Former Senior Defense & State Department Officials See Opportunity for U.S. Leadership in the Arctic

November 1, 2016 in Blog

Following the release of a September report from the International Security Advisory Board (ISAB) on the United States’ Arctic policy, a group of former senior officials from the Departments of State and Defense, including the former U.S. Ambassador to North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), stressed the importance of prioritizing the Arctic region for economic, geopolitical, and security reasons at an event hosted by American Security Project (ASP), a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, today.

Former Marine Corps Brigadier General and ASP head Stephen A. Cheney explained that although the United States is the foremost expert on drilling for oil in the world, Russia is nevertheless charging ahead with Arctic oil and gas exploration. “We need to be there, too,” he surmised.

Former Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Environmental Security Sherri Goodman argued that Russia and China pose a threat to U.S. security interests and economic opportunity in the region. As she put it, “we still have good cooperation with Russia in the Arctic, [but] Russia’s aggressive action in Ukraine and the Baltics is a cause for concern.”

While Ms. Goodman acknowledged various stabilizing factors in the region, including improvements in scientific research and maritime domain awareness and governance vis-à-vis the Arctic Coast Guard Forum, she also noted that “Russia and China are cooperating on energy in the Arctic,” reiterating the urgency of increased U.S. capacity in the region.

Former U.S. Ambassador to NATO Robert Hunter focused much of his comments on Russia, noting that Moscow has done its best to grow its military footprint in the Arctic with a new strategic command, bases, and the deployment of advanced aircraft and missile defenses. This increased activity, in part, reflects Russia’s desire to “turn the Northern Passage into a turnpike for energy.” He concluded by emphasizing the need for predictability in the Arctic: “Predictability is key for security in the Arctic, and that requires communication, caution, capabilities, and confidence.”

The Honorable James Bodner, former Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, described the ISAB report as a comprehensive set of recommendations for U.S. Arctic policy and commented that it “articulates better than Moscow Russia’s interest in the Arctic.”  In particular, he highlighted the need for long-term policy commitments in the Arctic, from both the current and future administrations, including on infrastructure, technology, and investment.

At a policy event sponsored by Arctic Energy Center last week, Deputy Homeland Security Advisor and Deputy Assistant to the President in the White House National Security Council Amy Pope said that “responsibly developing Arctic oil and gas resources aligns with United States’ ‘all-of-the-above’ approach to developing domestic energy resources.” Referring to that remark, Mr. Bodner said that “Arctic oil and gas reserves should be part of the U.S. energy strategy” and urged U.S. policymakers to be “committed to working with stakeholders, industry, and international partners to explore our resource base” in the Arctic.