From Lolita C. Baldor, AP: The U.S. will assert its sovereignty in the Arctic, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned Friday, even as Russia, China and other nations stake claims and expand their use of the icy waters for military exercises and transit.
Speaking at a security forum, Hagel said energy exploration in the largely untapped Arctic region could heighten international tensions, but that countries must work together to avoid conflict,
“We will remain prepared to detect, deter, prevent and defeat threats to our homeland and we will continue to exercise U.S. sovereignty in and around Alaska,” Hagel said, as he unveiled the Pentagon’s new Arctic strategy.
With a nod to the increased interest in the Arctic’s lucrative oil and gas deposits, he added: “Throughout human 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.”
Hagel’s comments came as the military finalized plans to expand operations in the vast waters of the Arctic, where melting ice caps are opening sea lanes and giving nations like Russia greater access to the oil and gas deposits.
But it will take money and resources for the U.S. to fill the wide gaps in satellite and communications coverage, add deep-water ports and buy more ships that can withstand the frigid waters or break through the ice.
Hagel acknowledged the budget pressures, but he said the U.S. must map out its long-range plans despite the ongoing “deep and abrupt” spending cuts.
There are no cost or budget estimates yet. But by the end of this year, the Navy will complete plans that lay out what the U.S. needs to do to increase communications, harden ships and negotiate international agreements so that nations will be able to track traffic in the Arctic and conduct search-and-rescue missions.
In his speech, Hagel said the U.S. will remain prepared to defend itself from threats in the region, preserve freedom of transit across the seas, plan for gradual upgrades to the fleet, improve mapping and understanding of the environment, and expand military ties with other Arctic nations.
From Phil Stewart, Reuters: Hagel said the U.S. military would adapt infrastructure and capabilities “at a pace consistent with changing conditions.” He did not offer specific details or promise specific resources, and the speech came as the Pentagon reels from funding shortfalls.
One U.S. official, briefing reporters on condition of anonymity, played down any current tensions with Russia over the Arctic. The official noted that the U.S. Coast Guard had experienced “quite positive” interaction with its Russian counterparts over the years.
Another U.S. official said the strategy assessed a relatively low military threat in the Arctic, “and we don’t see that changing in the near term.”
Hagel stressed the opportunity for strengthening ties in the region.
“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.”