Here’s what’s in the US Defense Department’s new Arctic strategy

By Erica Martinson, Alaska Dispatch News - February 2, 2017
Paratroopers with 1st Squadron, 40th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, prepare to board a pair of UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters flown by the Alaska Army National Guard after parachuting into Deadhorse, Alaska, on Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014, as part of the Spartan Brigade's training for rapid insertion into any environment in the Pacific. This was the first time the Spartan Brigade had conducted operations north of the Arctic Circle. (Sgt. Eric-James Estrada / U.S. Army)
Paratroopers prepare to board a pair of UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters flown by the Alaska Army National Guard after parachuting into Deadhorse, Alaska, in this Feb. 25, 2014 file photo. (Sgt. Eric-James Estrada / U.S. Army)

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Defense has released an updated Arctic Strategy that goes beyond prior, photo-filled versions of the plan, identifying shortfalls for the military in the northern stretches of Alaska.

Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, has pushed for an upgrade to the Arctic strategy, and included a requirement in a fiscal year 2016 Defense authorization bill.

“After nearly two years of advocacy and bipartisan efforts, I am pleased that we finally have a much more serious military strategy for the Arctic region,” Sullivan said, announcing the document’s official release.

While the new strategy is more in-depth than prior Defense Department Arctic strategies, the document isn’t a deep dive; it’s only 17 pages long. It details military responsibilities in the Arctic and long-term needs. But there is little discussion on how to respond to Russian expansion in the region, or to the need for more infrastructure.

[The US military thinks it needs to bolster its presence in the Arctic — but that alone may not be enough to make it happen]

“While this strategy is not perfect – including a failure to offer how best to counter the common threat it identifies – it is a dramatic improvement from the 2013 version which was more platitudes and pictures than actual substance. I am hopeful that the entire Department of Defense, our new president, and the country will take a serious look at this document and begin to formulate how our country will safeguard our interests, and that of our allies, in this strategically-important region,” Sullivan said.

Because of melting sea ice driven by climate change, shipping lanes are opening up in the Arctic, the report says. The Defense Department’s goal in the region is security, safety and cooperation with other Arctic countries, it says.

[Putin’s Russia in biggest Arctic military push since Soviet fall]

“The Arctic generally remains an area of cooperation, ranging from scientific, environmental, and economic collaboration,” through a variety of entities. “Friction points, however, do exist,” the report says. It points mainly to disagreements over regulating navigation and ownership of Arctic waters.

While the shrinking sea ice will open up economic opportunities in the region, it adds “concerns about human safety and protection of a unique ecosystem that many indigenous communities rely on for subsistence,” the report says.