America Needs an Enemy in the Arctic
Image Credit: DoD photo by Maj. Guy Hayes

America Needs an Enemy in the Arctic

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On these hot days is the mad blood stirring, and beckoning the Naval Diplomat's attention to … the frosty Arctic!

Last May the Obama administration released the nation's first National Strategy for the Arctic Region. It's worth your time. For me, perusing the document confirms that the U.S. Coast Guard is the logical executor of U.S. strategy. The functions delineated in the document conform ideally to the coast guard's "para-naval" — political scientist Ken Booth's term — character as a sea service.

The strategy's framers sketch three main "lines of effort" in polar climes. They direct U.S. agencies to bolster the nation's security interests, developing the strategic wherewithal to monitor events throughout the region, upholding freedom of the seas, and providing for energy security. The document commits Washington to exercise stewardship over the region, conserving its resources, protecting the environment, and conducting scientific research. And it calls for international cooperation through forums such as the Arctic Council and the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. These are coast-guard functions par excellence, well suited to a force that exists mainly to manage events off American shores.

Is the National Strategy for the Arctic Region really a strategy, though? Sure, in a generic sense. Admiral Wylie defines strategy as a "plan of action designed in order to achieve some end; a purpose together with a system of measures for its accomplishment." The Arctic strategy is light on specific ways and means for accomplishing its goals, but it gets over Wylie's bar with perhaps a micron to spare.

It's not a strategy in the traditional sense, though. It makes little mention of the potential for international competition in the Arctic basin. It seemingly assumes away the prospect of interaction between competitors determined to get their way. Clausewitz, of course, depicts strategy as a collision of living forces, as a duel on a grand scale, or as two wrestlers constantly striving to throw each other.

Assuming the ocean will remain tranquil also deprives the strategy of a focal point. Whether strategy demands an adversary is a long-running debate in my field. The drift of opinion seems to be: yes. That's certainly your gentle scribe's view. Even Wylie, having advanced his rather anodyne definition, spends the bulk of his book Military Strategy probing the ins and outs of martial strife.

Washington, then, should refuse to let the non-military challenges lurking in the Arctic theater obscure the likelihood of competition driven by the Thucydidean motives of fear, honor, and interest. Maybe the powers fronting on the polar sea can resolve their conflicts of interest amicably, factoring in the interests of stakeholders to the south. Maybe a navigable Arctic will remain free of the elemental passions that have impelled human actions throughout history. But let's not succumb to wishful thinking.

Comments
18
Mary Jardine Clarke
August 3, 2013 at 18:58

Have I missed something?  When did the US annexe Canada?   And I guess Russia and the Baltic for that matter? Most defintiely a case for an International Arctic Council and a critically serious case for science.

9 dashes, 4 dishes, 1 soup
July 17, 2013 at 07:59

Right now, the Arctic Circle is at 66N33 latitude Bankotsu. Where will the Arctic Circle be tomorrow? Next week? Next year?

When is the last time that the Arctic Circle did not start on 66 N 33 Bankotsu? 

The northern-most location in the US is 71N22. In the US, that is Point Barrow Alaska. When is the last time the Arctic Circle did not include Point Barrow, Alaska, Bankotsu? 

Mainland Chinese must be the smartest people in the world. Nobody can equal them. They have their own special history. They even have their own special geography. The Philippine reefs are an indisputable part of China. And now we learn the Arctic Circle sometimes does not include any part of Alaska! 

If that's true, it truly is 'over-the-top' (TDog/aallison's phrase), for America to claim to be an Arctic power. The barbarian world is truly blessed to have such erudite Mainland Chinese who are willing to share their very special knowledge with us. 

Paul Campagna
July 17, 2013 at 02:49

Spot on.

It is a vague vision statement, with no corresponding ways or means to achieve the desired outcomes, no specific direction on how to move out, only general goals and "things that would be nice."  

The most important near term action that will enable this Arctic vision is an increased presence by USN and USCG ships and ISR to provide maritime domain awareness.  Even if the presence is exercises, we need to be there to understand the operating environment and demonstrate our commitment.  Until we settle our extended seabed claims, we should fully understand what other nations are doing off the North Slope and Chukchi sea beyond the current BOEM leases.

I agree we assume away too much.  The stability of the liberal order maritime nations around the world enjoy is largely due to the US commitment ensuring freedom of navigation on the global commons, and everyone seems content with that.  When we lack the ability to be a guarantor of peace because we are not present, I do not think other nations like Russia (who charges to transit international Arctic waters) or the Chinese (who are creating a hub in Iceland) will step up, and conflict over trans-Arctic routes and resource extraction (including fisheries) that all go through the Bering Strait is much more likely than peaceful navigation.

 

CDR Paul Campagna, USN

Bob
July 15, 2013 at 08:24

Holy cow! Put another way, the United States should not let the long existence of peace in the Arctic distract from the necessity of inducing war in the region to justify the expenditure.

Schminner
July 14, 2013 at 21:30

If America needs enemies in the Artic, they can start a war with the eskimoes.

