Skip to main content

Another region where the Russian military threatens to dominate the U.S.

By David M. Slayton and Mark E. Rosen
updated 8:24 AM EDT, Fri March 14, 2014
Critics at the Hoover Institution say U.S. policy in the Arctic is too focused on research rather than security implications.
Critics at the Hoover Institution say U.S. policy in the Arctic is too focused on research rather than security implications.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • David Slayton, Mark E. Rosen: U.S. Arctic policy needs to look more at security issues
  • Russia, they say, already holds a dominant position in the region
  • Scientific exploration is important, but that should not be the solitary focus, they say

Editor's note: David M. Slayton is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and co-chair of the Hoover Institution's Arctic Security Initiative. Mark E. Rosen, an international and national security lawyer by training, is a senior legal adviser at CNA Corporation.

(CNN) -- While much of the world is focused on the Russian incursion into the Crimean Peninsula of Ukraine, another long-term move may allow the former Soviet navy to dominate U.S. interests to the north: the Arctic.

The rapid melting of the Arctic Ocean is quickly creating a new variety of challenges that have the potential to cause significant global damage if they remain unaddressed.

The Obama administration's policy correctly recognizes that the United States has profoundly important economic and cultural interests in the Arctic but regrettably reveals very little about what the federal government will be doing outside of the science field.

While recent U.S. policies either dance around the core issues, or worse, do not acknowledge that they exist, the Russians are taking the lead on Arctic policy. After all, the Arctic is in their backyard, too.

Moreover, Russia -- as if to highlight the value they place on their navy and renaissance as a maritime nation -- took control of the strategic Crimean Peninsula, assuring and securing warm water Russian Navy access to the global commons.

In light of these recent events, it would be wise for Washington to seriously consider the economic potential and security vulnerabilities that exist on or near the U.S. Arctic coastline.

Overwhelmingly, the U.S. Arctic policy debate echoes past concerns of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Consequently, many in the policy community are pushing a heavy science and no-development agenda to preserve the pristine character of the region.

The recently issued Department of Defense Arctic Strategy is a case in point: It talks extensively about the DOD scientific mission and uses the terms "sustainable development" and preservation of the unspoiled area as important national goals.

But just saying "no" ignores the fact that the precious Arctic mineral and oil and gas resources will help assure the United States is able, over time, to achieve and then maintain its energy independence.

Voices on the Ukraine/Crimea referendum
King: 'I stand with the President'
Many average Russians support Putin

Science is incredibly important, as is safe and responsible development of the Arctic, but our agencies and scientists need to approach these issues with a greater sense of urgency. Arguably, the science needs to be a component of a detailed national action, but that's only a fraction of good U.S. policy.

U.S. Arctic policy should prioritize four things:

One: Demonstrate leadership in the Arctic and develop a strategy and policy to match. The U.S. has no leadership in the high north and Russia does, which is a great concern for our allies.

Two: Invest in infrastructure, Navy and Coast Guard to support U.S. security and commercial interests in the Arctic. The key here is to develop the policy that drives those requirements so we are not "late to need."

Three: Demonstrate leadership in the maritime domain worldwide -- and not retreat as we are doing by default in the Arctic.

Four: Facilitate and further develop offshore natural resources in the high north/Alaska and the national, international, maritime and geopolitical governance structures that will underpin those enterprises.

Washington, in less than two years, will assume a leadership role when it becomes Chair for the Arctic Council. Unfortunately, the DOD policy and U.S. Navy Arctic Roadmap 2014 do not articulate what the U.S. Arctic leadership agenda will entail.

The reality is ignoring the issues and choosing not to participate in the Arctic will not make the issues go away.

Yes, budgets are challenging, but the Arctic is no different from any other international frontier or global common where the U.S. has interests. We need to protect it and demonstrate leadership in the maritime domain -- not retreat.

So, too, our policy makers need to be looking beyond our shores to Moscow, Ottawa, Oslo, Copenhagen, the Arctic Council, international oil companies and Lloyds of London for help in solving this governance challenge.

The last thing that any of the Arctic states can afford is to back into a Russian-generated crisis with no resources or a plan.

The time is now for more U.S. leadership to ensure the Arctic becomes a safe, secure and prosperous region in which to live and work.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of David M. Slayton and Mark E. Rosen.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
Carlos Moreno says atheists, a sizable fraction of Americans, deserve representation in Congress.
updated 12:25 PM EDT, Sun August 31, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Democrats and unions have a long history of mutual support that's on the decline. But in a time of income inequality they need each other more than ever
updated 12:23 AM EDT, Sun August 31, 2014
William McRaven
Peter Bergen says Admiral William McRaven leaves the military with a legacy of strategic thinking about special operations
updated 12:11 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Leon Aron says the U.S. and Europe can help get Russia out of Ukraine by helping Ukraine win its just war, sharing defense technologies and intelligence
updated 1:24 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Timothy Stanley the report on widespread child abuse in a British town reveals an institutional betrayal by police, social services and politicians. Negligent officials must face justice
updated 9:06 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say a new video of an American suicide bomber shows how Turkey's militant networks are key to jihadists' movement into Syria and Iraq. Turkey must stem the flow
updated 11:54 AM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
updated 10:34 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
updated 10:43 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat August 30, 2014
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
updated 9:30 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
updated 6:42 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
updated 9:21 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
updated 9:19 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
updated 7:35 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
updated 4:53 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
updated 3:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
updated 11:58 AM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
updated 3:50 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
updated 4:52 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
updated 5:04 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
updated 5:45 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT