CFR: US Should Increase Strategic Commitment to Arctic
“The United States, through Alaska, is a significant Arctic nation with strategic, economic, and scientific interests,” asserts a new Council on Foreign Relations-sponsored (CFR) independent task force report, “Arctic Imperatives: Reinforcing US Strategy on America’s Fourth Coast.” With the Arctic “warming at twice the rate as the rest of the planet” and melting sea ice opening up this resource-rich region to new trade routes and commercial activities, the report stresses that “the United States needs to increase its strategic commitment to the region or risk leaving its interests unprotected.”
Chaired by Thad Allen, retired admiral and former commandant of the US Coast Guard, and Christine Todd Whitman, former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and governor of New Jersey, the Task Force finds that the United States lags behind other Arctic nations that have “updated their strategic and commercial calculations to take advantage of the changing conditions stemming from the opening of the region.”
The report notes that while Russia has numerous icebreaking vessels and China is building a third icebreaker, the United States owns only two operational ice-breaking ships to serve both the Arctic and the Antarctic. Asserting that “icebreakers are a national capacity” required for a range of maritime missions to support US security, economic, and commercial needs, the Task Force recommends that the United States fund and build additional icebreakers.
The report also finds that the United States needs greater investment in Alaskan infrastructure, including deepwater ports, roads, and reliable telecommunications, to support economic development and a sustained security presence in the region. Currently, “almost no marine infrastructure is in place within the US maritime Arctic.”
The Task Force identifies six main goals that US policymakers should pursue to protect the United States’ growing economic and strategic interests in the Arctic: ratify the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea; fund and maintain polar ice-breaking ships; improve Arctic telecommunications, energy, and port infrastructure; strengthen cooperation with other Arctic nations; support sustainable development and Alaska Native communities; and fund scientific research on the impact of accelerated climate change.