United States and The Arctic. An American Dilemma On Hold?


  • Niklas Granholm

Publish date: 2011-11-09

Report number: FOI-R--3286--SE

Pages: 34

Written in: Swedish


  • Arctic
  • United States
  • Alaska
  • oil
  • natural gas
  • icebreakers
  • congressional elections
  • US Navy
  • US Air Force
  • US Coast guard
  • Department of Defense
  • energy reserves
  • financial crisis
  • Trans-Alaskan Pipeline System
  • Beaufort sea
  • Bering strait
  • Northwest passage
  • Canada
  • SSBN
  • Unified Command Plan
  • Task Force Climate Change
  • Center for Naval Analyses
  • Joint Chiefs of Staff
  • Climate change.


The United States is one of the central actors in the emerging New Arctic. The increasing geopolitical importance of the region is a consequence of both changes in the regional setup and stronger links and increasing interest from the rest of the world. A development process is under way in the American policymaking system that has yet to be operationalised into a fully-fledged Arctic policy. Several reasons speak in favour of a more active US role in the Arctic. A number of factors are simultaneously changing and this will in turn act as input for consideration by US policymakers. Climate change in the Arctic, energy reserves in the region, overlapping territorial claims, military-strategic implications of missile defence development and the nuclear second-strike capability, other state and non-state actors increasing activities in the region and lastly environmental aspects are some of the significant indicators that the region will need more attention than before. Factors against a more active US engagement in the Arctic is the multitude of other issues and problems on the agenda; The Iraq and Afghanistan wars, anti-terrorism, the financial crisis and the US-China relationship are some of them. The development in the Arctic, however, is such that the current low level of engagement is becoming increasingly untenable. When the development reaches the point where the United States has to get seriously engaged in Arctic matters, there will only be limited advance warning. Four topics or areas are central to follow in the development of US Arctic policy: * The present shortage of capable heavy icebreakers will act as a kind of drogue. When a decision is made to finance and acquire a new class of heavy icebreakers, it will mark the beginning of more active US engagement in the Arctic. * The state of Alaska is a central factor in US Arctic policy development. Its geographical position, energy resources and political representatives in the US congress are all important in this respect. * In military-strategic terms, the Arctic is already a top-level issue. The updated military territorial areas of responsibilities for regional commanders and tasks recently announced by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recent studies by the Department of Defense and the studies undertaken by the US Navy are all indicators of this. * In foreign policy planning, the Arctic is well on its way to becoming a regular part of the US national planning process. As Arctic policy development increases, new initiatives, articles, memos, and policy documents of different types will be published. Taken together, following and analysing the issues outlined in this study can give advance indications of US intents vis-à-vis the Arctic.The United States is too big not to engage herself in the emerging new Arctic, even if the region at present has a hard time to compete with other items on the strategic agenda. When the US decides to act, the size, resources and modus operandi of the USA will affect the regional strategic pattern.