An Arctic presence grows more important for U.S. and its partners


The challenges facing the Arctic have come into greater focus as the region becomes an arena of strategic competition over its natural resources. A number of conferences addressed Arctic issues in 2021 — from perspectives ranging from those of the U.S. military and its partners to the scholarly and diplomatic. Here, in a first installment, The Watch presents excerpts of some of those insights. (Pictured: U.S. Army Soldiers train north of the Arctic Circle.)

James P. DeHart | Coordinator for the Arctic Region, U.S. Department of State

DeHart spoke on “Managing Security Through Diplomacy” during a November 17, 2021, Arctic eTalk. He was asked about Russia’s view of non-Arctic state China asserting itself in the region. The eTalks are a bimonthly virtual forum on key issues affecting the Arctic. The co-hosts include U.S. Northern Command and The Watch magazine. The eight Arctic states and members of the Arctic Council are Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Russia and the United States.

“I think Moscow was a little bit conflicted about China and the Arctic. I think on the one hand they want … to get to the hydrocarbons [such as natural gas] as fast as they can, and they seem to need Chinese investment in order to do that. At the same time, I think they’re sort of at the baseline, they’re not comfortable with China’s presence in any way in the Arctic region. They’re even more uncomfortable, I think, with China’s interest in taking part in Arctic governance, whatever that means. And they would be extremely uncomfortable, I think, with any sort of expanded Chinese military presence in the region. And so, you know, in that sense, we do have some … alignment of interest, I guess, with Russia in keeping the Arctic Council very strong.”

Anniken Ramberg Krutnes | Norways ambassador to the U.S.

Krutnes also has served as her country’s ambassador for Arctic and Antarctic Affairs. She spoke at the 2021 Arctic Symposium, which was held November 3-4 in collaboration with the U.S. Marine Corps University, Marine Corps Command and Staff College and the Norwegian Defence University College.

Krutnes pointed out that 10% of Norwegians live in the Arctic and it is more than “ice and polar bears and just vast areas of land with no people.” She noted that the city of Tromsø — with universities, restaurants, nightlife and 5G wireless network — is well north of the Arctic Circle. It also has a “warmer climate at this latitude than you would have in Alaska” and ice-free waters because of the Gulfstream. “My point is that the Arctic is not one place. The Arctic is huge and so diversified.”

Kenneth Braithwaite II | Former U.S. secretary of the Navy, former U.S. ambassador to Norway

Braithwaite also spoke during the 2021 Arctic Symposium. He addressed Russia’s buildup of military capabilities in the region and said the U.S. is at a crucial point in history for recognizing the importance of the Arctic and asserting leadership. 

“Twenty-one percent of the undiscovered oil resources reside above the Arctic circle. Twenty-eight percent of undiscovered natural gas, 1.5 to 2 trillion in rare-earth minerals. And that’s only along the Russian border — not to take in Canada, United States, Norway, Finland, Sweden and Iceland.

“So, you ask yourself from our perspective, why has Russia and more recently China pivoted to the High North? Is it because of the natural resources? Is it because of the strategic chokepoints that allow us to move our goods throughout the world?

“America has a responsibility as a leader of the free world to be present in the Arctic to ensure freedom of the seas in the Arctic, to ensure that it remains the peaceful place that it has historically been.”

Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Douglas Clark | Deputy commander and chief of staff for the NATO Joint Warfare Center

Clark spoke at the 2021 Arctic Symposium about Norway’s importance as a U.S. partner and NATO member as well as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s use of hybrid warfare tactics in Europe.

“We have to be very, very careful with our rhetoric as Americans and understand that Norway is neighbor to Russia. Think about every neighbor you’ve ever had, and the last thing in the world you want to do is fight with your next-door neighbor. … That’s the perspective Norway deals with every day.”