On Thin Ice: Why the United States Needs to Invest in the Arctic

Brown Political Review published an article titled, “On Thin Ice: Why the United States Needs to Invest in the Arctic”. The article reads in part as follows:

The global community has proven sluggish in responding to climate change, but nations have been quick to position themselves to prosper from its effects. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Arctic. As global sea temperatures rise, the once solid block of northern ice melts, damaging countless ecosystems but also providing access to previously-inaccessible oil, natural gas, and rare metals. The United States Geological Society estimates that the Arctic contains 13% and 30% of the world’s undiscovered oil and natural gas reserves, which presents a significant potential for Russian economic expansion. Revenue from oil and natural gas extraction accounts for 50% of Russia’s federal budget, and Russia, by nature of its geography, has claim to over 66% of natural gas reserves. Moreover, melting ice creates new northern trade routes that could significantly reduce shipping costs for countries like China. Yet, while China and Russia have invested significant resources into building influence in the Arctic, the United States has largely ignored the region. An increase in US investment in the Arctic would permit small-scale alignment with both China and Russia independently, mitigating the likelihood of a Sino-Russian stranglehold on the region.

The United States’ military strength in the Arctic is considerably less than that of Russia, which greatly limits its influence. Russia’s new Arctic Join Strategy Command recently conducted an exercise consisting of over 80,000 troops and 41 icebreakers (a type of ship necessary for movement through ice). The United States currently owns only two military-grade icebreakers, and Obama-era efforts to mitigate this icebreaker gap have been mostly defunded by the Trump administration. Though the United States is in the process of building another icebreaker, its construction will take over ten years and it will replace an outdated icebreaker. As Coast Guard Commandant Paul F. Zukunft acknowledges, “We’re not even in the same league as Russia right now.”

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