GP
July 14, 2013 at 15:31

For Alison, again >>

Dear Alison, where are you coming from?

Have you been to school/College?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thule_Air_Base

Alaska, Thule Base in Groenland, Norway (Svalbard Island) NATO,… end else!

US is a "serious" Arctic Nation.

Bankotsu
July 14, 2013 at 13:44

The wiki page says that the position of the Arctic circle is not fixed. Depending on how it is defined, the U.S. may not be inside the Arctic circle.

Don
July 14, 2013 at 01:12

Let me guess, you're not a geography major.

9 dashes, 4 dishes, 1 soup
July 13, 2013 at 20:52

@aallison: "… the USA is not an Arctic Nation (none of its territory lies within the Arctic Circle). We do, of course, have interests in the Arctic, as does everybody, but claiming to be an Arctic Nation seems a bit over-the-top."

—–

Hi. Just so we're all on the same page, I'm providing aallison with a map of the Arctic Circle. http://www.worldatlas.com/webimage/countrys/polar/arctic.htm#.UeE7pkHI28A

Here's another one, if that one is not satisfactory. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Arctic_circle.svg

Please note aallison, the location of Alaska & the location of the Arctic Circle. Also note how they overlap. Finally note that roughly 15 to 20% of Alaska is inside the Arctic Circle according to those maps.  

You're welcome aallison. 

—-

@aallison (again): "claiming to be an Arctic Nation seems a bit over-the-top."

Perhaps you mean over-the-top of the 66 North latitude line? 

Bankotsu
July 13, 2013 at 15:35

"Wouldn't a better strategy be to work toward an Arctic Treaty securing the objectives."

But the Artic treaty needs to be enforced by military power.

Christopher Lee
July 13, 2013 at 14:57

I don't believe you've actually looked a map lately. A significant part of Alaska, which is a state of the United States as much as any of the others, is entirely within the Arctic Circle.  Further, it has a significant coastline on the Arctic Ocean, which would itself qualify it as an Arctic Nation (which is how Iceland qualifies). 

Actually, the real long-term concern of the Arctic Nations is not to fight each other, but how to work together to prevent non-Arctic Nations from trying to get in on the development of that area.  Lots of other countries that are nowhere near the Arctic would love to develop economic interests in that region to the detriment of the nations that have an actual stake.

jack Lawrence
July 13, 2013 at 12:33

The United States is a gatekeeper to the Arctic Ocean. That makes it an Arctic Ocean country.

Save two countries, the other countries acting as gatekeepers or bordering countries are already United States allies, under existing international treaties or by inference.The United States does not need enemies, It simply needs allies. Once the agreement is reached with existing allies, then the United States and it’s consirtium can dictate to other would Attic wannabees terms of access, under existing (unsugned) Law of the Sea treaties.
Regards,
Jack Lawrence

Matthew Hall
July 13, 2013 at 11:52

A large area of the United States lies within the Arctic Circle. What on earth are you talking about aalison?

IceWarming
July 13, 2013 at 11:20

Aren’t Iceland and Russia considering granting China access to the “artic nation” under the auspices of renewable energy? Ready the Coast Guard. Sooner is better than later especially considering the coziness of these nations under one warm blanket. In China Snowden betrays the U.S., he is allowed to fly into Russian airport and Iceland was quick to offer him asylum. Our enemies are already in the “artic nation” and now an enemy is invited to join the allied arch-enemies.

oldone
July 13, 2013 at 10:46

Say what? Isn't Alaska part of the US? Or are we doing a reverse Sarah Palin?

Chuck Hill
July 13, 2013 at 08:51

@

aallison

July 13, 2013 at 3:39 am

All very inspiring but, contrary to the strategy statement, the USA is not an Arctic Nation (none of its territory lies within the Arctic Circle). We do, of course, have interests in the Arctic, as does everybody, but claiming to be an Arctic Nation seems a bit over-the-top. If the definition of Arctic is stretched to include Alaska, it also includes the entire northern coastlines of Canada and Russia and Iceland. Wouldn't a better strategy be to work toward an Arctic Treaty securing the objectives.

In fact the North coast of Alaska does lie inside the Arctic circle as does most of the North coast of Canada and Russia. There are ongoing negotiations in the Arctic Council, and there has already been a Search and Rescue treaty approved.

aallison
July 13, 2013 at 03:39

All very inspiring but, contrary to the strategy statement, the USA is not an Arctic Nation (none of its territory lies within the Arctic Circle). We do, of course, have interests in the Arctic, as does everybody, but claiming to be an Arctic Nation seems a bit over-the-top. If the definition of Arctic is stretched to include Alaska, it also includes the entire northern coastlines of Canada and Russia and Iceland. Wouldn't a better strategy be to work toward an Arctic Treaty securing the objectives.

Jonathan
July 13, 2013 at 00:14

The adversary, Mr. Holmes, is violence and war. The Arctic strategy must not allow the adversary to prevail.

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