Skip to main content

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

By David M. Slayton and Mark E. Rosen
March 14, 2014 -- Updated 1224 GMT (2024 HKT)
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
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2311 GMT (0711 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2113 GMT (0513 HKT)
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
December 10, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 1740 GMT (0140 HKT)
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
The Internet is an online extension of our own neighborhoods. It's time for us to take their protection just as seriously, says Arun Vishwanath.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 2154 GMT (0554 HKT)
Gayle Lemmon says we must speak out for the right of children to education -- and peace
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1023 GMT (1823 HKT)
Russia's economic woes just seem to be getting worse. How will President Vladimir Putin respond? Frida Ghitis gives her take.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 0639 GMT (1439 HKT)
Australia has generally seen itself as detached from the threat of terrorism. The hostage incident this week may change that, writes Max Barry.
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 2020 GMT (0420 HKT)
Thomas Maier says the trove of letters the Kennedy family has tried to guard from public view gives insight into the Kennedy legacy and the history of era.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1456 GMT (2256 HKT)
Will Congress reform the CIA? It's probably best not to expect much from Washington. This is not the 1970s, and the chances for substantive reform are not good.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 2101 GMT (0501 HKT)
From superstorms to droughts, not a week goes by without a major disruption somewhere in the U.S. But with the right planning, natural disasters don't have to be devastating.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1453 GMT (2253 HKT)
Would you rather be sexy or smart? Carol Costello says she hates this dumb question.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 2253 GMT (0653 HKT)
A story about Pope Francis allegedly saying animals can go to heaven went viral late last week. The problem is that it wasn't true. Heidi Schlumpf looks at the discussion.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1550 GMT (2350 HKT)
Democratic leaders should wake up to the reality that the party's path to electoral power runs through the streets, where part of the party's base has been marching for months, says Errol Louis
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 2123 GMT (0523 HKT)
David Gergen: John Brennan deserves a national salute for his efforts to put the report about the CIA in perspective
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 1426 GMT (2226 HKT)
Anwar Sanders says that in some ways, cops and protesters are on the same side
December 11, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
A view by Samir Naji, a Yemeni who was accused of serving in Osama bin Laden's security detail and imprisoned for nearly 13 years without charge in Guantanamo Bay
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1738 GMT (0138 HKT)
S.E. Cupp asks: How much reality do you really want in your escapist TV fare?
December 11, 2014 -- Updated 1828 GMT (0228 HKT)
Rip Rapson says the city's 'Grand Bargain' saved pensions and a world class art collection by pulling varied stakeholders together, setting civic priorities and thinking outside the box
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 2310 GMT (0710 HKT)
Glenn Schwartz says the airing of the company's embarrassing emails might wake us up to the usefulness of talking in-person instead of electronically
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 2233 GMT (0633 HKT)
The computer glitch that disrupted air traffic over the U.K. on Friday was a nuisance, but not dangerous, says Les Abend
ADVERTISEMENT