With increased Russian activity, yet another defense expert calls for greater Arctic presence

August 30, 2016 in Blog

Last week, General Paul J. Selva, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, became the latest in a growing list of senior military and defense experts to raise concern over Russia’s increased activity in the Arctic, and to call for the United States to expand its own footprint as a priority.

Speaking at the Center for Strategic & International Studies discussion on Innovation in the Defense Department, Gen. Selva was frank in his commentary on the United States’ current failings in the Arctic:

“The fact that we don’t have the capacity in any material way to have a surface presence in the Arctic is something that we ought to address.”

He continued:

“Whether that means we need one or two or four or 12 heavy ice breakers I’ll leave that to the experts. But from a strategic perspective, the ability to surveil and understand and manage the change that’s happening in the Arctic accrues to our interests and the interest of all of the countries that have features that border the Arctic and that includes Russia.”

Gen. Selva’s sentiment echoes those made recently by over 30 other military and security experts, who have urged the Administration to expand the United States’ presence in the Arctic.

For example, General James Jones, a former National Security Advisor to President Obama, and General Joseph Ralston, a Former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff authored an opinion piece earlier this month which starkly concluded:

“As two former Commanders of NATO militaries, let us be clear: removing Arctic lease sales will only further signal a strategic withdrawal from the region. This decision will have a profound effect on our ability to project presence and maintain U.S. interests in the Arctic. Energy and natural resources have long provided the lifeblood for economic investment and growth, buoying the local economy, supporting communities on the North Slope, and providing a foundation for continued military investment.”

The United States is not only country, however, to express uneasiness over Russia’s expansion in the Arctic. As recently reported, the British Parliament’s Defence Committee published a report on the topic, concluding that “Russian military expansion in the (Arctic) region is of significant concern,” and that “increasing tensions (in the Arctic) leave the future uncertain.”

With Gen. Selva’s recent statements, the rising chorus of military and security experts insisting on increased U.S. presence in the Arctic – which includes keeping Arctic leases in the 2017-2022 OCS Leasing Plan – is becoming harder and harder to ignore.