On Friday, Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov announced that his country would create two brigades to station in the Arctic, possibly in Murmansk or Arkanghelsk. He stated, “The location will be determined, as well as weapons, numbers and infrastructure for the brigades.” Serdyukov’s announcement reflected Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s intentions in the Arctic, recently publicized in a United Russia meeting. He announced, “We are open for a dialogue with our foreign partners and with all our neighbors in the Arctic region, but of course, we will defend our own geopolitical interests firmly and consistently.” In order to do that, Russia will have to establish a stronger military presence – something that Norway, Finland, Sweden, and Canada are all doing as well. All of the states have been engaged in both bilateral dialogues – (see Norway and Russia’s agreement to delineate the maritime boundary between their two states) and multilateral dialogues (see the recent signing of the Search and Rescue Agreement at the 7th Ministerial Meeting of the Arctic Council) while they strengthen their hard power in the Arctic.
Yesterday, Canadian Defense Minister Peter MacKay announced that 1,000 troops will soon be on their way to Baffin and Ellesmere Islands in northern Canada. Operation Nanook has been an annual exercise since 2007, but this will be the largest exercise in the region to date. As in years past, members of the navy, army, air force, special forces, and Canadian Rangers will participate. You can read about past exercises here. MacKay stated,
“All of this is very much about enlarging the footprint and the permanent and seasonal presence we have in the North. It is something that we as a government intend to keep investing in.”
At least four out of the Arctic Five seem occupied with building and maintaining their military presences in order to defend their sovereignty and resources. The U.S., however, is falling behind. At the fourth-annual Symposium on the Impacts of an Ice-Diminishing Arctic on Naval and Maritime Operations in Washington D.C., Alaska Senators Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich both underscored the need for a stronger federal role in shaping Arctic policy. In her speech, Murkowski argued:
“I have to tell you, it is frustrating to see the United States struggling so mightily with our economy and the present fiscal environment while the other Arctic nations are moving forward with significant investments in the region.”
The U.S. has made progress in that it now views the Arctic as strategic, but it has not done much in the way of investing or building new infrastructure, as the other countries have. Murkowski continued:
“I believe there is widespread agreement that U.S. policy has recognized the strategic importance of the Arctic to the national and economic security of the country, but we are doing very little to increase our capability to implement our policies. Beyond Russia, the other Arctic nations are also investing in infrastructure for energy development and maritime commerce, and much of this investment is from international companies in partnership with Arctic states. Given the lack of infrastructure in the Alaskan Arctic, it is crucial to promote this type of investment.”
The Russian Bear is not reasserting itself in the Arctic. Instead, it is acting in line with its northern neighbors in a place where defense, much more than offense, is the name of the game, and the U.S. is sitting on the sidelines.
“Russia to deploy troops to defend resources in the Arctic,” Wall Street Journal
“On final Afghan visit, MacKay unveils major Arctic operation,” Montreal Gazette
“Our view: Arctic frontier,” Anchorage Daily News