taking increasingly aggressive steps to assert control in the Arctic where the rapid melting of sea ice is expected to open access to the polar region — which is projected to contain 25 percent of the world’s untapped oil, as well as other valuable minerals. To see more, click here.

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 Obama-Arctic

President Barack Obama is asking Congress to increase environmental protections for millions of acres of pristine animal habitat in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, in a move that has already led to fierce opposition from the state’s Republican lawmakers.

The White House announced last week (January 25) that Obama would ask Congress to designate 12 million of the refuge’s 19 million acres as wilderness. The wilderness designation is the strongest level of federal protection afforded to public lands, and would forbid a range of activity that includes drilling for oil and gas and construction of roads. If the proposal is enacted, the area would be the largest wilderness designation since Congress passed the Wilderness Act over 50 years ago. But the proposal seems unlikely to find support in Congress, according to the New York Times.

The policy won’t have much effect on the nation’s oil production—Alaska accounts for only 7 percent of it, and most of the protected areas have been off-limits to industry for decades. And it didn’t really change the status quo or offer anywhere near the environmental protection the president could have conveyed. But he sure ticked off some Alaskans, according to National Geographic.

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Slush Breakers?

The design of the Canadian patrol boats will be modeled on this Norwegian Coast Guard vessel class: NoCGV Svalbard. (Photo by Marcusroos via wikipedia)

The design of the Canadian patrol boats will be modeled on this Norwegian Coast Guard vessel class: NoCGV Svalbard.
(Photo by Marcusroos via wikipedia)

Already five years behind schedule, Canada is finally getting underway with the construction of a small fleet of Arctic patrol boats to project a Canadian military presence in the High North where melting sea ice is opening up new maritime shipping routes – and access to underground riches.

The $3.2 billion ($3.5 billion Canadian) project will produce five ships – down from a planned eight vessels. But critics complain that none of the vessels will be ice breakers, as originally planned, and none will have landing craft equipped with an over-the-snow ground vehicle, according to Defense News. The ships weaponry is also said to be scaled back. Some critics in the military have called the planned ships “slush-breakers” since they won’t be able to break through heavy Arctic ice.

The ship-building plan was originally announced in 2007 by then Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The patrol vessels were supposed to be in the water by 2013. Under the new deal, construction will begin in September, with the first ship ready by 2018. The last ship is expected to be delivered by 2022, according to the builder, Canada’s Irving Shipbuilding. Lockheed Martin is set to supply the onboard combat systems.

“The Arctic offshore patrol ships will enable us to become a truly Arctic, rather than just northern, Navy with the capability to operate in the Canadian Arctic archipelago on a sustained and persistent basis,” Vice Admiral Mark Norman, commander of the Royal Canadian Navy told a naval conference in October, Defense News said.

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ARCTIC NATION is an occasional 4GWAR posting on the Arctic. The U.S. “National Strategy for the Arctic Region” describes the United States as “an Arctic Nation with broad and fundamental interests in the Arctic 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.”

Polar bears explore a surfaced U.S. submarine in the Arctic. U.S. Navy photo. (Click on the image to enlarge)

Polar bears explore a surfaced U.S. submarine in the Arctic. U.S. Navy photo.
(Click on the image to enlarge)

 

February 5, 2015 at 11:58 pm Leave a comment

SPECIAL OPERATIONS: USSOCOM Chief to Meet With Norwegians on Arctic Tensions

Special Ops in the Arctic.

The Norwegian Brigade North advances during a live-fire exercise in the Setermoen Shooting Range during exercise Cold Response. The heavy Leopard 2 main battle tanks in the background. (Photo by Simen Rudi, Norwegian Armed Forces)

The Norwegian Brigade North advances during a live-fire exercise in the Setermoen Shooting Range during exercise Cold Response in 2014. The heavy Leopard 2 main battle tanks in the background.
(Photo by Simen Rudi, Norwegian Armed Forces)

WASHINGTON – The head of U.S. Special Operations Command and top theater commanders will be going to Norway soon to discuss how to deal with aggressive Russian behavior in the Arctic region.

