(The Center Square) – The Committee of Homeland Security Subcommittee on Transportation and Maritime Security held a hearing on Tuesday concerning security threats in the Arctic Region.
The U.S. is one of eight countries with territory above the arctic circle. Russia also has territory in the area.
Historically, both Japan in World War II and the Soviet Union during the Cold War sought U.S. arctic territory for strategic purposes. The U.S. has cited the arctic region as a potential entry point for Russian nuclear missiles and therefore crucial to protect.
“For the past decade the Russian military has been building up its capabilities in the arctic, including its fleet of heavy icebreakers,” Chair Carlos Gimenez, R-Fla., said at the hearing.
Gimenez cited Putin’s continued push for using the Northern Sea Route as an alternative to the Suez Canal to allow faster trade between Europe and Asia. He also mentioned Putin’s progressive noncompliance with other arctic states after the invasion of Ukraine.
“The arctic has never been more essential to America’s national security,” said Rep. Shri Thanedar, D-Mich. “Unfortunately, the Coast Guard’s icebreaking capabilities are outmatched by our enemies, and rising threats from China and Russia pose a serious risk to American prosperity and security.”
The U.S. currently has only 2 polar ice breaker ships in their fleet. The Russian government has roughly 36 in their arsenal, with an extra 15 being owned by private entities.
China has also expressed interest in the arctic area in recent years, writing out a 5,500-word arctic strategy in 2018, including entering the territory “for the common interests for all countries, law-based governance, climate change, and sustainable developments.”
The Chinese have 2 polar ice breakers despite not owning any territory above the arctic circle.
Gimenez said that one of the reasons for China’s interest in the arctic may be for fishing purposes.
“They are raping the oceans,” Gimenez said about China’s overfishing activities. “My concern would be that they are trying to do the same in the arctic region.”
Thanedar requested Congress to approve “robust funding” for new polar ice cutters and other budget increases for the Coast Guard to help maintain national security in the arctic.
One of two large ships funded for the Coast Guard has been delayed repeatedly, from an expected 2024 delivery to a now estimated 2028 at the earliest before being fully operational.
Witnesses on the hearing said that the U.S. would need about eight more ships compared to their current two to compete with China and Russia’s growing influence in the area.