Often the debates that take place in these pages are over force structure or procurement plans, over ship architecture or the role of ethics in leadership. But sometimes we like to expand the lens to foster more of a big-picture, geopolitical discussion. Such is the case in this issue, with a thought-provoking offering from retired Marine Corps Reserve Lieutenant Colonel Frank G. Hoffman, a frequent Proceedings contributor, and coauthor Ryan Neuhard.
Since the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, many observers predicted that warfare would be consigned to the dustbin of history, along with communism and the Warsaw Pact. Indeed, many readers no doubt recall the heady talk of a “peace dividend” during the early 1990s. This thinking has continued with the so-called “New Peace Theory” that has gained cachet in recent years. Its proponents assert that trends indicate an ever-advancing march toward a world in which warfare grows increasingly rare. But Lieutenant Colonel Hoffman and Mr. Neuhard serve up a contrarian take on this view. We must “resist the shallow notion that U.S. security interests are tied to the number of ongoing wars,” they warn. “Our security challenges are defined by our strategic objectives, including deterrence and supporting our allies and treaty obligations.” The authors unpack the data and take a cold, hard look at current and likely future realities, concluding that the reports of war’s demise have been greatly (and dangerously) exaggerated.
One region that could easily become a global hotspot also happens to be one of the coldest places on Earth: the Arctic. As a “shared space” that is immensely resource-rich and brimming with greater potential for human activity with each passing year, the Arctic is an area where all the various stakeholder-nations have a vested interest in cooperative arrangements. With the United States now at the helm of the Arctic Council, National War College Professor David P. Auerswald presents a timely and clear-eyed look at the Machiavellian pitfalls that exist behind the veneer of international cooperation in the emerging North. Is the United States really prepared for a more fully engaged Arctic presence? Are we being as proactive as, say, Russia? Dr. Auerswald worries that our official Arctic-policy guiding documents are long on generalities and woefully short on specifics.
As ice in the Arctic continues to recede, each of the eight founding Arctic Council members—Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and the United States—have adopted official Arctic strategies. Lieutenant Commander David C. Sandomir breaks down the primary considerations of both Arctic and non-Arctic nations, and notes that “At the peak of the Cold War, the Arctic was considered one of the most militarized areas of the world. . . .” Despite a post-Cold War “thaw,” many countries have much to gain from access to the Arctic’s shipping lanes and resources, and Russia in particular has “signaled much more direct militarism” in the region. To prevent military conflict, the author recommends standing up a “collective defense and security engagement platform that is joint, multinational, and interagency, which could serve as an all-resource institution for managing security matters in the Arctic.”
If we’re to keep pace with the activities of other Arctic nations, we’ll need more assets capable of deploying there. For all the missions the U.S. Coast Guard’s “fleet” of polar icebreakers completes successfully year in and year out, few people appreciate—at least from the outside looking in—that only two of them are operating, one in each hemisphere, north and south. But retired Coast Guard Captain Lawson Brigham, a veteran icebreaker skipper and respected expert on the topic, sees some light at the end of the U.S. polar-operations tunnel. After pointing out President Barack Obama’s recent engagement on Arctic issues, punctuated by a September visit to Alaska, Captain Brigham details the past year’s achievements of the two U.S. icebreakers and notes that several federal agencies are large enough stakeholders that they should find room in their budgets to help finance a new ship in the future. Only time will tell whether that proposal comes to fruition.
But a viable Arctic capability will require more than ships. How would we respond to maritime or environmental disasters in the region? Naval Institute Board Chair Admiral James Stavridis, dean of the Fletcher School at Tufts University, and Professor Paul Berkman, who teaches science diplomacy there, propose that an internationally sponsored crisis-response platform be built in the Chukchi Sea, a crossroads of the traditional Arctic routes that will be ice-free longer throughout any given year if current trends are any indication. With the inevitable increase in traffic will come risks and hazards that will need to be addressed, and the authors contend that their idea may be a good place to start.
Paul Merzlak, Editor-in-Chief