Army General Joseph Votel said the main concern is “Russia and its coercive activities” in the Arctic. “It’s important to engage and understand what’s happening out there and understand the spaces in which they [special operations forces (SOF)] can exert their influence,” he told a SOF-industry conference last week (January 27).

To that end, Votel said he and U.S. SOF regional commanders (probably from Northern Command, European Command and Pacific Command – which all border the Arctic) will meet in a few weeks with their Norwegian counterparts who are “paying significant attention to this.” Norway, a member of NATO, is one of five nations that border the Arctic. The others are Canada, Denmark (which controls Greenland), the United States and Russia.

Russia has been taking increasingly aggressive steps to assert control in the Arctic where the rapid melting of sea ice is expected to open access to the polar region — which is projected to contain 25 percent of the world’s untapped oil, as well as other valuable minerals.

In 2007, a Russian mini sub deposited a metal Russian flag on the seabed under the North Pole. Russia’s new military doctrine, signed by President Vladimir Putin in December, calls for a more aggressive stance toward NATO and boosting its military presence in the Arctic. Those plans include setting up an Arctic Strategic Command and opening 14 operational airfields in the Arctic by the end of 2015.

Sweden has tracked unidentified undersea vehicles – believed to be Russian submarines — violating their territory. In December, a Russian military aircraft flying with radar-evading stealth technology nearly crashed into a commercial passenger plane taking off from Copenhagen, Denmark. In April, Russian fighter jets carried out a simulated bombing raid on Stockholm, Sweden’s capital.

Add to these incidents Russia’s seizure of the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine and ongoing fighting between Ukraine’s military and Russian-supported separatists and  U.S. military leaders and their NATO allies have reasons to be concerned.

“I consider this a current and future challenge for us,” Army General Joseph Votel, SOCOM’s commander, told the National Defense Industrial Association’s annual Special Operations/Low Intensity Conflict Symposium & Exhibition. He conceded that the harsh Arctic environment poses a different challenge after more than a dozen years fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. “This is something we can deal with. While we have engaged in the Middle East, we have not forgotten about the other areas,” Votel said, adding that with industry’s help “I feel confident we would be able to address that relatively quickly.”

Army Gen. and U.S> SOCOM  commander Joseph Votel. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Steve Cortez)

Army Gen. and U.S> SOCOM commander Joseph Votel.
(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Steve Cortez)

On other issues, Votel said the flow of foreign fighters joining the violent extremist organization styling itself an Islamic State “is staggering.” IS (also called ISIS and ISIL) has attracted more than 19,000 foreigners from 90 different countries to fight with them in Syria and Iraq, he noted. Counter terrorism experts at the Pentagon and Department of Homeland Security worry about the threat these fighters pose when they return home to countries in the West.

Votel said SOCOM and law enforcement were also seeing “a growing nexus” between terrorist groups and transnational criminal organizations because the crime groups’ ability to move money, people and weapons across borders is very attractive to terrorists. While officials don’t fully understand how these networks interact yet, what is known is “the more they cooperate, the greater the threat,” Votel said.

The SOCOM commander and Army Ranger added that airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance-gathering “remains one of our chief concerns.”

SOCOM is “a global synchronizer of SOF forces, focusing on activities ranging from counter terrorism to foreign internal defense and from unconventional warfare to combatting weapons of mass destruction,” Votel added

February 1, 2015 at 3:33 pm Leave a comment

ARCTIC NATION: Obama Signs Arctic Coordination Order; Russian Arctic Buildup UPDATE

Coordinating U.S. Arctic Efforts.

