Experts Reiterate Importance of U.S. Presence in the Arctic at Council on Foreign Relations’ “Arctic Imperatives” Launch

March 23, 2017 in Blog

This week, the Council on Foreign Relations held a launch event for its latest independent task force report, Arctic Imperatives: Reinforcing U.S. Strategy on America’s Fourth Coast. The event featured a panel discussion by the report’s co-chairs, former United States Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen and former Governor of New Jersey Christine Todd Whitman, as well as the report’s project director Dr. Esther Brimmer. The report and panel discussion focused on the significance of the Arctic in geopolitics, natural security, and domestic energy security.

The overarching message of the report is that the Arctic is too important, economically and strategically, and therefore greater U.S. commitment is necessary in the region. As the report states:

“The United States, through Alaska, is a significant Arctic nation with strategic, economic, and scientific interests… [and it] needs to increase its strategic commitment to the region or risk leaving its interests unprotected.”

One issue hindering domestic Arctic progress is America’s lack of icebreaker ships. Used for both scientific research and strategic interests, Adm. Allen reiterated the need for more icebreakers on the panel stating,

“You can parse it between the Arctic and the Antarctic, but the Coast Guard has the same mission in both places and that is to basically break ice… We certainly are undersubscribed right now in the type of capability and mission performance that we need to represent the sovereign interests in Arctic.”

Another point of focus for the report is the need for increased infrastructure investment and research in the U.S. Arctic. As it concludes, greater investment in telecommunications, roads and most importantly, energy, will support economic development in the region.  For example, increasing Arctic oil and gas development would help ensure the Trans Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS) can continue to function, stating,

“If the TAPS throughput were discontinued, it would likely be difficult to restart, and the United States could lose a critical piece of energy supply infrastructure. The Trump administration should reflect on this possibility and ensure the appropriate studies for options to maintain TAPS are being executed.”

Charles Doran, Arctic task force member and professor of international relations at Johns Hopkins University, emphasized the interconnectedness that energy development shares with our sovereign interests in the Arctic, saying,

“…Once there is a really big find in oil, there is going to be a gold rush. The firms that have the capacity are going to be up there to get at this, and we, unfortunately, the United States, are simply falling behind…In terms of the icebreakers and in terms of support for those who are going to be developing these areas.”

The Council on Foreign Relations’ Arctic Imperatives report highlights how vital Alaska and the Arctic region as a whole are to the United States. By supporting Arctic energy development, the United States would be taking a proactive leap towards strengthening our sovereign interests, by helping to improve regional infrastructure, boosting the American economy and our national security in the Arctic.