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National Security and the Arctic: Deterrence of Russian Influences in the Arctic Ocean

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National Security and the Arctic: Deterrence of Russian Influences in the Arctic Ocean

Lex Oren

Background

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. 

International Interest in the Arctic

There are eight Arctic States across the seven seas. These include the Russian Federation, which has the longest Arctic coast of any state, whose coastline reaches its border with Norway east to the Bering Strait. Additionally, Denmark, by way of its territorial sovereignty over Greenland, followed by Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Canada and the United States by Alaska (figure I) make up the Arctic States. These eight member states represent the Arctic Council which is the leading intergovernmental forum. This council promotes cooperation, coordination, and interaction among the Arctic States, indigenous communities and other Arctic inhabitants on common Arctic issues, in particular in matters of sustainable development and environmental protection in the Arctic.[vi]

1

Arctic Region Map [vii]

Russia’s interest in the Arctic can be grouped into four categories: economics, security, transportation, and development.[viii] Additionally, the creation of new sea lanes will create more efficient connections between Asia and the Atlantic Ocean. These newly created sea lines of communication (SLOC) have the potential for global gains in transportation, commercial shipping, and military posturing. As an Arctic nation, Vladimir Putin has renewed Russian attention to the Northern Sea Routes (NSR), as part of a “national economic strategy that marked the end of the decline and a new vision of the NSR as a core component of Russia’s economic development strategy in a statement on board the nuclear icebreaker Arktika, August 2000.[ix]  Seven years later in August 2007, “the world reacted with consternation as Russia planted a flag beneath the ice of the North Pole, symbolizing the Kremlin’s claim to the Arctic with its vast mineral resources, and firing the starting gun on the world’s last colonial scramble.”[x]  The Kremlins’ actions demonstrated that Russia is going to assert its sovereignty and influence within the Arctic region, and that there are voids associated in the knowledge and application of Arctic security. These vacancies in security are relevant because the U.S. does have an identity as an Arctic Nation, albeit not a common viewpoint in everyday discussions within the civilian or military population. [xi]

For the United States to contend in the gray zone with Russia, a high degree of statesmanship will be required. Governing bodies in Congress, the Department of State, and the Department of Defense must adhere to a firm stance thus indicating the red line of tolerance the U.S. will accept. However, before America launches its countermeasures to deter or compete in the gray zone, a grand strategic policy should be adopted with clearly identified ends that are nested with American values and have the support of the civilian population.  Russia’s ambiguous actions are threats to the Western Hemisphere. Thus, it is vital to understand the gray zone and how to combat the aggression, while preventing an escalation of military power projection that can be viewed as acts of war.[xii]

The U.S. Geological Survey has projected that over 60 percent of the total natural resources, equivalent to about 412 billion barrels of oil are located in Russian territory, with only a small percentage onshore or inside the exclusive economic zone EEZ).[xiii] Due to the melting polar ice, opportunities are becoming more abundant for acquiring these natural resources, reminiscent of the land grab in the western territories of the United States in the 19th century. It is evident, by the sheer size of Russia’s Arctic naval capabilities that they are becoming an immense rimland coastal power.[xiv]

New sea lines of communication, access to natural resources and power projection into the Western Hemisphere provide strategic value to northern expansion. The benefit of Russia’s limited access to the high seas practically forced Moscow to look to the north for sea routes. To ensure Russian dominance in the Arctic, the Russian Navy and Coastal Border Guard are robust in comparison to other Arctic nations. The Coastal Border Guard, comparable to those of similar services in the Western Hemisphere, is responsible for observing maritime activities along the coast and in the Exclusive Economic Zone and for imposing national laws and regulations.[xv] The EEZ recognizes the right of coastal states to exploit, develop, manage, and conserve all resources found in the water, seabed, and seabed subsoil in an area extending two hundred nautical miles from its shore.[xvi]

To compliment the Coastal Border Guard, the Northern Sea Route (NSR) depends on powerful icebreakers to open routes through the ice and to escort shipping all year long. Russia has six nuclear icebreakers, four of the heavy Arktika class and two of the shallow-draft Taymyr class that maintain the NSR, and significant Russian commercial enterprises have begun acquiring their icebreaking cargo ships.[xvii] In contrast, the United States currently has only two heavy ice breakers that are resources of the U.S. Coast Guard, an element of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). They are the Polar Star and the Polar Sea, both of which have exceeded their 30-year life expectancy. Significantly, one of the two vessels has not been in a working status since 2010, thus limiting the U.S. to only one critical asset, the Polar Star.[xviii] Fortuitously the Coast Guard, in collaboration with the U.S. Navy anticipates a $9.827 Billion acquisition over the next 30 years.[xix]