President Barack Obama delivers the State of the Union address to the U.S. Congress in Washington, Jan. 20, 2015. (White House photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama delivers the State of the Union address to the U.S. Congress in Washington, Jan. 20, 2015.
(White House photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama has signed an executive order establishing a new panel that will advise the U.S. government on preserving the Alaskan Arctic.
Obama said he was establishing the Arctic Executive Steering Committee to help juggle more than 20 tribal, scientific, corporate, and federal interests at play in the Arctic, where temperatures have risen at twice the rate as the rest of the United States, The Hill reported.

“As the United States assumes the Chairmanship of the Arctic Council, it is more important than ever that we have a coordinated national effort that takes advantage of our combined expertise and efforts in the Arctic region to promote our shared values and priorities,” the executive order, signed Wednesday (January 21), noted.

In April, the United States will take over from Canada the chairmanship of the eight-member Arctic Council — Canada, Denmark (including Greenland and the Faroe Islands), Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States. The council, created in 1996, is a high level intergovernmental forum seeking to promote cooperation, coordination and interaction among the Arctic States — with the involvement of the Arctic Indigenous communities — on issues like environmental protection, oil and gas development, shipping and climate change.

Obama did not mention the Arctic specifically in his State of the Union address to Congress on Tuesday (Jan. 20) but he said climate change posed the greatest threat to future generations, USA Today reported. And while he didn’t announce any new climate initiatives in his speech, he did say he was “determined to make sure that American leadership drives international action.”

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Russian Arctic Buildup

Russia’s continuing activities in Eastern Ukraine are drawing criticism from NATO and other western nations. But in the Arctic, which is expected to grow more accessible as melting sea ice opens up shipping lanes, Moscow’s military buildup is also being noticed with some concern.

Arctic Circle Nations Click on image to enlarge.

Arctic Circle Nations
Click on image to enlarge.

According to the Ottawa (Canada) Citizen, Russia is to looking to have 14 operational airfields in the Arctic by the end of 2015 as it pushes ahead with its plan to boost its military presence in its Northern region. Four airfields are already operational. Ten more will be built in the coming year, Russia’s deputy defence minister Dmitry Bulgakov told the country’s Sputnik news agency, the Canadian newspaper noted.

Newsweek notes that … A detachment of about 800 servicemen from Russia’s Northern Fleet has been stationed in the Russian town of Alakurtti, Murmansk region, just 50 kilometers from the Finnish border. It’s part of a large-scale expansion of Russian military facilities in the country’s northwest according to a press statement (here’s a link to the statement, in Russian) by the unit’s commanding admiral Vladimir Korolev.

The rest of the fleet are expected to be stationed there “soon” according to Korolev. The base will be one of the key strongholds in Russia’s northernmost territories, designed to strengthen the country’s defense capabilities from the west, and improve their territorial claims over areas in the Arctic, said Newsweek.

At full force, Russia’s Northern Fleet consists of about 3,000 ground troops trained for combat in Arctic conditions, along with 39 ships and 45 submarines. Its arrival in Murmansk follows Russia’s decision last year to create a united command for all of its units designated with protecting Russia’s interests in the country’s northern regions, the news website noted.

And UPI notes (via Military.Com ) that Russia’s military press service has confirmed the country will be sending drones to the Arctic in early 2015.

“Before the end of the current year specialists with several Orlan-10 sets will arrive at the permanent service base,” the press service told Russian news agency Tass. Test flight will begin in the next few months. The drones are allegedly meant to do surveillance over coastal areas and to help sea vessels navigate, according to UPI.

The Orlan-10 is a Russian drone with a front propeller, resembling a traditional manned aircraft. The aircraft was first discovered to be in use in early 2014, when one was shot down in Ukraine.

Meanwhile, The Moscow Times wonders if the worldwide drop in the price of oil, the driving force in Russia’s economy, could slow Russia’s activities – military and commercial – in its Arctic region.

Polar bears need ice to hunt (NOAA photo by K. Elliott, 2005)

Polar bears need ice to hunt (NOAA photo by K. Elliott, 2005)

ARCTIC NATION is an occasional 4GWAR posting on the High 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 Arctic Region, where we seek to meet our national security needs, protect the environment, responsibly manage resources, account for indigenous communities, support scientific research, and strengthen international cooperation on a wide range of issues.”

