Climate change is being felt everywhere but possibly with no more significant strategic impacts than in the Arctic region. Global warming is melting portions of the polar ice cap, opening up new maritime transportation routes and creating new opportunities to exploit the region’s mineral resources. Recently, Russia asserted ownership over portions of the Arctic region that had hitherto been considered international waters. It appears that a 21st century “Gold Rush” may be about to commence, one that could lead to all sorts of interstate conflicts.
The Obama Administration is not paying sufficient attention to what is happening in the Far North. Nor is it making the proper investments in the kinds of capabilities that will ensure this nation’s ability to assert its rights and protect its interests and friends in the Arctic region. Operations in extremely cold environments often require different equipment than for more southerly climates. Very little of the Coast Guard’s Deepwater program, which is designed to modernize that Service for the demands of the 21st Century, focuses on operations in the Arctic. The Navy has a similar problem.
The Administration needs to direct the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security to examine the implications of relatively large-scale and continuous operations in the Arctic region. It should also consider convening an international conference to discuss the issues likely to arise from the opening up of this once-frozen region.
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