For years the Arctic's harsh environment has prevented countries from mining its rich natural resources and accessing prime shipping routes. But as the climate warms and thick barriers of ice continue to melt, the region is now becoming a hot spot for economic activity.
"The region has become an arena for power and for competition, and the eight Arctic states must adapt to this new future," Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said during remarks at the 11th Ministerial Meeting of the Arctic Council in May. "We're entering a new age of strategic engagement in the Arctic, complete with new threats to the Arctic and its real estate, and to all of our interests in that region." The council is an intergovernmental forum and its members include the United States, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia and Sweden.
The Defense Department's new Arctic Strategy, released in June, zeroes in on these threats, noting that Russia views itself as a "polar great power." Since the creation of Russia's Northern Fleet Joint Strategic Command in 2014, Moscow has ramped up its presence in the region with refurbished airfields, new military bases and a network of air-defense systems, according to the document.
"Russia's commercial investments in the Arctic region have been matched by continued defense investments and activities that strengthen both its territorial defense and its ability to control the" Northern Sea Route, the document said.
Although China has no territorial claims in the Arctic, it is looking to increase its presence in the region as well by declaring itself a "near Arctic state." The United States does not recognize this status, according to the strategy. By increasing its economic outreach, investments in strategic sectors and scientific activities, China hopes to gain access to natural resources and new sea routes.
"China and Russia pose discrete and different challenges in their respective theaters, but both are also pursuing activities and capabilities in the Arctic that may present risks to the homeland," the report said.
The Defense Department's strategy provides a broad idea of how it should bolster its military presence in the region. The strategic approach is based on building situational awareness, enhancing operations and strengthening the rules-based order.
"Within the context of [national defense strategy] implementation more broadly, DoD will continue to prepare and posture the joint force to ensure that the Arctic is a...