The US announced Friday that it will ramp up its presence in the Arctic with a new ambassador, amid warnings that Russia is militarizing the region with a slew of air bases and that China is trying to tighten its resources.
The day before, NATO made the commitment clear.
During a visit to the Canadian Arctic, the alliance secretary general highlighted Vladimir Putin’s actions in the region and pointed out that the shortest route for Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles targeting North America was directly over the Arctic.
The result is growing concern that the US risks losing to rivals in the icy north and falling behind in a region that could become a battlefield of a superpower.
Against that backdrop, Washington said it was upgrading its diplomatic presence.
The Ambassador-General for the Arctic will advance U.S. policy in the Arctic, work with counterparts in Arctic and non-Arctic countries, as well as indigenous groups, and work closely with domestic stakeholders, including state, local and tribal governments, corporations, academic institutions, non-profit organizations, other federal government agencies and Congress,” a spokesperson said.
Behind the diplospeak is real concern that Russia and China are stealing a march and setting up strategic assets as waterways and territory open up with the advance of global warning.
Russia and China have stepped up their presence in the Arctic as global warming begins to open seaways and allow for the exploitation of natural resources
Russia’s submarine base in Gadzhivevo has been expanded with new storage facilities for Poseidon nuclear drones and Tsirkon hypersonic cruise missiles, two of Moscow’s most advanced weapon systems
Russian President Vladimir Putin outlined a new naval strategy late last month, putting the Arctic at the heart of his vision. Russian expansion means US and NATO have taken diplomatic and military steps to deter rivals
Under the frozen earth lies an estimated $30 trillion in resources.
Russia has built at least 13 military airbases in the Arctic, some of them in Soviet-era sites.
At the same time, it ramped up missions with long-range Mig-31BM Foxhound interceptors and Tu-22M3 bombers from these bases. And it has deployed long-range S-400 and medium-range SA-17 air defense systems in recent years.
This has not gone unnoticed by NATO.
Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg traveled to the northern reaches of Canada this week to see the defenses of the country first hand.
He visited the North Warning System radar station in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, which will be modernized as part of a multi-billion dollar renovation of NORAD, the North American air defense system.
“The shortest route to North America for Russian missiles or bombers would be over the North Pole,” he said in an essay marking the visit.
“This makes NORAD’s role vital for North America and for NATO.”
A new airbase on Wragnel Island, near Alaska, is equipped with a sophisticated radar array with US analysts trying to figure out exactly what it should be spying on
The Kotelny Island military base is equipped with launch pads for missile vehicles – either air defense or longer-range missiles, as Russia moves more of its nuclear forces further north
Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg this week traveled to the northern reaches of Canada to see first-hand NATO’s Arctic defenses and highlight the threat of Vladimir Putin’s expansion. He visited the region with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
At the same time, he warned of Putin’s intentions in the region.
“Last month, Russian President Vladimir Putin launched a new naval strategy that promised to protect Arctic waters ‘by all means’, including increased activity around the unmilitarized Norwegian archipelago Svalbard and hypersonic zircon missile systems for its northern fleet,” he said.
Last week, Russia unveiled plans for a new strategic missile-carrying submarine cruiser for Arctic operations. Russia’s ability to disrupt Allied fortifications across the North Atlantic is a strategic challenge for the Alliance.”
Speaking on the occasion of the new strategy last month, Putin said: “We have clearly and transparently identified the boundaries and areas of Russia’s national interests – economic, vital and strategic.
“These are primarily our waters of the Arctic, the Black Sea, the Sea of Okhotsk, the Bering Sea and the Baltic Sea and the Kuril Strait. We will ensure their protection rigorously and with all available tools.”