Governance and Disputes

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) was agreed upon and concluded in 1982, establishing the lawful governance of the Arctic. The Ilulissat Declaration of 2008 pledges the five Arctic coastal states (the Russian Federation, Canada, Norway, Denmark, and the United States) to resolve matters and disputes through diplomatic channels.[xx] Interestingly, there is a lack of an enforcement mechanism to prevent the Russian Arctic expansion;[xxi] albeit communication and collaboration have taken place amongst the Arctic states on environmental issues and search and rescue operations.

Another matter related explicitly to the Western Hemisphere is the relationship between the U.S. and Canada. Canada and the United States have a consolidated command structure at the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) that demonstrates our ability to work together for a common goal. However, Canada asserts its national rights regarding the Northwest Passage, parts of which fall under Canadian jurisdiction according to Canada but not according to the United States.[xxii] This display of argumentative political rhetoric is an example of one aspect that Russia can exploit. It is in the interest of the North American countries and Greenland to have a united front in the Arctic to dispel any notations of weakness in their resolve.

Climate Change

“Climate change” refers to a set of physical phenomena and constitutes a public policy issue, sometimes also referred to as “global warming” even though climate change involves much more than warming.[xxiii] The U.S. Global Change Research Program and the National Research Council have made scientific based statements concerning climate change, two of which are particularly relevant to this article. The first is that Arctic sea ice, warmer and more frequent hot days and nights, rising sea levels and widespread ocean acidification have been occurring over the past several decades and second, “human-induced climate change and its impacts will continue for many decades, and in some cases for many centuries.”[xxiv] These points are relevant for the reason that academic institutions confirm the Arctic seas are affected by warming temperatures and that the end of this phenomenon is nowhere in sight.

The inaction of the U.S. and its allies to increase their presence in the Arctic will open the door for Russia to enhance military operations in the Arctic seas. Threats to national security from international migration, overfishing of the waters, loss of habitat, environmental pollution, new commercial sea routes and foreign military basing can be linked to climate change and is a concern for military planners operating in the strategic domain. 

Moreover, the variance between confirmation and denial of climate change likely stifles the demand for military presence by the U.S. governing bodies and their constituents. In this instance, the common phrase “ignorance is bliss” may lead to the need for more significant national defense in the future. Social indicators have led groups to study how the media impacts awareness of climate change. The average layperson bases his knowledge of climate change on social media and news outlets. The source of information is not from climate scientists directly, but rather to intermediary sources, predominately in the mass media, that present data and opinions in language and graphics that are easy to comprehend.[xxv] Accurate or not, media reports influence people’s thoughts and feelings.[xxvi] The U.S. government has a need to leverage scientific evidence with the will of the people to generate the need for increased resources and funding to combat climate change and enhance national security.

Department of Defense and Global Integration

The National Security Strategy (NSS) published from the White House sets the groundwork for the overarching grand strategy or policy of the United States Government. Subsequent is the Unified Command Plan (UCP), guidance from the President assigning areas of responsibility (AOR).[xxvii] The President has appointed command of the Arctic maritime AOR to the dual-hatted United States Northern Command (USNORTHCOM) and NORAD commanding General. NORAD has the mission to provide maritime warnings in the North American hemisphere.[xxviii] The USNORTHCOM combatant commander issues the Combatant Commander Campaign Plans (CCP) in a coordinated effort with Canada’s command authority.

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS) is designated by Title 10 authority as the Global Integrator.[xxix] In this capacity, he is authorized to identify the primary and supporting Geographic Combatant Commands (GCC) across geographic limits to enable unified actions and the joint force. The Arctic currently shares borders with the geographic boundaries of USNORTHCOM and United States European Command (USEURCOM). These GCC also border the United States Indo-Pacific Command (USINDOPACOM) which due to its joining boundaries and sheer size is a potential supporting GCC to the Arctic operations (The defense.gov map in Figure II).