 

 

January 22, 2015 at 11:58 pm Leave a comment

ARCTIC NATION: Denmark’s Polar Claim

The Cold Rush is “On”.

The Greenland ice sheet. (NSASA photo by Michael Studinger)

The Greenland ice sheet.
(NSASA photo by Michael Studinger)

Denmark has joined a growing number of countries in the Far North laying claim to at least a part of the North Pole and surrounding region.

In a statement issued Tuesday (December 16) by Copenhagen, the Danish Foreign Ministry announced that the Kingdom of Denmark together with the government of Greenland (formerly a Danish colony) would file a submission with the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf “to define the outer limits of its continental shelf in the Arctic Ocean.

“The submission of our claim to the continental shelf north of Greenland is a historic and important milestone for the Kingdom of Denmark. The objective of this huge project is to define the outer limits of our continental shelf and thereby – ultimately – of the Kingdom of Denmark. It has been a process characterised by the very good cooperation not only between authorities within the Kingdom of Denmark but also with our Arctic neighbours,” the statement said in part.

At stake are rights to fishing areas and maritime commerce transit lanes in the Far North now that climate change has ben steadily melting Arctic sea ice. but also the prospect of huge petroleum, natural gas and other minerals. As much as 30 percent of the world’s undiscovered natural gas and 13 percent of the is estimated to lie beneath Arctic waters.

All countries’ borders currently end 200 nautical miles from their coasts in the Arctic, leaving a vast patch of land owned by nobody. Denmark is following Norway, Russia and Canada in submitting a claim under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea to a portion of the Arctic, according to the Financial Times.

The five Arctic countries — the United States, Russia, Norway, Canada and Denmark — all have areas surrounding the North Pole, but only Canada and Russia had indicated an interest in it before Denmark’s claim, according to the Associated Press.

Danish Foreign Minister Martin Lidegaard told the AP that the Arctic nations so far “have stuck to the rules of the game” and he hoped they would continue to do so. In 2008, the five pledged that control of the North Pole region would be decided in an orderly settlement in the framework of the United Nations, and possible overlapping claims would be dealt with bilaterally.

Map of Denmark's polar claim (black lines) and the Lomonosov Ridge in green. (Map courtesy of Kingdom of Denmark)

Map of Denmark’s polar claim (black lines) and the Lomonosov Ridge in green.
(Map courtesy of Kingdom of Denmark)

The area Denmark is claiming consists o approximately 895,541 kilometers beyond the 200 nautical mile limit, 200 nm from the coast of Greenland. The focus of the dispute, according to the BBC,  is the Lomonosov Ridge, a 1,800km-long (1,120 miles) underwater mountain range that splits the Arctic in two [see map].

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Defense Dept. photo

ARCTIC NATION is an occasional 4GWAR posting on the Arctic. The U.S. “National Strategy for the Arctic Region” describes the United States as “an Arctic Nation with broad and fundamental interests in the Arctic Region, where we seek to meet our national security needs, protect the environment, responsibly manage resources, account for indigenous communities, support scientific research, and strengthen international cooperation on a wide range of issues.”

(Polar bears explore a surfaced U.S. submarine in the Arctic. U.S. Navy photo. For a better look, click on the image to enlarge)

December 17, 2014 at 12:00 am Leave a comment

FRIDAY FOTO (October 24, 2014)

Pair of Hunters

 U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Peter Reft

U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Peter Reft

Two U.S. Marine Corps AV-8B Harrier II aircraft prepare to take off from Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. The Harriers, which can take off and land vertically like a helicopter, were participating in Red Flag-Alaska 15-1.

Red Flag-Alaska is a series of Pacific Air Forces field training exercises for U.S. and partner nation forces. It hones skills in combined offensive counter-air, interdiction and close air support missions as well as practicing large force training in a simulated combat environment.

