The U.S. lags Russia and China in its commitment to the strategic importance of the Arctic and should enhance its influence in the region on a number of fronts, including increased funding, diplomacy, infrastructure, vessels, research and technology, say analysts with a leading think tank in Washington, D.C.
The U.S. has recognized the importance of the Arctic but essentially needs to put its money where its mouth is if presence is going to equal influence, they say in a new Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) report, America’s Arctic Moment: Great Power Competition in the Arctic to 2050.
“And while the United States may recognize the Arctic’s strategic importance, Washington is still largely pursuing the same policies and funding allocations as it was in 2009,” says the report. “This passive approach is not longer sustainable; a more proactive strategy is required to secure U.S. national interests in the Arctic.”
The report was authored by Heather Conley, senior vice president for Europe, Eurasia, and the Arctic at CSIS, and Matthew Melino, a research associate.
The March 30 report outlines two pillars for increasing U.S. presence in the Arctic with the first centered around diplomatic and security efforts. Expanded diplomatic efforts include more U.S. consulates and posts in Arctic and close-by Arctic nations, annual meetings of foreign and defense ministers of Arctic nations but outside of the Arctic Council forum, and more meetings of Arctic coastal states to discuss management of the Central Arctic Ocean.
The security component to the first pillar includes infrastructure projects such as a deep water port and more forward Coast Guard operating locations, Coast Guard Polar Security Cutters, ice-strengthened vessels, enhanced anti-submarine capabilities, enhanced satellite communications, upgraded warning sensors, better environmental monitoring, the used of unmanned undersea vehicles, expanding the number and variety of exercises and training in the Arctic, more deployments of strategic forces, and more.
The second pillar is built around an increased budget for science and research in the Arctic as well as the establishment of international norms and agreements for these efforts.
The CSIS analysts call for an Arctic Science and Sustainable Economic Fund that would be used to increase the number of U.S. research stations in the region beyond the current three, improve domain awareness through public-private partnerships with industries such as fishing and shipping, help indigenous communities with water, sanitation and other needs to strengthen their resiliency.
Expanding U.S. presence in the Arctic will strengthen the country’s leadership in the region and ensure “that future Russian and Chinese strategies adjust to the return of American influence in the region,” the report says.
When it comes to Russia and China in the Arctic, the report’s authors say Russia has the dominant military capabilities and economic ambitions, highlighting an expanded footprint of military infrastructure and technologies.
Their conclusion about Russian military challenges in the Arctic is “the United States will not only lose its ability to access portions of the Arctic by 2050, but Russian advances in its anti-access/aerial denial capabilities in the Arctic will make U.S. costs of entry much higher. Perhaps more troubling, the United States remains increasingly vulnerable to growing Russian missile capabilities based in the Arctic—both conventional and nuclear. This trend may increase in an era where international arms control regimes are on the decline.”
As for China, the report says its “speculative” to predict the country’s future military developments in the Arctic but expect an increased maritime presence with surface and subsurface assets “largely under the guise of its dual-use economic and scientific presence.” Vessels will include LNG carriers, container ships, and nuclear and non-nuclear icebreakers, it says, adding that whether the vessels would be weaponized is unclear.
The authors believe that Russia’s and China’s militaries will work more closely together in the region.