Pentagon Releases Strategy for Arctic
By THOM SHANKER
Published: November 22, 2013
WASHINGTON — As a shrinking northern ice cap sets the stage for increased competition over natural resources, Defense SecretaryChuck Hagel on Friday released the Pentagon’s first “Arctic Strategy,” intended to safeguard American security interests and the region’s environment.
Speaking at an international security forum in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Mr. Hagel described the challenges facing the world as rising global temperatures shrink the polar ice and as Russia, China and other nations compete for economic opportunities and influence in the region.
He noted that tourism, shipping and commercial fishing might gravitate toward newArctic sea routes, but he underscored in particular what could happen as nations vied for the region’s vast quantities of oil and gas.
“A flood of interest in energy exploration has the potential to heighten tensions over other issues,” Mr. Hagel said. Multilateral security cooperation will be a priority, he added, as “this will ultimately help reduce the risk of conflict.”
Although the Arctic is a region of established nations, including the United States, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia and Sweden, the polar north will be shaped by economic, political and security issues arising from elsewhere around the world, Mr. Hagel said.
“Among them are the growing economic and geopolitical importance of the Asia-Pacific; conflict and instability across the Middle East and North Africa; the unprecedented diffusion of global economic power; new sources of and demand for energy; the rise of China, India, Brazil and other nations; environmental degradation and devastating natural disasters; and the role of technology in closely linking the world’s people, their aspirations and their grievances,” he said.
While “climate change does not directly cause conflict,” Mr. Hagel said, it may “significantly add to the challenges of global instability, hunger, poverty and conflict.” He cited “food and water shortages, pandemic disease, disputes over refugees and resources, and more severe natural disasters.”
The Pentagon’s Arctic strategy places a priority on preparations to detect, deter, prevent and defeat threats to the United States even as the nation “will continue to exercise U.S. sovereignty in and around Alaska,” Mr. Hagel said.
The strategy calls for working with “private and public sector partners,” including the State of Alaska and federal agencies such as the Coast Guard, he added, “to improve our understanding and awareness of the Arctic environment so that we can operate safely and effectively.”
The Defense Department also seeks to preserve freedom of the seas throughout the Arctic region.
A new focus on the Arctic will require the Pentagon to reshape its infrastructure and capabilities in the region. “We are beginning to think about and plan for how our naval fleet and other capabilities and assets will need to adapt to the evolving shifts and requirements in the region,” the defense secretary said.
The United States has about 27,000 military personnel from active-duty units, the National Guard and reserves stationed in the Arctic, in Alaska. C-130 transport planes equipped with skis for landing and takeoff are deployed there, and nuclear submarines routinely patrol the polar region.