The writing is on the glacier wall for the Arctic. “Polar issues” are here to stay, and the region’s growing geopolitical significance presents both opportunities and threats. It is imperative the United States continues to invest in Arctic capabilities—and the focal point of this investment should be a U.S. Arctic Command (ArcticCom). A new combatant command (CoCom) will ensure a coherent national strategy and unity of effort in meeting emerging challenges above the Arctic Circle. The Coast Guard is the military service best suited to lead such a command, but it will require a new Coast Guard four-star admiral billet to serve as ArcticCom’s commander.
What’s at Stake
The value of access to the Arctic has been well documented. The Northern Sea Route is beginning to change international shipping and tourism. The region may be awash with hydrocarbon reserves—as much as 90 billion barrels of oil, 1,669 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, and 44 billion barrels of natural gas liquids.1 Minerals, too, exist in plenty—manganese, copper, nickel, cobalt, diamonds, gold, and others—not to mention untapped fishing resources.
1. ADM David Gove, USN, “Arctic Melt: Reopening a Naval Frontier,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 135, no. 2 (February 2009): 16–21.
2. Joseph Trevithick, “Three Russian Ballistic Missile Submarines Just Surfaced through the Arctic Ice Together,” The War Zone, 26 March 2021.
3. Anne-Marie Brady, China as a Polar Great Power (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2017), 65.
4. Brady, China as a Polar Great Power, 3; Rebecca Hersman, Eric Brewer, and Maxwell Simon, “Deep Dive Debrief: Strategic Stability and Competition in the Arctic,” CSIS Briefs, 6 January 2021, 2.
5. Andrew Feickert, “The Unified Command Plan and Combatant Commands: Background and Issues for Congress,” Congressional Research Service, 3 January 2013.
6. Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, USAF, United States European Command Theater Strategy, Department of Defense, October 2015.
7. Kimberly Underwood, “New Leader Takes Over Space Command,” Signal, 21 August 2020.
8. The White House, National Security Presidential Directive and Homeland Security Presidential Directive: NSPD-66/HSPD-25, 9 January 2009.
9. Department of Homeland Security, Polar Icebreaking Recapitalization Project Mission Need Statement, 28 June 2013, 9.
10. Ronald O’Rourke, Coast Guard Polar Security Cutter (Polar Icebreaker) Program, Congressional Research Service, 14 January 2021, 7.
11. U.S. Congress, H.R.4188—Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2015, 8 February 2016.
12. Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis, “Press Conference by Secretary Mattis and Sen. Sullivan in Alaska,” 26 June 2018.