As the only US Service that combines both military and civil authorities, the Coast Guard is uniquely suited to address the interjurisdictional challenges of today’s strategic environment by modeling acceptable behavior, building regional capacity, and strengthening organizations that foster transparency and good governance across the Arctic,
From 2006 to 2018, satellite imagery observed the 12 lowest Arctic ice extents on record. This has led to greater access through Arctic shipping routes. While the near-term future of these routes is uncertain, a polar route has the potential to reduce transit times of traditional shipping routes by up to two weeks.
Since the release of the Coast Guard Arctic Strategy in 2013, the resurgence of nation-state competition has coincided with dramatic changes in the physical environment of the Arctic, which has elevated the region’s prominence as a strategically competitive space. Such changes include:
- Geostrategic Change: US' two nearest-peer powers, Russia and China, have both declared the region a national priority and made corresponding investments in capability and capacity to expand their influence in the region. For example, Russia’s establishment of a Northern Sea Route Administration, along with the use of high ice-class LNG tankers built specifically to export natural gas from its Yamal LNG facility, have contributed significantly to the increase in commercial shipping traffic in the Arctic.
- Environmental and Economic Change: The Arctic's role in geostrategic competition is growing, in large part, because it is no longer "self-secured" by permanent sea ice. The warming of the Arctic has led to longer and larger windows of reduced ice conditions.
- Uncertainty and Risk: While long-term trends point to a more consistently navigable Arctic, other environmental factors make it difficult to predict what the near-term conditions will be. Though the Arctic continues to lose increasing amounts of multiyear sea ice, the remaining ice is becoming less predictable. For example, heavy pack ice conditions rendered the Northwest Passage impassible for cruise ships in 2018, despite it being one of the warmest years on record.
With respect to the above, the Outlook cites the following principles to be adhered by USCG to seize the opportunities by the changing environment:
- Partnership. The Arctic is an exceptional place that demands collaboration across national boundaries. The Coast Guard will partner with the Arctic Nations, as well as partners and allies with Arctic interests, to contribute to keeping the Arctic a conflict-free region. The Service will continue to dedicate resources to forums, such as the Arctic Council, and to combined operations and exercises to safeguard and secure the Arctic domain. The unique and valuable relationship the Coast Guard has established with tribal entities builds mutual trust and improves mission capacity and readiness. We will continue to incorporate lessons-learned from engagements with Alaska Native communities, as well as industry and other Arctic residents, in the development and implementation of policy and strategy.
- Unity of Effort. The Coast Guard will advance the Nation’s strategic goals and priorities in the Arctic and exercise leadership across the Arctic community of federal, state, and local agencies. As a military Service, the Coast Guard will strengthen interoperability with the Department of Defense and complement the capabilities of the other military services to support the National Security Strategy and the National Military Strategy.
- A Culture of Continuous Innovation. The Coast Guard cannot meet the challenges of tomorrow’s Arctic with today’s paradigms. Rapid technological advancements within the maritime industry, combined with robust investments by strategic competitors, have raised the stakes. The Service must take this opportunity to leverage transformative technology and lead the employment of innovative policies to solve complex problems.
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