US military options to enhance Arctic defense

The USS Toledo (SSN-769) arrives at Ice Camp Seadragon on the Arctic Ocean kicking off Ice Exercise (ICEX) 2020.Ice Camp Seadragon is a temporary ice camp that was established on a sheet of ice in the Arctic Ocean.ICEX 2020 is a three-week, biennial exercise that offers the Navy the opportunity to assess its operational readiness in the Arctic and train with other services, partner nations and Allies to increase experience in the region, and maintain regional stability while improving capabilities to operate in the Arctic environment.Where: United StatesWhen: 04 Mar 2020Credit: US Navy/Cover Images**SURFACING VIDEO AVAILABLE:**


Despite all the focus on strategic competition in Europe and Asia, one region of the world has at long last begun receiving the attention it warrants from the U.S. military: the Arctic. The Arctic is of unique importance to all Americans. First, the United States is one of just eight sovereign Arctic states — joined by Canada, Denmark (thanks to its autonomous territory Greenland), Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, and Sweden — which allows for the exercise of certain sovereign rights in the region and bestows member status in the international Arctic Council. China is, of course, notably absent, despite its self-proclaimed (and at best dubious) status as a “near-Arctic” state and its observer status on the Arctic Council. Second, the effects of global climate change are increasing access to previously inaccessible Arctic areas and important transit and trade routes. This increased access results in yet another theatre for strategic competition, and thus, it is curious that the Arctic was not mentioned in the Biden administration’s Interim National Security Guidance — although it has engaged on Arctic issues around this month’s Arctic Council summit.

To better elevate Arctic issues to their proper place in strategic dialogue, especially amongst the armed forces, we argue that the U.S. military should prioritize engagement through international, defense-oriented bodies like the Arctic Security Forces Roundtable, redraw geographic combatant command borders to include the Arctic region under NORTHCOM, and continue improving operational relationships with allied and partner nations through joint exercises and training. Additionally, we outline specific actions that each military service can individually implement to improve overall U.S. military posture and readiness in the region.

The views expressed are the authors’ alone and do not reflect the official policy or position of the U.S. Departments of Defense, Navy, Army, Air Force, Homeland Security, the U.S. Coast Guard, or the U.S. Government.