Russia vs. U.S. Navy: How a Warming Arctic Is Heating up Military Competition
The U.S. Navy wants to ensure trade routes are secure as new waterways and resources emerge from the thaw.
A new U.S. Navy strategy is calling for a large-scale increase in activity in the Arctic region to deter potential aggressors, increase military operations, enhanced security and stay in front of fast evolving environmental developments.
“Without sustained American naval presence and partnerships in the Arctic Region, peace and prosperity will be increasingly challenged by Russia and China, whose interests and values differ dramatically from ours,” the Jan. 7 Navy Strategy document called “A Blue Arctic,” states.
Several years ago, the Navy unveiled an Updated Arctic Road Map which explained that, due to the pace of melting ice, the service will need to operate in the region in a much greater capacity more than ten years earlier than was planned.
Citing “fleet readiness,” ice-hardened weapons and sensors, greater numbers of icebreakers, massively increased military operations and strengthened search and rescue operations, the Navy’s new “A Blue Arctic” strategy calls upon and extends many of the priorities outlined in the Updated Arctic Road Map.
Of course, the increased pace of melting ice results in the opening up of waterways.
“Arctic waters will see increasing transits of cargo and natural resources to global markets along with military activity, regional maritime traffic, tourism, and legitimate/illegitimate global fishing fleets. The Beaufort, Chukchi, and Bering Seas are experiencing rapid sea ice loss, enabling greater access to waters off America’s Alaskan shores,” the strategy writes.
The strategy explains that the Alaskan coast is already experiencing a large increase in maritime traffic and Canada is strengthening its commercial activities along its Arctic boundary as well.
“Shipping traffic is rising with increased regional demand and movement of natural resources to markets, but will remain constrained by weather uncertainties, draft limitations, and costs. Port infrastructure is being developed to support maritime activity and local communities as ice recedes,” the Strategy states.
Competition for resources is expected to be a large part of why rival nations continue to move quickly to increase presence and influence in the Arctic. The area holds 30 percent of the world’s undiscovered natural gas reserves, 13 percent of conventional oil reserves and, according to the strategy, “one trillion dollars worth of rare earth minerals.”
“Fish stocks are expected to continue to shift northward, attracting global fishing fleets and creating potential challenges to the current international prohibition on Arctic fishing. Melting sea ice is making Arctic waters more accessible and navigable, enabling greater trade in the coming decades,” the strategy says.
Of course, it goes without saying that, along with what could be called an expected or natural interest in pursuing Arctic resources, the area offers unparalleled military and strategic advantages as well. Prominent access and mobility throughout the Arctic would enable countries to quickly access other parts of the globe much more easily, providing an opportunity to strengthen influence or even, in the event of military action, allow for easier avenues of maritime and air attack.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.