White House Arctic strategy puts new emphasis on national defense and threats posed by Russia

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Anthony Downs and Staff Sgt. Derek Bolton, staff weather officers assigned to one of the AIr Force’s combat weather squadrons, walk toward an Alaska National Guard helicopter during training on Aug. 25 at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage. The new White House Arctic strategy released on Friday emphasizes national defense and the threats posed by Russian aggression. (Photo by Senior Airman Patrick Sullivan/U.S. AIr Force)

A new Arctic strategy released on Friday by the White House acknowledges some big changes in the region over the past decade — the rise of military threats posed by Russia, the largest Arctic nation.

A heavier emphasis on national defense is the biggest difference between the new Biden administration strategy and its predecessor, released in 2013 by the Obama administration.

The 15-page document says the strategy “acknowledges increasing strategic competition in the Arctic since 2013, exacerbated by Russia’s unprovoked war in Ukraine, and seeks to position the United States to both effectively compete and manage tensions.”

Security is identified as the first of four strategic pillars guiding White House policies on Arctic affairs. The others are climate change and environmental protection, sustainable economic development and international cooperation and governance.

While the 2013 strategy also identified security as one of the policy pillars, that document did not mention Russia as a security threat. The new strategy, in contrast, makes multiple specific references to Russia.

“Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine has rendered government-to government cooperation with Russia in the Arctic virtually impossible at present,” the new strategy says in one of those references.

To achieve national strategic goals, the new White House document lists several concrete policies.

To help Alaska Native communities threatened by climate change, for example, the administration plans to make it easier to get access to federal resources to build resilience. That includes more coordination work with tribal governments, Native corporations, the Alaska state government and other entities, the document says.

To promote economic development, the White House “will support development of much-needed infrastructure in Alaska that serves responsible development, food security, stable housing, climate resilience, and national defense needs as driven by requirements,” the document says. It lists telecommunications and the planned deep-draft port in Nome as key infrastructure investments.

To boost security and protect the national interest, “the United States will enhance and exercise both our military and civilian capabilities in the Arctic as required to deter threats and to anticipate, prevent, and respond to both natural and human-made incidents,” the new strategy says.

Alaska’s two U.S. senators gave the new strategy mixed reviews.

In statements, Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Sen. Dan Sullivan, both Republicans, said they welcomed the new emphasis on national defense.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski said the strategy contains many “positive elements.”

“For example, I’m pleased with the administration’s emphasis on security, infrastructure, climate adaptation and resilience, greater consultation with the State of Alaska and Alaska Native Tribes and Corporations, and its elevation of Arctic diplomacy through the creation of the Arctic Ambassador position — all of which I have called for,” she said in a statement. The heavier emphasis on military security is appropriate, as has been demonstrated by the recent incident in which two Russians sailed over the Bering to Alaska’s St. Lawrence Island to request asylum, she said.

However, she criticized it for what she characterized as too little discussion of resource development and an omission of oil and gas development.

Sullivan, in his statement, said he appreciated the “full-throated support for increasing America’s operational capabilities, infrastructure, and Coast Guard and naval vessels in the Arctic, and for elevating the voices and interests of the people who actually live in the Arctic—Alaskans who’ve inhabited these lands for millennia.”

However, he faulted the document for its emphasis on climate change, which he said shows the Biden administration “will continue to focus on shutting down responsible resource development, like oil, natural gas, and critical minerals in Alaska.”

Sullivan, in his statement, dismissed the 2013 strategy as being “filled with mostly pictures,” though that Obama administration document did not include a single image other than the presidential seal. However, a Department of Defense Arctic strategy released in November of 2013 did contain illustrations.

This story originally appeared in the Alaska Beacon and is republished here with permission.

Alaska Beacon

Alaska Beacon is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Alaska Beacon maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Andrew Kitchenman for questions: info@alaskabeacon.com. Follow Alaska Beacon on Facebook and Twitter.

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