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Pentagon and Northern Command: Climate Change Has Implications for National Security in the Arctic

Gen O Shaughnessy_SASC_2020

General Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy, USAF, Commander of United States Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command, speaks before the Senate Armed Services Committee – March 3, 2020

By Dr. Marc Kodack

In case you missed it, on March 3 the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sub-Committee on Readiness and Management Support, held a hearing on “U.S. Policy and Posture in Support of Artic readiness.” Witnesses providing written statements and answering questions included the HON Dr. James Anderson, Performing the Duties of the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy and General Terrence O’Shaughnessy, Commander of U.S. Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command. Both witnesses identified climate change implications for national security in the Arctic region.

Summary

In both the witness written statements and in answer to Members questions, there was considerable emphasis on the threats from the Russians and Chinese to U.S national security interests in the Arctic. The Russians have significantly increased their military presence, both at sea and on land. While the U.S. has its own existing maritime and land-based Arctic capabilities, it is only now moving towards building additional ice breakers to supplement the only working ice breaker currently in the Coast Guard inventory. The need for additional ice breakers is driven by the effects of climate change whereby sea ice is considerably less extensive that in the past creating ice free sea lanes that will become more extensive in the future. The Russians are planning on exploiting these sea lanes to their economic and military advantage.

Key Highlights in Written Testimony or in Answer to Members’ Questions

HON Dr. James Anderson, Performing the Duties of Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy

“The Arctic is a potential avenue for expanded great power competition and aggression, since it is located between the two key NDS regions (the Indo-Pacific and Europe) and the U.S. homeland.”

“I would say, on the military installations and, you know, every military installation up in the High North, in Alaska, you know, they have, they are looking very closely at the permafrost, the thawing, other environmental hazards.”

“I think a big part of this has to do with building in resilience to military installations, new ones and refurbishing old ones.”

GEN O’Shaughnessy, Commander, U.S. Northern Command (CDR USNORTHCOM)

“Our adversaries have the ability to threaten our homeland in multiple domains and from numerous avenues of approach and our commands are especially focused on improving our ability to defend our northern approaches.”

“here’s a common set of challenges that we’re faced with. And when I go there [Barrow] and see, it’s not only the military installations that are challenged now, it’s the local population, it’s indigenous people, it’s the local infrastructure.”

Following are citations to the witness’s written statements. This is followed by a verbatim transcript of the exchanges between Members and the witnesses.

Written Testimony

HON Dr. James Anderson, Performing the Duties of Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy

Full, written statement here. Climate change is not mentioned anywhere in the statement.

“Competition in the Arctic must be considered in the context of the relationship between the Arctic and key regions identified in the NDS [National Defense Strategy]. The Arctic is a potential avenue for expanded great power competition and aggression, since it is located between the two key NDS regions (the Indo-Pacific and Europe) and the U.S. homeland.” (page 2)

GEN Terrence O’Shaughnessy, Commander, U.S. Northern Command (CDR USNORTHCOM)

Full, written statement here. GEN O’Shaughnessy did not explicitly mention climate change in his written statement, although he referred to the harsh Arctic climate.

“The Arctic is the new frontline of our homeland defense as it provides our adversaries with a direct avenue of approach to the homeland and is representative of the changing strategic environment in our area of responsibility. More consistently navigable waters, mounting demand for natural resources, and Russia’s military buildup in the region make the Arctic an immediate challenge for USNORTHCOM, NORAD, our northern allies, and our neighboring geographic combatant commands, U.S. European Command and U.S. Indo-Pacific Command.” (page 2)

“We are leveraging the on-the-ground experience and expertise of our warfighters in USNORTHCOM’s Alaska Command along with leaders, planners, and combatants from USINDOPACOM and USEUCOM as we prepare for ARCTIC EDGE 20- the nation’s premier Arctic exercise. ARCTIC EDGE 20 will take full advantage of the unsurpassed capabilities of the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex (JP ARC) and allow us to test our capability to fight, communicate, and win in the harsh terrain and climate of the high north. I am personally placing significant emphasis on this important exercise, as the lessons we learn from ARCTIC EDGE 20 will play an important role in validating the requirements that will allow us to deter, detect, and defeat potential adversaries along the front line of our nation’s defenses.” (page 4)

“Our adversaries have the ability to threaten our homeland in multiple domains and from numerous avenues of approach- and our commands are especially focused on improving our ability to defend our northern approaches.” (page 4)

Question and Answer Transcripts

Following is a transcript of Member’s questions directly or indirectly related to climate change and the witness’ replies.

Senator Jeanne Shaheen (43:31)

“So, global warming is obviously having an impact on the Arctic. And it’s an impact not just on the sea lanes that will be open for longer periods of time because of ice melt, but also on permafrost and what that’s doing to the infrastructure in the Arctic. Can you talk about what we’re planning to address that and with, in terms of costs, and whether there are other, there’s other potential for conflicts that may be happening because we’re going to see those sea lanes open for longer periods of time and the ability of some of our competitors to get up there and present challenges to the United States and our allies?”

