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Climate Change Driving Great Power Tensions in the Arctic


Rough seas pound the hull of Military Sealift Command fast combat support ship USNS Arctic as she sails alongside Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman, U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Joshua A. Moore

By John Conger

The Washington Post recently published an excellent report on the increased national security implications of the Arctic in an era of climate change.  It is well worth perusing, not only because of the important points Dan Lamothe makes about increased military activity in this increasingly accessible region, but also because of the impressive photos and videos by Kadir van Lohuizen and Yuri Kozyrev that are included in the multimedia piece.

Some key points from the article:

  • It opens with a discussion of “U.S. military’s gradual growth in the Arctic as it grapples with the effects of melting polar ice and Russia’s and China’s increasing assertiveness in the region.”  The article notes the DoD plan “has included stationing more fighter jets in Alaska, expanding partnerships with Nordic militaries, increasing cold-weather training and designing a new class of icebreaker ship for the Coast Guard that could be armed.”
  • “In October, the USS Harry S. Truman aircraft carrier and its associated ships sailed above the Arctic Circle, the first such unit to do so since the Cold War. The strike group, carrying thousands of sailors, practiced cold-weather operations in the Norwegian Sea, an area where Russian submarines operate.”
  • “Both the Navy and Coast Guard are working on new Arctic strategies in light of the quickly changing circumstances senior U.S. military officials see,” and that these strategies would “follow the national defense strategy released by Mattis in January that made countering Russia and China a priority. Both nations have shown interest in Arctic resources as the ice melts, including fossil fuels, diamonds, and metals like nickel and platinum.”
  • “Russia has more than 40 icebreakers — the U.S. military has two working ones — and stationed more troops in the region. China, meanwhile, is building its third polar icebreaker and staked a claim this year as a “near-Arctic” state, further injecting itself into policy debates.”
  • “Elsewhere in the Arctic, the Pentagon has begun to expand its presence through training exercises with partner nations. In Europe, the Marine Corps is deepening relationships with Norway, Finland and Sweden, training units of rank-and-file troops in the shadow of Russia. In June, Norway’s government asked the United States to increase the number of Marines there from about 330 to 700, with plans to base them on a rotational basis in the Norwegian Arctic.”

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