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In , the Department of Defense published a new Arctic strategy after Congress required an update to the version. The end of the document includes service-level updates that articulate the status quo, but do not reposition any of the services to treat the Arctic differently. The strategy does commit to enhanced surveillance and monitoring efforts, however, which are much needed.
The strategy also cites cold weather training — an improvement to tactical readiness and proficiency, but hardly a strategic objective — as a potential benefit of participation in Arctic exercises. The Defense Department strategy and service leadership speaking on Arctic issues all emphasize roughly similar points:. These points are all valid. However, the United States has never satisfied itself with relying completely upon partners and allies in great power competition.
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The United States will usually articulate its leadership in counterbalancing other powers, even when relying on the help of partners and allies. Meanwhile, U. Some of these resource deficits are more important than others. The Department of Defense is rightly focused on surveillance and monitoring. The dirty little secret of the Arctic is that we do not really know what is happening up there. Canada only recently launched satellites and expanded the Canadian Air Defence Identification Zone to enable the possibility of surveilling of the entire country.
In other words, before now, we could not see all of the Canadian Arctic. The U. Coast Guard also readily admits that it has limited ability to cover the entire Alaskan Coast. Thus far, there has been little-to-no realignment at a strategic level. Northern Command and U. European Command and arguably U.
Indo-Pacific Command each have responsibility for part of the Arctic. Despite being required by the strategy to resolve potential gaps, to date it does not appear that a specific realignment or gap assessment has occurred. The services instead have been taking the lead.
The most well-known U.
Though they are technically stationed below the Arctic, their proximity to the Norwegian-Russian border makes their presence strategically notable. The ability to pique Russian ire demonstrates the outsized geopolitical impact these Marines have been able to garner, merely through their presence. General Robert Neller, the recently-retired commandant of the Marine Corps, made sparse comments about the rotational presence, but his few remarks focused on the value of cold-weather training.
If cold-weather training were the ultimate goal, the Marine Corps could remain within the United States and not trigger the geopolitical ramifications and logistical headache of rotating marines through a foreign country. The Navy and the Coast Guard are the only two services that currently have their own written Arctic strategies.
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Rather than take a deliberate approach to expanding capability, the secretary of the Navy announced in January that he wanted to send surface ships into the Arctic to improve their ability to navigate in cold environments, an ostensibly tactical justification for Arctic exercises. Then he added they might pursue freedom of navigation operations in the Arctic this summer.
The last time the United States attempted freedom of navigation operations near Russia, shots were nearly fired. After Washington attempted freedom of navigation operations near Canada, Ottawa required resolution at the level of the president and the prime minister. Both countries make claims that the United States considers illegal under international law by the United States.
Challenging Canada seems silly; challenging Russia seems dangerous. Challenging neither may now seem weak. The most strategic investments for the Navy are new icebreakers , coming online in about five years. These ships are sorely needed and will be operated by the U. This joint procurement for the Navy and Coast Guard is essential to enable the Coast Guard to perform its mission domestically, and it will also enable credible future statements about things like FONOPS, which now seem fanciful.
Submarines are the key to strategic Arctic dominance. Vice Admiral Daniel Abel recently commented that the new strategy was necessary because Arctic conditions have changed so substantially in the past few years. The Coast Guard is the U.