HON Anderson, OSD (44:16)

“So, I’m happy to start with that. I mean, as has been mentioned, fortunately we’re, we do have a icebreaker program underway. And, you know, it’s, we have six, total, three heavy, three medium, that are in the pipeline. That will help with some of the increased hazards that, resulting from warming trends. With respect…”

Senator Jeanne Shaheen (44:37)

“Can I, I’m sorry to interrupt, but how many of those are operational now?”

HON Anderson, OSD (44:39)

“So, right now we have one heavy that is operational, the Polar Star. It, there’s another one, a Polar Sea, but it is tied up at port and being cannibalized to keep the Polar Star operational. Then we have one medium one, the Healy. They both date back to commissionings back in the 19, late 1970s. But, fortunately, we have some new ones that are coming forth. So, there is that piece of it. I would say, on the military installations and, you know, every military installation up in the High North, in Alaska, you know, they have, they are looking very closely at the permafrost, the thawing, other environmental hazards. Not related to climate change, but Alaska suffered an earthquake in the fall of 2018. So, all these sort of ecological/environmental implications are something that Commanders are dealing with. I don’t know if my colleague would like to expand a little bit.”

GEN O’Shaughnessy, CDR USNORTHCOM (45:44)

“Sure. First, let me mention the Polar Security Cutter Program. That is incredibly important, I think, to the Department of Defense, although, obviously, it’s our great Coast Guard brethren who will be doing that. But, it’s also worth noting, as we look at the — those coming online, that their first ones will, first one will go to the Antarctic. Right? And so, we have to keep that in mind with respect to the timeline that we’re dealing with here, with respect to when they’re actually going to be relevant to the Arctic. And I think that’s a key part. $551 million this year, though, from the Department of Defense budget, supporting that program. So, I’m very pleased that that continues to go forward, but I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to keep that on timeline. To your point about some of the effects that we are seeing, whether it be from the diminishing sea ice, the permafrost. I’ll use Barrow as an example, and one of my trips up there. What I see when I, when we go up there is, it’s, there’s a common set of challenges that we’re faced with. And when I go there and see, it’s not only the military installations that are challenged now, it’s the local population, it’s indigenous people, it’s the local infrastructure. And so, to me, this is something we can work together, and we can find ways that, for example, the road going to our, one of our key radar sites there is the same road that the villages use. And so, how do we approach this together. Because they’re very real impacts. And so, we have to ensure that we maintain our readiness, that we maintain our ability to keep those military installations operating, whilst at the same time I think we can partner with our local people and communities to see how we can get after this together. But, to your point, it, when you get out there and see it, it is very real, the impacts that we’re seeing, and we have to make sure that’s part of our cross-check, going forward.”

Senator Tim Kaine (47:32)

“Thank you, Mr. Chair. And, I just want to follow up on some of the climate questions. I was able to go with Senator Heinrich into the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge a couple of summers ago, and we were on Kaktovik, which Senator Sullivan knows well. And, the melting of sea ice has put polar bears ashore. And also, the sea ice served as an anti-erosion buffer to, just the erosion of tidal action, and now that sea ice has melted, erosion, moving the little airstrip. We were in Arctic Village, which is an Athabascan village at the far south part of the range, and they’re talking about caribou migration is so different than what it was that the traditional hunting of the caribou nearby, it’s very hard to get to the caribou in many years now. So, I’m, I guess I want to know this. What planning assumptions do you put in as you’re looking at this? You know, the National Defense Strategy, the NDS, much of it, as stated by, has to be sort of an irreversible, we’re going to be in great-power competition for a long time. And If that’s the case, we’re not going to change quickly. You have to make some planning assumptions about climate, whether it’s permafrost, sea ice melt, rising sea levels, warming temperatures. What assumptions are you putting into your planning documents about the effect of climate change and then how it affects the environment in which you need to operate?”

Dr. Anderson, OSD (48:51)

“I think a big part of this has to do with building in resilience to military installations, new ones and refurbishing old ones.”

Senator Tim Kaine (49:04)

“But, what, and I get that, but, before I get to resilience, because we do resilience planning at Norfolk, too, you do resilience planning based on an assumption. You know, there’s going to be a 2-percent rise in temperature in the next 30 years, or the, you know, flooding will become more common in the streets. So, you do resilience planning based upon assumptions. Is there a document that you use, as you’re making plans for operations in and through the Arctic, where you are making some assumptions sort of based on most reasonable-case scenarios about climate effects?”

GEN O’Shaughnessy, CDR USNORTHCOM (49:39)

“Yeah, Senator, I would say that there’s multiple inputs, if you will, to the planning process, all the way from NOAA and what they’re able to provide us. What we’re seeing clearly, working with the Corps of Engineers very specifically, on what we’re seeing and what we can expect to see as that continues to, those effects continue to enhance…”

Senator Tim Kaine (49:58)

“If I wanted to get a document, read it, and see the assumptions that you’re making, what is that document? Where could I get them?”

GEN O’Shaughnessy, CDR USNORTHCOM (50:06)

“Senator, I think it’s multiple documents, and we can certainly provide those to you, multiple sources that we’re using to compile together the effects that we’re expecting.”

Senator Kaine (50:14)

“I’ll ask that one for the record because I’d like to take a look at that.

Senator Dan Sullivan (01:01:31)

“One thing that I wanted to mention to you. You know, in the first serious DoD Arctic Strategy, they talked about how we need to protect our sovereign territory, our sea lanes, through Freedom of Navigation Operations, kind of like what we do in the South China Sea. And actually, we do FONOPs all over the world. I’ve asked, particularly, our Navy leadership, this is the goal, this is the stated strategy, this is what DoD says it’s going to do. However, it appears to me, with the lack of icebreakers, one heavy, that, and even ice-hardened Navy shipping, that the ability to do FONOPs in this key part of the world to protect America’s strategic interests are quite limited. You know, I like to brag about the fact that I had five uncles and great uncles who served and fought in World War II. One of my great uncles was a lieutenant in the Navy, did three Murmansk runs. It was a very dangerous Navy duty during World War II. And that was all Arctic operations with the U.S. Navy. I’m not sure the U.S. Navy can pull that off again right now. What is your sense of the ability, now, granted, we’re starting to build icebreakers, but we don’t even have ships that can plow through ice, or ice-hardened ships. The Department of Defense has said we’re going to do Freedom of Navigation Operations. Putin has said that the Arctic is the new Suez Canal that he’s going to control. He has 54 icebreakers. He’s got all the cards. What are we doing to push back on that situation, when our strategy clearly states that we should have the ability to do FONOPs? And, by the way, in one of the hearings that we had with the CNO of the Navy, he said, “Well, Senator, we, we’re up there a lot, the Navy is.” I’m like, “Really? How? Where?” “With subs.” Well, I think it’s great that we’ve got subs up there, but a sub is not a FONOP. You can’t see a sub. The whole point of a FONOP is to demonstrate presence. So, how do we address that, Mr. Secretary? Because I think we’re sorely lacking in that realm, as of now, even though it is part of the strategy.”

Dr. Anderson, OSD (01:03:56)

“So, the, I mean, exercising Freedom of Navigation Operations is certainty something that’s central to the Department and to the Nation. And we do this around the globe, in some areas certainly more than others, as your question suggests. I cannot, you know, telegraph when we’re going to do FONOPs in the Arctic, but I will…”

Senator Dan Sullivan (01:04:20)

“Yeah, well, my question is, can we do FONOPs in the Arctic?”

Dr. Anderson, OSD (01:04:23)

“Yes, sir.”

Senator Dan Sullivan (01:04:24)

“Very different question.”

Dr. Anderson, OSD (01:04:25)

“Understood. So, I do, depending on, “

Senator Dan Sullivan (01:40:28)

“What’s the answer?”

Dr. Anderson, OSD (01:04:29)

“The Arctic, as, sir, the map behind you suggests, is actually a quite large area, and I think we, the Navy does have the capability, in, sort of, ice-free areas, to do FONOPs in a very limited capacity or more limited capacity, in those that might be congested with ice. We’ve already talked about, you know, the limitations there. But, it’s something that, of course, as a matter of principle, we take issue with any excessive maritime claim. We submit to Congress every year an annual report of those nations that are claiming excessively. And, we do quite a number of FONOPs around the world. But, I take your point, and certainly acknowledge that we do have limitations in the Arctic right now.”

Senator Dan Sullivan (01:05:19)

“And are we focused on trying to address those?”

Dr. Anderson, OSD (01:05:22)

“I think the Cutter Security Program with the Coast Guard, the development of those “icebreakers is certainly a large part of that.

Senator Dan Sullivan (01:05:31)

“How about ice-hardened Navy ships?”

Dr. Anderson, OSD (01:05:34)

“So, my understanding is that the Navy has looked at this, and they have assessed that, to exercise their Arctic Strategy, they do not have a requirement for ice-hardened ships.”

Senator Dan Sullivan (01:05:47)

“Do you think that is even remotely logical?”

Dr. Anderson, OSD (01:05:52)

“Again, looking at the, at certain places in the Arctic, we can certainly, and we do operate both in the surface and the subsurface and above the air, to demonstrate our overflight rights and our maritime freedom of the seas. But there are limitations.”

Senator Dan Sullivan (01:06:10)

“Yeah, I don’t think that’s logical. I think the days of the Murmansk runs, which is a proud history of the U.S. Navy that I’m proud that my family participated in, couldn’t do them right now. And that’s, we’re going to wake up one of these days and recognize that that’s a severe limitation. And we’ve been beating the drum here, but I think we’ve got a lot more work to do.”

To watch the hearing, click here.

Sub-Committee Members Attending the Hearing and Asking Questions

Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska, Chairman); Tim Kaine (D-Virginia, Ranking Member); and Jeanne Shaheen (D-New Hampshire). Angus King (I-Maine) is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, but not a member of the Sub-Committee.

Dr. Marc Kodack is Senior Fellow at the Center for Climate and Security and former Sustainability and Water Program Manager in the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Energy and Sustainability.

* This post is part of the Council on Strategic Risks’ “Responsibility to Prepare and Prevent” Blog Series, designed to increase the tempo and scale of relevant and useful analysis during a time of crisis


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