The United States’ Arctic infrastructure is severely lacking – as is meaningful policy discussion concerning its development. Amid steadily growing opportunities, activity, and vessel traffic in the region, this situation is becoming increasingly untenable. Current Arctic capabilities are unable to accommodate domestic pursuits, ensure their safety and security, protect the environment, or uphold international responsibilities.
Growing activity in Arctic waters is being spurred by the forces of climate change, which are exposing the region’s considerable resources. These include: massive energy reserves, fisheries, and sea-lanes that offer significantly reduced shipping distances and costs. Such opportunities are enticing Arctic ventures and vessel traffic, and more ships and cargo translate into a greater need for infrastructure and higher risk of accidents. Unfortunately, however, the Coast Guard reports that “there is very limited infrastructure” in the American Arctic.
Government action to remedy this deficiency has thus far failed to materialize. President Obama’s recent actions seek to enhance the coordination of U.S. Arctic activities and protect the environment, but present no concrete plans for improving the country’s physical presence or competences in the region.
Pundits have similarly failed to adequately address the situation and focus almost exclusively on the broad debate over Arctic extraction versus conservation. Certainly, this is an important discussion, but the region will ultimately experience a mixture of these approaches. Portions will be open to industry while others are protected. Regardless, any Arctic policy is only as good as the resources and capabilities backing it. No course is viable without significant upgrades in infrastructure.
Picture: Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons