Maritime panel: U.S. falling behind Russia in Arctic resources

The following is the text of a release from the Navy League's Seapower Magazine:

(ARLINGTON, Va.) — The United States continues to fall behind Russia in terms of resource allotment in the Arctic, said a panel of experts on the region during a Nov. 17 congressional hearing. The U.S. Coast Guard is the lead federal agency for ensuring maritime safety and security in the Arctic, working closely with the Department of Defense and other federal agencies in the process.

The country does not have full-time presence in the region and the lack of heavy icebreakers — two, compared with more than 40 operated by Russia — has been a point of contention with lawmakers over the last several years.

As ice recedes and the sea lanes remain open for vessel traffic for longer periods of time, more cruise liners, cargo ships and casual boaters are taking advantage. That increased traffic, coupled with companies requesting exploratory oil drilling permits in the region, has put more attention on the region.

The Navy’s oceanographer and navigator, Rear Adm. Timothy C. Gallaudet, told members of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia and emerging threats and the subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, during a joint hearing, that the Navy has enough resources to meet its current requirements in the Arctic, but he could not assure that would remain the case. 

“In terms of future requirements, we want to make sure we can build the capability and capacity for increased surface presence,” he said.

Gallaudet said Russia is not being aggressive in the Arctic, but the Navy does have concerns about the amount of resources Russia has compared with that of the United States.

Retired Adm. Robert J. Papp Jr., the Department of State’s special representative for the Arctic and former commandant of the Coast Guard, said Russia’s re-establishing of facilities in the Arctic is not a militarization of the region, but rather preparation for handling increased capacity in the years ahead. 

“They are doing reasonable things for being prepared to provide security along sea routes,” Papp said.

He was quick to point out, though, that Russia’s aggression toward the United States in other parts of the world cannot be ignored, and sanctions that target, among other things, Russian’s ability to develop resources in its Arctic waters are supported.

Wishing the United States would take just an active role in the region, the retired admiral said the Arctic has enormous and growing geostrategic, economic, environmental and national security implications.

Vice Adm. Charles Michel, vice commandant of the Coast Guard, noted that the service has been operating in the Arctic Ocean since 1867 and, since 2008, it has conducted operations in the region to assess its capabilities and mission requirements as maritime activity and environmental conditions warrant.

“Operating in ice-impacted waters is challenging, requiring specialized infrastructure and equipment, plus well-trained personnel, to achieve successful outcomes,” he said.

Due to the scarcity of heavy icebreakers in the fleet, Michel said he cannot guarantee the American people that the Coast Guard will have access to all Arctic region it needs to year-round.

By Professional Mariner Staff