Changes in the Arctic

The diminishment of Arctic sea ice has led to increased human activities in the Arctic, and has heightened interest in, and concerns about, the region’s future. The United States, by virtue of Alaska, is an Arctic country and has substantial interests in the region. The seven other Arctic states are Canada, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark (by virtue of Greenland), and Russia. Record low extents of Arctic sea ice over the past decade have focused scientific and policy attention on links to global climate change and projected ice-free seasons in the Arctic within decades. These changes have potential consequences for weather in the United States, access to mineral and biological resources in the Arctic, the economies and cultures of peoples in the region, and national security. The geopolitical environment for the Arctic has been substantially affected by the renewal of great power competition. Although there continues to be significant international cooperation on Arctic issues, the Arctic is increasingly viewed as an arena for geopolitical competition among the United States, Russia, and China. Russia in recent years has enhanced its military presence and operations in the Arctic. China’s growing activities in the Arctic have become a matter of increasing curiosity or concern among observers. U.S. military forces have begun to pay more attention to the Arctic in their planning and operations. The Department of Defense (DOD), the Navy, and the Coast Guard have all issued Arctic strategy documents in recent years. Whether DOD and the military services are adequately resourcing these strategies and taking appropriate and adequate actions for defending U.S. interests in the Arctic has emerged as a topic of debate and congressional oversight. The Coast Guard has two operational polar icebreakers and has received funding for the procurement of the first of three planned new polar icebreakers. The diminishment of Arctic ice could lead in coming years to increased commercial shipping on two trans-Arctic sea routes—the Northern Sea Route close to Russia, and the Northwest Passage close to Alaska and through the Canadian archipelago—though the rate of increase in the use of these routes might not be as great as sometimes anticipated in press accounts. International guidelines for ships operating in Arctic waters have been recently updated. Purchase this Volume