Arctic Report Assesses Defense Role
Arctic Report Assesses
Defense Role, Future in Region
By Lisa Daniel,
American Forces Press Service
Washington D.C. -- June 6, 2011 – (AFPS)
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
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
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
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
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.”