US needs a new Arctic security strategy

David Auerswald in War on the Rocks:

The exercise in March highlighted increased Russian military activity in the Arctic, but that was not the sole Russian signal. U.S. Alaska Command, under U.S. Northern Command, reported that they had intercepted more Russian military aircraft near the Alaska Air Defense Identification Zone in 2020 than at any other time since the end of the Cold War. In April, Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated that Russia is trying “to exert control over new spaces. It is modernizing its bases in the Arctic and building new ones.” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov responded by saying, “We hear whining about Russia expanding its military activities in the Arctic. But everyone knows that it’s our territory, our land.”

Russia is not the only authoritarian power with increased interest in Arctic affairs. In January 2018, Chinese officials published their first Arctic strategy document and attempted to buy and greatly expand Finland’s Kemijärvi air base for use by large Chinese aircraft, ostensibly for Arctic research. Their offer was rejected, supposedly because the northern airfield is next to Finland’s Rovajärvi artillery range. This fits a pattern. China has built Arctic research stations, conducted ongoing oceanographic surveys, and attempted infrastructure development across the region, projects that some believe have geostrategic or military purposes.

In order to better position the United States for geopolitical competition in the region, the Biden administration should write and publish a new national security strategy for the Arctic. The United States has a moribund 2013 Arctic strategy that was superseded by events and ignored by the Trump administration. In 2019, the Office of the Secretary of Defense released an Arctic strategy, and the Air Force, Navy and Army each released their own subordinate strategies. However, these individual strategies were not coordinated before being released, did not fully integrate efforts with civilian foreign policy agencies, and in some cases were produced only because of pressure from Sen. Dan Sullivan from Alaska.

This is true. The myriad of Arctic strategies that the United States has mainly signal that the issue is new on the agenda. A new comprehensive strategy for the Arctic would give a much more mature impression.

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