Solutions Series Roundtable: Arctic Security

On Thursday, August 24th Partnership for a Secure America held an off-the-record roundtable dinner for alumni of the Congressional Partnership Program to discuss development of an American strategy for the Arctic. The discussion focused on strategic competition with Russia, the current state of strategic assets in the region, and the potential costs and benefits of a US pivot to the North Pole.


Arctic Security 

The Arctic has been a region fairly devoid of conflict; the small club of Arctic states has proven able to resolve differences through diplomacy. However the physical and political environment of the Arctic is shifting rapidly; increasingly aggressive melt of sea ice has created new access to natural resources and potential shipping lanes. Russia and China have moved quickly to invest in the Arctic – though China’s nearest coast is 900 miles from the Arctic Circle, over half of the total arctic coastline is sovereign Russian territory and nearly half of the region’s human population is Russian administered. Russia has launched an extensive military buildup along its Arctic coast, and has made formal claims to areas of the Arctic seabed under UNCLOS. US activity in the arctic is hampered by a lack of deployed strategic assets (icebreakers, cutters, etc.), a murky command structure, and a lack of overall strategic direction.

Key Details

Actors

  • Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Russia, USA
    • Arctic Council (forum)
    • NATO members: US, Canada, Denmark, Iceland, Norway

Environment

  • Ice melt is opening up new potential shipping lanes through ”Northern Sea Route”
    • Canada, Russia, US experience the most extreme Arctic changes

Resources

  • US extended continental shelf:
    • 13% of world oil reserves
    • 1/3 of gas reserves
    • $1 trillion in rare earth metals
  • Arctic at large:
    • $35 trillion in oil and gas reserves

Strategic Assets

  • US
    • 2 icebreakers (1 under repair)
      • USCG says they need 6 to fulfill current N+S pole requirements
    • 41 ice-capable attack subs
    • 3 combat brigades (airborne, mechanized, recon)
    • 3 fighter squadrons (F-16 & F-22)
  • Russian Arctic buildup
    • New Arctic command
    • 4 new Arctic brigades
    • 14 new operational airfields
    • 16 deep water ports
    • 40 icebreakers (11 in development)
    • 25 ice-capable attack subs