The pilots are assigned to Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 311. 

To see more photos of Harriers, F-16 Fighting Falcons and EA-18G Growlers as well as runway operations coping with heavy snows in Alaska, click here.

October 24, 2014 at 1:21 am Leave a comment

ARCTIC NATION: Russia Moving on Arctic Bases; Swedes Hunt Russian Sub; U.S. Focusing on Climate Change

Russian Bases.

The Arctic Circle and surrounding territory.

The Arctic Circle and surrounding territory.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shogiu says Russia will complete the deployment of military units Russian territory along the Arctic circle by the end of 2014, according to RIA-Novosti.

“We have been very active in the Arctic region lately, and this year we will have a large number of units deployed along the Arctic Circle, from Murmansk to Chukotka,” Shoigu announced at a meeting Tuesday (October 21) with top military brass in Moscow.

Over the past few years, Russia has been pressing ahead with efforts aimed at the development of its Arctic territories, including hydrocarbon production and development of the Northern Sea Route, which is growing importance as Arctic sea ice recedes as an alternative to traditional routes from Europe to Asia.

Attention has been focused on the Arctic by several nations including the United States, Canada, Norway and Denmark since the region is believed to have large reserves of oil and gas.

On October 20, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said a NATO presence in the Arctic isn’t necessary, because, he said, there are no problems in the region requiring the alliance’s participation.

Norway, the NATO member closest to Russia in the Arctic, announced two years ago that it wants more soldiers in the north. “Our ambition is a clear NATO footprint in the north,” said State Secretary Roger Ingebrigtsen of Norway’s Defense Ministry, according to the Barents Observer via Alaska Dispatch News

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Russian Sub?

Meanwhile, Swedish naval forces have been scouring their territorial waters since last week for what they think may be a Russian submarine.

Since October 17, surface vessels and helicopters 200 service personnel were mobilized along with helicopters, minesweepers and an anti-submarine corvette fitted with stealth-type anti-radar masking, according to The Guardian.

The operation began late on Friday following what Sweden’s armed forces said was a reliable tipoff about something in the Stockholm archipelago, which has 30,000 islands and rocky outcrops around which a submarine could lurk. The officer leading the operation declined to give more details, saying only that there had been no armed contact, according to the British newspaper.

Although officially neutral and not a NATO member, Sweden is no stranger to Russian provocations. Besides the possible submarine, Russian planes have violated Swedish and Finnish airspace in recent months. Against the backdrop of Russian military intervention in Ukraine, Sweden, like other countries, is growing increasingly nervous about what Moscow might do next, according to The Economist.

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Papp-Arctic Council

Admiral Robert Papp Jr., the special U.S. representative to the Arctic, says climate change will be a main priority for the U.S. when it takes over chairmanship of the Arctic Council next year.

During one of his first speeches as the nation’s first Arctic envoy, Papp said the U.S. will be “more active and more forward leaning” when it comes to addressing the impact of climate change in the region, according to The Hill.

“It is imperative to address the effects of climate change before it’s too late,” Papp said during a September 30 event at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

If it weren’t for the “warming of the Arctic,” said Papp, the former commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard,  no one would be up there exploring, shipping cargo or drilling for oil and gas, which is why the council will need to set more “actionable items and goals.” The U.S. is slated to take over chairmanship of the Arctic Council from Canada next year.

Defense Dept. photo

Defense Dept. photo

 

ARCTIC NATION is an occasional 4GWAR posting on the Arctic. The U.S. “National Strategy for the Arctic Region” describes the United States as “an Arctic Nation with broad and fundamental interests in the Arctic Region, where we seek to meet our national security needs, protect the environment, responsibly manage resources, account for indigenous communities, support scientific research, and strengthen international cooperation on a wide range of issues.”

 

 

 

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October 23, 2014 at 11:58 pm Leave a comment

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