2

Geographic Combatant Command Areas of Responsibility [xxx]

Conclusion

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 Arctic activities. As Russia increases its influence, it is in the interest of the United States and its Allies to ensure Western competition counters or denies unabated access to Arctic waters within its strategic area of interest. The amount of land and water that is consistently unobserved constitutes a threat to the security of the Western Hemisphere and will require a globally integrated approach with supporting combatant commands. It is also in the interest of the U.S. to solidify disputed territorial boundaries with Canada to have internationally recognized territorial waters undisputed with neighboring countries. Failure to present a unified effort to deter Russia will be viewed as a weakness of the global communities and may lead to more significant acts of aggression. “If the United States takes no action, its political system, credibility, and influence, among other things, will remain under constant subversive attack”.[xxxi]

End Notes


[i] O’Rourke. “Definitions of the Arctic.” 2016. Congressional Research Service: Report, March, 1–4. http://search.ebscohost.com.nduezproxy.idm.oclc.org/login.aspx?direct=true&db=tsh&AN=114155345&site=eds-live&scope=site.

[ii] Ssi.armywarcollege.edu. (2019). Deterring Russia in the Gray Zone. [online] Available at: https://ssi.armywarcollege.edu/pubs/display.cfm?pubID=1407 [Accessed 19 Jun. 2019].

[iii] Ssi.armywarcollege.edu. (2019). Deterring Russia in the Gray Zone. [online] Available at: https://ssi.armywarcollege.edu/pubs/display.cfm?pubID=1407 [Accessed 19 Jun. 2019].

[iv] Mandsager, Dennis. The U.S. Freedom of Navigation Program: Policy, Procedure, and Future, in THE LAW OF MILITARY OPERATIONS: LIBER AMICORUM PROFESSOR JACK GRUNAWALT 113, 116 (Michael N. Schmitt ed., 1998); see also ROACH & SMITH, supra note 14, at 3–4, 8–9.

[v] GEN Dunford to Congress, the 2020 Defense Budget Request, 8 May 2019, C-SPAN telecast.

[vi] O’Rourke, Ronald, Laura B. Comay, M. Lynne Corn, Peter Folger, John Frittelli, Marc Humphries, Jane A. Leggett, and Jonathan L. Ramseur. 2015. “Changes in the Arctic: Background and Issues for Congress.” Congressional Research Service: Report, December, 1–108.https://nduezproxy.idm.oclc.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=tsh&AN=112027381&site=eds-live&scope=site.

[vii] CIA Maps, Arctic Region Map, 1:39,000,000.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/ciagov/30849229476/ in/album-72157672693466384/

[viii] Antrim, Caitlyn L. "The Russian Arctic in the Twenty-First Century." Arctic Security in an Age of Climate Change: 107-28. doi:10.1017/cbo9780511994784.008.

[ix] Antrim, Caitlyn L. "The Russian Arctic in the Twenty-First Century." Arctic Security in an Age of Climate Change: 107-28. doi:10.1017/cbo9780511994784.008.

[x] Sale, Richard, and E. Potapov. The Scramble for the Arctic: Ownership, Exploitation and Conflict in the Far North. London: Frances Lincoln, 2010.

[xi]  O’Rourke, Ronald, Laura B. Comay, M. Lynne Corn, Peter Folger, John Frittelli, Marc Humphries, Jane A. Leggett, and Jonathan L. Ramseur. 2015. “Changes in the Arctic: Background and Issues for Congress.” Congressional Research Service: Report, December, 1–108.https://nduezproxy.idm.oclc.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=tsh&AN=112027381&site=eds-live&scope=site.

[xii] David Lee, ed., Law of Armed Conflict Deskbook, 5th Ed., Charlottesville, VA: The Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School, U.S. Army, 2015, available from http://www.loc.gov/rr/frd/Military_Law/pdf/LOAC-Deskbook-2015.pdf.

[xiii] Kenneth J. Bird et al., Circum-Arctic Resource Appraisal: Estimates of Undiscovered    Oil and Gas North of the Arctic Circle,  USGS Fact Sheet 2008-3049 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Geological Survey, 2008).

[xiv] Rynning, Sten. 2013. “Arctic Security Order: Collective Security, Collective Defense, or Something     New?” Journal of Military & Strategic Studies 15 (2): 1–15. http://search.ebscohost.com.nduezproxy.idm.oclc.org/login.aspx?direct=true&db=tsh&AN=95745769&site=eds-live&scope=site.

[xv] Antrim, Caitlyn L. "The Russian Arctic in the Twenty-First Century." Arctic Security in an Age of Climate Change: 107-28. doi:10.1017/cbo9780511994784.008.

[xvi] KORGER, NICK1,2. “Going Boldly Where No Country Has Gone Before: Unclos and the Russian Federation’s Claim to the Arctic Circle.” Wisconsin International Law Journal 34, no. 3 (Spring 2017): 731–54. http://search.ebscohost.com.nduezproxy.idm.oclc.org/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ofs&AN=123129212&site=eds-live&scope=site.

