U.S. Defense Secretary Hagel announces new Arctic Strategy

Arctic StrategyKaren Parrish reports for American Forces Press Service that on Nov. 22, 2013,  speaking to hundreds of representatives from some 25 nations at the Halifax International Security Forum in Halifax, Nova Scotia, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced a new U.S. Arctic strategy — an 8-point approach to maintaining peace and security in a new frontier opened by climate change.

Hagel pointed out that global energy demands will place more emphasis on emerging sources of energy from new frontiers, including the Arctic.

Hagel said that rising temperatures in the Arctic are transforming the region from a frozen desert to “an evolving navigable ocean, giving rise to an unprecedented level of human activity. Traffic in the Northern Sea Route is reportedly expected to increase tenfold this year compared to … last year.” As global warming accelerates, Arctic ice melt will cause a rise in sea levels that could threaten coastal populations around the world — but it could also open a transpolar sea route.

Hagel said that expanded tourism, commercial shipping, migrating fish stocks and energy exploration in the region will affect the eight Arctic nations — Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia and Sweden, along with the United States –- most closely. All, he said, “have publicly committed to work within a common framework of international law and diplomatic engagement.”

Hagel described the eight lines of effort the strategy lists:

  1. Remain prepared to detect, deter, prevent and defeat threats to the United States, and continue to exercise U.S. sovereignty in and around Alaska.
  2. Work with both private and public-sector partners, including the state of Alaska and Federal agencies, such as the U.S. Coast Guard, to improve understanding and awareness of the Arctic environment “so that we can operate safely and effectively.”The Arctic, he said, “is the first new frontier of nautical exploration … since the days of Ericsson, Columbus, and Magellan, and it provides a clear opportunity to work together … to ensure we have accurate observations, maps, and models of the Arctic’s atmospheric, oceanic, and sea ice conditions.”
  3. Help preserve freedom of the seas throughout the region, within existing frameworks of international law.
  4. Carefully evolve U.S. Arctic infrastructure and capabilities at a pace consistent with changing conditions.To that end, DoD will continually re-evaluate its needs as activities in the Arctic increase, Hagel said, “as we balance potential Arctic investments with other national security priorities.”
  5. Comply with existing agreements with allies and partners, while also pursuing new avenues of cooperation.“By taking advantage of multilateral training opportunities with partners in the region, we will enhance our cold-weather operational experience, and strengthen our military-to-military ties with other Arctic nations,” he said. “This includes Russia, with whom the United States and Canada share common interests in the Arctic, creating the opportunity to pursue practical cooperation between our militaries and promote greater transparency.”
  6. Be prepared to help respond to man-made and natural disasters in the region.“Our support will extend not only to civil authorities in Alaska and around its coast, but also to cooperation with allies and partners through humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations,” Hagel said.
  7. Work with other agencies and nations, as well as Alaska natives, to protect the environmental integrity of the Arctic.“DoD will use existing capabilities to help address safety-related challenges, including international search-and-rescue missions as well as incident and disaster response,” the secretary said. “We will work closely with our Canadian partners on emergency response operations that help save lives.”
  8. Finally, “We will support the development of the Arctic Council and other international institutions that promote regional cooperation and the rule of law.”

DoD will work with the Department of State in new initiatives like the Arctic Security Forces Roundtable and the recent meetings of the Northern Chiefs of Defense, Hagel said. Such engagements “will help strengthen multilateral security cooperation throughout the region, which will ultimately help reduce the risk of conflict.”

Hagel noted the strategy is a long-term effort that will unfold not in days and weeks, but over years and decades. “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 … As shifts occur in the strategic landscape, the United States and its allies must be prepared to adjust their defense institutions and capabilities to meet these new challenges.”

Hagel said that throughout history, “Mankind has raced to discover the next frontier. And time after time, discovery was swiftly followed by conflict. We cannot erase this history. But we can assure that history does not repeat itself in the Arctic.”

In closing, he quoted American explorer Frederick Cook, who searched for and thought he had found the North Pole in 1908. “After many attempts to discover the North Pole – and after believing he had found it – he wrote: ‘It occurred to me … that, after all, the only work worthwhile, the only value of a human being’s efforts, lie in deeds whereby humanity benefits.’ That is why we look to the Arctic – this new frontier – to help make a better world for all mankind.”

Click here for the PDF of the U.S. Department of Defense’s Arctic Strategy.

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