In a new report from the Department of Defense (DoD), the agency argues for maintaining a strong U.S. presence in the Arctic as vital for natural security. Supporting this, the DoD cites increased activity from Russia and the growing possibility of other countries trying to exert control in the region as retreating sea ice opens up new shipping lanes and greater access to natural resources.
The report, titled Report to Congress on Strategy to Protect United States National Security Interests in the Arctic Region, lists a number of activities to improve security, including responsible oil and natural gas development. As the report states:
“According to the NSAR [National Strategy for the Arctic Region], security encompasses a broad spectrum of activities, ranging from economic activities, like resource extraction, fishing, and trade, to scientific research and national defense.”
But while the region is vital to American national security, the United States has done little to improve its standing, and has even taken actions that hinder America’s standing as a global Arctic leader.
No action has been more detrimental than former President Obama’s decision to “indefinitely” remove 125 million acres of the Chukchi and Beaufort seas from energy development. This is especially relevant as Russia, the most active country in the region, has made a concerted effort to increase influence in the Arctic and boost economic growth through energy development and shipping. As the DoD report states:
“Recent Russian strategy documents emphasize the importance of the Arctic region to Russia and its national economy. Primary sources of revenue for Russia are generated through the energy and transportation sectors located in the northwestern region of the country.”
With Moscow prioritizing Arctic development and the U.S. curtailing its own influence, Senator Dan Sullivan (R-AK) didn’t mince words at a recent Center for Strategic and International Studies event on the disadvantage America is facing relative to our Arctic neighbors:
“In a unilateral decision with no consultation with the Senate, or the Congress, or the members who live in the Arctic like myself, our own President said “All of these resources are going to be taken of the table. We’re not going to develop them.’ You could almost hear the Russians laughing.”
Sen. Sullivan continued, highlighting the key role energy development plays in national security:
“Energy can play a fundamental role as an instrument of American power, diplomacy, and national security, and I’m certainly hopefully that the Trump Administration seems to understand the importance of the Arctic, including its energy potential.”
The DoD report supports Sen. Sullivan’s sentiment, stating that future competition for Arctic natural resource will increase tension in the region. Continued U.S. presence and development in the Arctic is necessary to ensure influence is maintained. According to the report:
“In the mid- to far-term, as ice recedes and resource extraction technology improves, competition for economic advantage and a desire to exert influence over an area of increasing geostrategic importance could lead to increased tension. These economic and security concerns may increase the risk of disputes between Arctic and non-Arctic nations over access to Arctic shipping lanes and natural resources.”
As these findings, along with the chorus of experts show, natural resource development in the U.S. Arctic is critical for ensuring America’s national security and influence throughout the region.