Department, Services Monitor Arctic Melting

WASHINGTON, June 27, 2011 — With the num­ber of geopo­lit­i­cal hotspots in the world today, the Arc­tic is not an area that comes quick­ly to mind for pos­si­ble defense oper­a­tions. But it is a place of great nation­al secu­ri­ty and strate­gic impor­tance that the Defense Depart­ment and ser­vices are mon­i­tor­ing close­ly.

In a report sent to Con­gress ear­li­er this month, DOD offi­cials say the Arc­tic is a place they and the ser­vices are pay­ing atten­tion to because of rapid cli­mate change there that like­ly will open the area to greater human inhab­i­ta­tion and pos­si­ble threats to U.S. interests. 

The polar ice­cap and harsh Arc­tic envi­ron­ment have long enhanced U.S. secu­ri­ty by act­ing as a north­ern bar­ri­er to the Unit­ed States, the report says. The melt­ing of the ice­cap already is caus­ing increased human activ­i­ty, such as with oil and gas explo­ration and tourism, that could affect U.S. inter­ests there and raise issues about mar­itime trav­el, it says. 

Navy Adm. Gary Roug­head, chief of naval oper­a­tions, explained the lev­el of U.S. inter­ests in the Arc­tic dur­ing a June 16 Arc­tic sem­i­nar here. The region is “extra­or­di­nar­i­ly impor­tant for our Navy, for our mil­i­tary, and for our nation,” he said. 

There is a phe­nom­e­nal event tak­ing place on the plan­et today,” Roug­head said, refer­ring to the open­ing up of the Arc­tic Ocean from melt­ing polar ice caps. “We haven’t had an ocean open on this plan­et since the end of the Ice Age. So, if this is not a sig­nif­i­cant change that requires new, and I would sub­mit, brave think­ing on the top­ic, I don’t know what oth­er sort of phys­i­cal event could pro­duce that.” 

Roug­head estab­lished a task force to con­sid­er cli­mate change’s impact on the Navy and how it should respond. Some things to con­sid­er is how melt­ing ice and warm­ing oceans will cause fish to trav­el north, open­ing up a fish­ing indus­try in the Arc­tic, as well as cre­ate more mar­itime traf­fic, in gen­er­al. With­in 25 years, he said, the Arc­tic could become a prof­itable sea route from Asia to Europe. 

Besides the occa­sion­al bat­tle at sea, the admi­ral said, “navies exist to grease the inter­course of com­merce globally.” 

The Army also is tak­ing steps to reassess its Arc­tic capa­bil­i­ties and plan for chang­ing con­di­tions in the region, the report says. The renewed mil­i­tary inter­est fol­lows years of draw­down in the Arc­tic that fol­lowed the end of the Cold War with Russia. 

Accord­ing to the report, the Arc­tic is warm­ing at twice the rate of the rest of plan­et, result­ing in increased human activ­i­ty in the area, and pre­sent­ing the oppor­tu­ni­ty for mul­ti­lat­er­al coop­er­a­tion in shap­ing the future there. 

The report stops short of advis­ing a renewed mil­i­tary buildup in the Arc­tic, cit­ing the lack of sci­en­tif­ic con­sen­sus on long-term envi­ron­men­tal changes there, the expec­ta­tion that growth will be grad­ual and uneven, and the long lead time need­ed to devel­op capa­bil­i­ties there — all of which occur at a time of strict bud­get constraints. 

Despite the warm­ing, the Arc­tic still is an inhos­pitable cli­mate, mak­ing defense capa­bil­i­ties dif­fi­cult, the report says. Also, it notes, com­mu­ni­ca­tions and the per­for­mance glob­al posi­tion­ing sys­tems are lim­it­ed in the area by mag­net­ic and solar phe­nom­e­na and poor satel­lite geom­e­try and ionos­pher­ic effects, respectively. 

The report notes there is low risk of mil­i­tary hos­til­i­ties in the Arc­tic. The Unit­ed States is part of the eight-mem­ber Arc­tic Coun­cil, along with Rus­sia, Cana­da, Ice­land, Fin­land, Den­mark, Nor­way and Swe­den. All are pub­li­cal­ly com­mit­ted to work­ing with­in a com­mon frame­work of inter­na­tion­al laws and diplo­ma­cies, and have demon­strat­ed that com­mit­ment for 50 years, it says. 

Still, DOD offi­cials say the report and the department’s care­ful mon­i­tor­ing of the Arc­tic is impor­tant so the Unit­ed States can be on the lead­ing edge of pro­tect­ing its inter­ests there. Because the changes are slow-onset, one DOD offi­cial told Amer­i­can Forces Press Ser­vice, “We have the abil­i­ty to shape how that hap­pens and ensure it hap­pens in a coop­er­a­tive fash­ion. It gives us the abil­i­ty to move for­ward in a mea­sured and strate­gic way.” 

As the depart­ment assess­es the sit­u­a­tion, offi­cials are mind­ful of the nation­al inter­ests of its part­ner nations in the Arc­tic, name­ly Rus­sia, which has some 4,350 miles of Arc­tic coast­line, and gar­ners 12 per­cent of its gross domes­tic prod­uct from the region, the report says. 

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

Team GlobDef

Seit 2001 ist im Internet unterwegs, um mit eigenen Analysen, interessanten Kooperationen und umfassenden Informationen für einen spannenden Überblick der Weltlage zu sorgen. war dabei die erste deutschsprachige Internetseite, die mit dem Schwerpunkt Sicherheitspolitik außerhalb von Hochschulen oder Instituten aufgetreten ist.

Alle Beiträge ansehen von Team GlobDef →