Arctic Report Assesses Defense Role, Future in Region

WASHINGTON, June 6, 2011 — The Defense Depart­ment has sent to Con­gress a report on its Arc­tic oper­a­tions that lead­ers say will put the depart­ment in a good posi­tion to shape U.S. inter­ests as the region under­goes dra­mat­ic cli­mate and social changes.
The Report to Con­gress on Arc­tic Oper­a­tions and the North­west Pas­sage, man­dat­ed by the fis­cal 2011 Nation­al Defense Autho­riza­tion Act, “was true val­ue added” to U.S. poli­cies on the Arc­tic, a DOD offi­cial speak­ing on back­ground said June 3 when the report was sent to Con­gress.

The Arc­tic is warm­ing on aver­age twice as fast as the rest of the plan­et, result­ing in more human activ­i­ty in the area, a report sum­ma­ry says. The report assess­es U.S. nation­al secu­ri­ty objec­tives in the region, and the capa­bil­i­ties and infra­struc­ture need­ed to sup­port them.

Things have changed a lot since the eight-nation Arc­tic Coun­cil was estab­lished in 1996, but the changes are hap­pen­ing slow­ly enough that the Unit­ed States and oth­er mem­bers — Cana­da, Den­mark, Fin­land, Ice­land, Nor­way, Rus­sia and Swe­den — can make delib­er­ate deci­sions about its future, the offi­cial said.

The Unit­ed States is engaged in part­ner­ships with oth­er nations in the Arc­tic, includ­ing mil­i­tary-to-mil­i­tary exer­cis­es.

“Because it’s slow onset, we have the abil­i­ty to shape how that hap­pens and ensure it hap­pens in a coop­er­a­tive fash­ion,” she said. “It gives us the abil­i­ty to move for­ward in a mea­sured and strate­gic way.

“The report is an excel­lent way to crys­tal­lize our inter­ests in the Arc­tic,” she added.

The region, which cov­ers one-sixth of the world’s land­mass, is under­go­ing chal­lenges of increased human pop­u­la­tion, caus­ing issues over sea, land and air domains as it becomes more open to sci­en­tif­ic and com­mer­cial ven­tures, and pos­si­ble nation­al secu­ri­ty threats, accord­ing to the DOD offi­cial and the report sum­ma­ry.

“When you con­sid­er sov­er­eign defens­es, the Arc­tic is very impor­tant to our mil­i­tary,” the offi­cial said. “Sov­er­eign defens­es are not nego­tiable.”

The report address­es the advan­tages and dis­ad­van­tages of a recent amend­ment to the U.S. Uni­fied Com­mand Plan that removed U.S. Pacif­ic Com­mand from shared over­sight in the region, leav­ing shared com­mand to U.S. North­ern Com­mand and U.S. Euro­pean Com­mand. The amend­ment, which Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma signed April 6, was approved to sim­pli­fy the com­mand struc­ture, the offi­cial said.

The Uni­fied Com­mand Plan is the respon­si­bil­i­ty of the chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and is reviewed every two years. The Joint Staff coor­di­nates input from the com­bat­ant com­man­ders, ser­vice chiefs and depart­ment lead­er­ship.

The report also assess­es the sta­tus of U.S. ice­break­ing equip­ment in the region, which cur­rent­ly exists with the Coast Guard, but not the Navy, the sum­ma­ry says.

The report sum­ma­ry lists as chal­lenges in the area:
— Short­falls in ice and weath­er report­ing and fore­cast­ing;
— Lim­i­ta­tions in com­mand and con­trol, com­mu­ni­ca­tions, intel­li­gence and oth­er capa­bil­i­ties due to a lack of assets and harsh con­di­tions; and
— Lim­it­ed inven­to­ry of ice-capa­ble ves­sels and shore-based infra­struc­ture.

Oth­er assess­ments are ongo­ing in the area, the offi­cial said, includ­ing a Coast Guard study on high lat­i­tudes and a North­com report to inte­grate pri­or­i­ties, due out in the fall.

Along with the chal­lenges, the open­ing of the Arc­tic also “presents oppor­tu­ni­ties to work col­lab­o­ra­tive­ly in mul­ti­lat­er­al forums to pro­mote a bal­anced approach to improv­ing human and envi­ron­men­tal secu­ri­ty in the region,” the sum­ma­ry says.

“We have an oppor­tu­ni­ty to get this right,” the offi­cial said. “We’ll have to invest pru­dent­ly going for­ward.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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