The US attack submarine Connecticut surfaces through ice in the Arctic Ocean in 2011 as the US slowly builds up its military presence in the region. (US Navy)
WASHINGTON — The Pentagon on Friday unveiled a broad-ranging Arctic strategy that calls for examining new types of naval equipment and infrastructure needed in the region over several decades.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel spoke about the strategy at the Halifax International Security Forum in Canada.
“We are beginning to think about and plan for how our naval fleet and other capabilities and assets will need to adapt to the evolving shifts and requirements in the region,” Hagel said.
The Defense Department must carefully evolve its Arctic infrastructure and capabilities “at a pace consistent with changing conditions,” Hagel said.
The military’s existing “infrastructure and capabilities are pretty adequate,” but will be monitored over the long term, a senior defense official said before the speech.
DoD also wants to participate in multilateral training with Arctic nations, including Russia, to enhance its cold-weather operational experience.
The White House in May released a national strategy for the Arctic region that set priorities for the region.
The approach “complements our core objectives to ensure security, support safety and promote defense cooperation in the region as a part of what the larger US government is doing in the region,” the senior defense official said.
“The defense strategy is really in support of the president’s strategy to further define exactly what DoD should be thinking about and looking at in that region,” the official said. “Primarily, the DoD strategy and DoD as a department sees these changes in the Arctic really as largely representing opportunities to continue to work collaboratively with allies and partners in the region to keep it safe secure and stable, particularly where US interests are safeguarded and of course protecting the US homeland.”
The US sees major changes in the Arctic region occurring over decades, the official said.
“DoD’s challenge really is to balance making sure we’re prepared in case something should emerge, having the appropriate capabilities and capacity, but also making sure in the meantime that we are largely pressing on whatever collaborative opportunities we see in the region to keep the region as peaceful as it already is,” the official said.
DoD’s strategy focuses on deterrence, better understanding of the Arctic environment, preserving freedom of navigation, meeting shared security challenges, responding to man-made and natural disasters and protecting the environmental integrity.
As Arctic ice melts, new transpolar sea routes are opening. Sea traffic is expected to increase tenfold this year compared with last year, Hagel noted in his speech. This could mean an increased risk for accidents as there is more commercial shipping and tourism.
Working with seven other Arctic nations — Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia and Sweden — is the “cornerstone” of DoD’s strategy, Hagel said.
DoD also supports the development of the Arctic Council and other international institutions that promote regional cooperation and the rule of law, Hagel said.
“DoD’s Arctic Strategy is a long-term endeavor — and our efforts to implement it will unfold over years and decades, not days and months,” Hagel said. “Even as we grapple at home with near-term challenges, including steep, deep and abrupt defense budget reductions and continued budget uncertainty, this kind of long-range thinking is vital for our future.”