Hagel Announces Arctic Defense Strategy

By MarEx 2013-11-25 10:33:00

The Defense Department’s new Arctic strategy is an 8-point approach to maintaining peace and security in a new frontier that climatic forces are poised to open in the coming years, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said.

Speaking to hundreds of representatives from some 25 nations at the Halifax International Security Forum, Hagel outlined the American military’s role in carrying out the nation’s Arctic strategy, announced last May.

The secretary pointed out that climate change is “new to the modern world.” While it doesn’t cause conflict directly, he noted, climate change can add to the challenges of global instability, hunger, poverty, and conflict.

“Food and water shortages, pandemic disease, disputes over refugees and resources, more severe natural disasters – all place additional burdens on economies, societies, and institutions around the world,” he said. “Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines is a reminder of humanitarian disaster brought on by nature. And climatologists warn us of the increased probability of more destructive storms to come.”

At the same time, he noted, global energy demands will place more emphasis on emerging sources of energy from new frontiers, including the Arctic.

Rising temperatures in the Arctic are transforming the region from a frozen desert to “an evolving navigable ocean, giving rise to an unprecedented level of human activity,” Hagel said. “Traffic in the Northern Sea Route is reportedly expected to increase tenfold this year compared to … last year.”

As global warming accelerates, the secretary said, Arctic ice melt will cause a rise in sea levels that could threaten coastal populations around the world -- but it could also open a transpolar sea route.

Hagel said that expanded tourism, commercial shipping, migrating fish stocks and energy exploration in the region will affect the eight Arctic nations -- Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia and Sweden, along with the United States –- most closely. All, he said, “have publicly committed to work within a common framework of international law and diplomatic engagement.”

The secretary noted that President Barack Obama’s national Arctic strategy is based on keeping it peaceful, stable and free of conflict. He added DOD’s eight lines of effort supporting the strategy, emphasizing cooperation and collaboration with other nations, are designed to ensure the Arctic stays conflict-free.

Hagel described the eight lines of effort the strategy lists:

-- Remain prepared to detect, deter, prevent and defeat threats to the United States, and continue to exercise U.S. sovereignty in and around Alaska.

-- Work with both private and public-sector partners, including the state of Alaska and Federal agencies, such as the U.S. Coast Guard, to improve understanding and awareness of the Arctic environment “so that we can operate safely and effectively.”

The Arctic, he said, “is the first new frontier of nautical exploration … since the days of Ericsson, Columbus, and Magellan, and it provides a clear opportunity to work together … to ensure we have accurate observations, maps, and models of the Arctic’s atmospheric, oceanic, and sea ice conditions.”

-- Help preserve freedom of the seas throughout the region, within existing frameworks of international law.

-- Carefully evolve U.S. Arctic infrastructure and capabilities at a pace consistent with changing conditions.

To that end, DoD will continually re-evaluate its needs as activities in the Arctic increase, Hagel said, “as we balance potential Arctic investments with other national security priorities.”

-- Comply with existing agreements with allies and partners, while also pursuing new avenues of cooperation.

“By taking advantage of multilateral training opportunities with partners in the region, we will enhance our cold-weather operational experience, and strengthen our military-to-military ties with other Arctic nations,” he said. “This includes Russia, with whom the United States and Canada share common interests in the Arctic, creating the opportunity to pursue practical cooperation between our militaries and promote greater transparency.”

-- Be prepared to help respond to man-made and natural disasters in the region.

“Our support will extend not only to civil authorities in Alaska and around its coast, but also to cooperation with allies and partners through humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations,” Hagel said.

-- Work with other agencies and nations, as well as Alaska natives, to protect the environmental integrity of the Arctic.

“DoD will use existing capabilities to help address safety-related challenges, including international search-and-rescue missions as well as incident and disaster response,” the secretary said. “We will work closely with our Canadian partners on emergency response operations that help save lives.”

-- Finally, “We will support the development of the Arctic Council and other international institutions that promote regional cooperation and the rule of law.”

DoD will work with the Department of State in new initiatives like the Arctic Security Forces Roundtable and the recent meetings of the Northern Chiefs of Defense, the secretary said. He added that such engagements “will help strengthen multilateral security cooperation throughout the region, which will ultimately help reduce the risk of conflict.”

Hagel noted the strategy is a long-term effort that will unfold not in days and weeks, but over years and decades.

“Even as we grapple at home with near-term challenges, including steep, deep, and abrupt defense budget reductions and continued budget uncertainty, this kind of long-range thinking is vital for our future,” the secretary said. “… As shifts occur in the strategic landscape, the United States and its allies must be prepared to adjust their defense institutions and capabilities to meet these new challenges.”

Hagel said that throughout history, “Mankind has raced to discover the next frontier. And time after time, discovery was swiftly followed by conflict. We cannot erase this history. But we can assure that history does not repeat itself in the Arctic.”

In closing, he quoted American explorer Frederick Cook, who searched for and thought he had found the North Pole in 1908.

Hagel said, “After many attempts to discover the North Pole – and after believing he had found it – he wrote: ‘It occurred to me ... that, after all, the only work worthwhile, the only value of a human being’s efforts, lie in deeds whereby humanity benefits.’”

The secretary added, “That is why we look to the Arctic – this new frontier – to help make a better world for all mankind.”