While some defense pundits push narratives of a seemingly inevitable conflict in the South Pacific, the United States is quietly changing the way it postures for future operations in the Arctic. Is this a moot contingency or a strategic shift to great power competition across the last frontier? The 2017 National Security Strategy and multiple service-level initiatives suggest the latter. With record sea ice melt and the forging of unprecedented trade routes in the region, freedom of navigation and securing global commerce will be critical.1 And the discovery of natural resources appraised in the trillions—most notably, an estimated 13 percent of the global oil reserves and 30 percent of natural gas—will lend itself to immense resource competition among the world’s most powerful nations.2 The United States cannot afford to leave the global commons of the Arctic unprotected.
1. Nicolas LePan, “The Final Frontier: How Arctic Ice Melting Is Opening Up Trade Opportunities,” World Economic Forum, 13 February 2020.
2. U.S. Energy Information Administration, “Arctic Oil and Natural Gas Resources,” 20 January 2012.
3. Gen David H. Berger, USMC, Commandant’s Planning Guidance: 38th Commandant of the Marine Corps (Washington, DC: Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, July 2019), 17.
4. Berger, Commandant’s Planning Guidance, 17
5. Department of the Navy, A Blue Arctic: A Strategic Blueprint for the Arctic (Washington, DC: Headquarters, U.S. Navy, January 2021), 13.
6. Christopher Woody, “As the U.S. Military Prepares for a Potential Showdown with Russia, the Navy’s Explosive Experts Are Clearing a Path North,” Business Insider, September 2019.
7. Berger, Commandant’s Planning Guidance, 17.
8. 1st Lt. Walker D. Mills, USMC, “Terrain Matters: Training and Basing in Alaska,” Modern War Institute, February 2019.
9. Ben Werner, “Navy, Marines Tell Congress Emphasis on Arctic Is Growing,” USNI News, 5 March 2020.
10. Berger, Commandant’s Planning Guidance, 5.
11. Phil Athey, “Biggest Exercise of a Lifetime? 2nd Marine Division to Conduct Largest Unscripted Training in Decades,” Marine Corps Times, October 2019.