The Arctic is defined as the region of land and sea area north of the Arctic Circle, latitude at or about 66.34o north.[i] Recent decades have demonstrated the reduction of polar ice, disappearing glaciers, rising seas, and surface temperatures. These events have led to the formation of new sea lanes, opening up access that has until now been blocked by an unforgiving, frozen environment. These sea lanes present new risks associated with national security, economic development, and transportation opportunities that have the potential to impact multiple countries across all hemispheres.
The Department of Defense, as one component of a whole-of-government approach, in conjunction with allied nations can deter Russian dominance in the Arctic Ocean by integrating efforts across Geographic Combatant Command boundaries and leveraging multi-national support to demonstrate a united front. Limited resources dedicated to addressing Arctic challenges in addition to the overwhelming geographic responsibilities provides gaps in American national security. A lack of clear international policies and an understanding of the importance of the Arctic has prohibited the U.S. to respond appropriately to Russia's activities in the Arctic. The invasion of the Ukraine, interfering with global cybersecurity by suspected tampering with the Democratic election process in the United States and conducting military operations in the Syrian civil war through proxies, indicate Russia is undeniably testing its military capabilities in operations other than war. “Fighting in the gray zone allows weaker states to achieve its foreign policy objectives without resorting to full scale military campaigns”.[ii] The gray zone encompasses those areas of state competition where antagonist actions take place; however, those actions fall short of the red lines that would typically result in armed conflict between nations.[iii]
The Arctic Sea is a significant expanse for American security and has repeatedly been under-resourced by the Department of Defense (DoD). Without access to the sea and airspace that the freedom of the seas provides, the United States' ability to maintain a forward presence and accomplish a range of military and humanitarian assistance missions will be compromised.[iv] On May 8, 2019, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joseph Dunford Jr. reported to Congress during the 2020 Defense Budget Request and stated: “Combatant Commanders only have intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) assets covering approximately 30% of the Arctic.”[v] This conditional statement from the United States' most senior military officer should be a prompt for the Geographic Combatant Commanders to articulate resource constraints.