National Security Experts and House Hearing Reiterate Critical Role of the Private Sector in the Arctic

July 12, 2016 in Blog

Today, a group of 15 senior national security experts, led by former National Security Advisor to President Obama General James Jones, issued a statement arguing that the United States is “at risk of being eclipsed by other Arctic states for access and influence” and that it is time to “establish a meaningful presence” in the region.

The statement follows a two-day North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit that addressed “the arc of insecurity and instability along NATO’s periphery,” in particular, its southern and eastern borders. As Russia continues to expand its military and economic capabilities in the Arctic, most recently through its launch of the world’s most powerful icebreaker, the experts stress the growing importance of the Arctic, given that the United States “has not built the presence required to maintain regional security and stability.”

Addressing these infrastructural inadequacies in the Arctic, the signatories highlight the role played by public-private partnerships in supporting national security interests in the region: “Commercial opportunities deliver the funds, resources, and infrastructure required to build a strong regional presence.”

The statement comes days after the Administration announced new offshore drilling regulations for the Arctic, which have been criticized as excessively burdensome and prohibitive of future development. In addition, rumors continue to abound that the U.S. Department of the Interior is considering removing the Arctic from its forthcoming offshore oil and gas leasing program, which would effectively block any new offshore Arctic production until after the mid-2030s and further undermine efforts to stimulate new private sector investment in the region.

Commenting, Arctic Energy Center spokesperson Lucas Frances said,

“We have heard time and again how private sector investment in the Arctic will help the United States achieve public policy objectives – including strengthening our national security. The Administration should acknowledge that Arctic oil and gas development is not merely about domestic energy, but it also bolsters regional stability and establishes much needed infrastructure.”

Further emphasizing the importance of new Arctic infrastructure, the Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee held a hearing to examine the Coast Guard’s Arctic capabilities. At the event, Adm. Charles Michel, Vice Commandant for Coast Guard noted that the United States ice breaking capability is “clearly not” in the same league as Russia and that as a result,

 “The Coast Guard is committed to continue working with Congress, the Navy, and industry to address these concerns.”

He added,

 “We have aggressively reached out to industry across the globe seeking out the latest in  icebreaking technology. Given the urgency, we are open to considering any suitable options that     could fulfill our unique authorities and multi-mission requirements.”

Heather A. Conley, Senior Vice President for Europe, Eurasia, and the Arctic, at the Center For Strategic and International Studies echoed this point, noting that Shell’s departure has left a huge void in the region:

“We urgently need more infrastructure. In addition to a deep water port, we need more aviation assets, greater hangar space, we have to prepare for a much more significant response, and it’s a comprehensive package. It needs to be a full strategy. The fact that Shell has withdrawn, and the question of Alaska’s future energy picture has really delayed further infrastructure development that would have been a more public –private partnership. So now, we’ve even taken a further step back on infrastructure needs.”

A copy of the statement is available here.