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  • Writer's pictureOlga Nesterova

A Vital Strategy in Safeguarding the Arctic from Russian and Chinese Threats

Department Of Defense
Department Of Defense

In an era of escalating great power competition, the United States recognizes the pivotal role of alliances in securing the Arctic region against the backdrop of assertive moves by Russia and China.

Esther McClure, the Defense Department's director of Arctic and oceans policy, emphasized the indispensable nature of partnerships during a recent panel discussion on security in the High North, hosted by the Atlantic Council in Washington.

McClure underscored the escalating risks posed by Russia and China, stating, "We are facing risks from an increasingly assertive, and even aggressive action by Russia and the People's Republic of China." She highlighted the lack of clarity surrounding the intentions of these global competitors in the Arctic, emphasizing the need for proactive measures to mitigate potential threats.

The strategic significance of the Arctic in the context of homeland defense traces back to the Cold War, where it served as a potential avenue for Soviet aggression against the U.S. With the region experiencing unprecedented thawing and the opening of sea lanes, competition has intensified, driven by access to energy and mineral resources, as well as disputes over fishing rights.

Russia, with its extensive Arctic Ocean coastline, has been actively expanding its influence in the region, while China, despite lacking Arctic coastline, has declared itself a "near-Arctic" nation, signaling its growing interests. The U.S. has responded by aligning its Arctic strategy with broader national interests, emphasizing peace, security, and cooperation in the region.

The Defense Department's Arctic strategy, articulated in 2019, envisions a secure and stable Arctic that safeguards U.S. national security interests and promotes international cooperation. However, the evolving geopolitical landscape, exacerbated by Russia's actions in Ukraine, necessitates a reevaluation of strategic priorities.

A 2022 update of the National Arctic Strategy noted increasing strategic competition in the region that has been further exacerbated by Russia's invasion of Ukraine. This development underscores the urgency of strengthening alliances, particularly with NATO, to counter emerging threats and uphold shared values of democracy and security.

McClure previewed the forthcoming update to the DOD's Arctic Strategy, stressing the imperative of adapting to changing circumstances. She acknowledged the erosion of guardrails by competitors in the Arctic and emphasized the need to reinforce communication frameworks to minimize the risk of miscalculation.

Central to the strategy is the role of alliances, particularly NATO, which McClure described as "our center of gravity." She highlighted the unprecedented cohesion within the alliance network, emphasizing the importance of nurturing and managing alliances effectively to coordinate actions and address diverse national perspectives.

As the U.S. prepares to release its updated Arctic Strategy, the focus remains on preserving the Arctic as a secure and stable region while defending vital interests. McClure's remarks underscore the imperative of collective action and strategic foresight in safeguarding the Arctic against emerging threats from Russia and China, with NATO playing a central role in ensuring regional stability and security.

Source: Department Of Defense, Pentagon, April 15, 2024


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