- USNI NEWS - Dec 1, 2020 -
The United States “needs resilient people and resilient equipment” to meet mounting security and economic challenges posed by Russia and China, according to a panel of Arctic security experts.
Moscow’s vision of the Far North as “the Russian Mecca” and Beijing’s ambitious Polar Silk Road initiative present economic obstacles to the United States, the experts said.
Speaking Tuesday, retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Randy Kee said the Arctic had proven to be a region “where technology is always challenged” by extremes. The severe conditions make military operations “quite demanding and quite challenging.” This remains the case now as temperatures climb and cause sea levels to rise globally, coupled with more violent weather conditions. It also makes the Northern Sea Route, which Russia claims as its own, more attractive as a shipping route to Europe, especially for China. It opens the Arctic to more mineral and natural resource exploration and exploitation, another Chinese goal of diversifying its energy suppliers.
On the security front, Kee, now with the Wilson Center, said the best way to “ameliorate the challenges is through partnership agreements” – such as NATO and NORAD with the Canadians – and keeping an airbase in Thule, Greenland. While he underlined interoperability with partners and the need for investment in research and development, he added, “exercises [are] a critical element … where we stress the force.”
While saying exercises like Trident Juncture were important building blocks to show presence, Kee said “we need to return to scale” on the magnitude of the Cold War’s Rimfrost Exercises to address the new military situation and climate changes.
Kee, speaking during a Hudson Institute online forum, added that the services’ Arctic strategies “will categorize the challenges and opportunities” in the region.
Among those security challenges to Washington and allies are Russia’s dual-track approach in the Arctic — building ports and airfields that can be used for civilian purposes for energy production and shipment, tourism and transpolar commercial shipping, as well as military power projection – according to Hudson’s Richard Weitz.
“The Arctic is the fourth wall” in Russia’s security thinking, he said. Unlike its western, eastern and southern borders, Moscow can operate “without having to compete with others” in the Far North. It is by far the largest nation in the Arctic.
As a sign of how important the Arctic has become, the Kremlin is designating the region as its Fifth Military District. It has moved Mig-31 fighters into airfields there and deployed hypersonic missiles, while it is hardening coastal defense ships that are capable of operating in ice as weapons platforms.