[xvii] Antrim, Caitlyn L. "The Russian Arctic in the Twenty-First Century." Arctic Security in an Age of Climate Change: 107-28. doi:10.1017/cbo9780511994784.008.

[xviii] O’Rourke, Ronald, Laura B. Comay, M. Lynne Corn, Peter Folger, John Frittelli, Marc Humphries, Jane A. Leggett, and Jonathan L. Ramseur. 2015. “Changes in the Arctic: Background and Issues for Congress.” Congressional Research Service: Report, December, 1–108.https://nduezproxy.idm.oclc.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=tsh&AN=112027381&site=eds-live&scope=site.

[xix] Mak, Marie A. 2018. "COAST GUARD ACQUISITIONS: Addressing Key Risks is Important to Success of Polar Icebreaker Program." GAO Reports: 1-14. https://nduezproxy.idm.oclc.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com.nduezproxy.idm.oclc.org/login.aspx?direct=true&db=buh&AN=133277464&site=eds-live&scope=site.

[xx] The Ilulissat Declaration, Arctic Ocean Conference, Ilulissat, Greenland, 28 May 2008, available at www.oceanlaw.org/downloads/arctic/Ilulissat_Declaration.pdf

[xxi] See Eric Poser, The New Race for the Arctic, WALL ST. J. (Aug. 3, 2007, 12:01 AM ET), http://www.wsj.ccm/articles/SB118610915886687045.

[xxii] Rynning, Sten. 2013. “Arctic Security Order: Collective Security, Collective Defense, or Something     New?” Journal of Military & Strategic Studies 15 (2): 1–15. http://search.ebscohost.com.nduezproxy.idm.oclc.org/login.aspx?direct=true&db=tsh&AN=95745769&site=eds-live&scope=site.

[xxiii] Weber, Elke U., and Paul C. Stern. “Public Understanding of Climate Change in the United States.” American Psychologist, Psychology and Global Climate Change, 66, no. 4 (May 2011): 315–28. doi:10.1037/a0023253.

[xxiv] National Research Council. (2010a). Advancing the science of climate change. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

[xxv] Soroka, S. (2002). Issue attributes and agenda-setting by media, the public, and policy makers in Canada. International Journal of Public Opinion Research, 14, 264–285. doi:10.1093/ijpor/14.3.264

[xxvi] Krosnick, J. A., & Kinder, D. R. (1990). Altering the foundations of support for the President through priming. American Political Science Review, 84, 497–512. doi:10.2307/1963531

[xxvii] The Joint Staff Officer’s Guide. Joint Forces Staff College. Accessed June 19, 2019. http://search.ebscohost.com.nduezproxy.idm.oclc.org/login.aspx?direct=true&db=cat04199a&AN=ndu.721057&site=eds-live&scope=site.

[xxviii] Peterson Zachary M. 2006. "Norad Beginning to Develop Plan for New Maritime Warning Mission." Inside the Pentagon's Inside Missile Defense 12 (14): 9.

[xxix] The Joint Staff Officer’s Guide. Joint Forces Staff College. Accessed June 19, 2019. http://search.ebscohost.com.nduezproxy.idm.oclc.org/login.aspx?direct=true&db=cat04199a&AN=ndu.721057&site=eds-live&scope=site.

[xxx] U.S. Department of Defense, Unified Campaign Plan. 1:60,000,000. https://archive.defense.gov/ucc/

[xxxi] Ssi.armywarcollege.edu. (2019). Deterring Russia in the Gray Zone. [online] Available at: https://ssi.armywarcollege.edu/pubs/display.cfm?pubID=1407 [Accessed 19 Jun. 2019].

Categories: Russia

About the Author(s)

Major Lex Oren is currently serving as the Operations Officer for the 391st Engineer Battalion in Greenville, SC. He is the recipient of a direct commission. He has earned a BS in Exercise Science from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in 2007 and a MS in Education in 2008. Prior to his current assignment, MAJ Oren served as the Division Engineer for the 807th Medical Command (Deployment Support). He is a graduate of the Command and General Staff Officers Course, the Reserve Component National Security Course, the University of Foreign Military and Cultural Studies. This paper is the individual work of MAJ Lex Oren, USAR, (JCWS-H 19-2B). No one else assisted with the creation of this work. Connect on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/lex-oren-m-ed-0349a0b3 or follow on Twitter @oren_lex