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Ground Truth Briefing | United States Coast Guard Arctic Strategic Outlook: Context, Perspective, and Insight

In this Ground Truth Briefing, a panel of Arctic experts from the Wilson Center’s Polar Institute and the United States Naval War College provide context, insight, and perspective on the USCG’s 2019 Arctic Strategic Outlook.

Date & Time

May. 3, 2019
1:00pm – 2:00pm ET


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On April 22, 2019 the United States Coast Guard released their much-anticipated Arctic Strategic Outlook. The release of the USCG’s “vision for the Arctic region” comes on the heels of news that Congress provided financial resources to build the first U.S. heavy Polar Icebreaker, now known as the Polar Security Cutter, in decades. And just one day after the report’s release, the Coast Guard announced VT Halter Marine Inc., of Pascagoula, Mississippi was awarded the contract to design and construct the nation’s newest Polar vessel.

This new guiding document sets forth three lines of effort crafted to support the USCG’s aspirational goal of American leadership in the Arctic: 1) Enhanced capability to operate effectively in a dynamic Arctic domain, 2) Strengthen the rules-based order, and 3) Innovate and adapt to promote resilience and prosperity.

In this Ground Truth Briefing, a panel of Arctic experts from the Wilson Center’s Polar Institute and the United States Naval War College provide context, insight, and perspective on the USCG’s 2019 Arctic Strategic Outlook.

Selected Quotes

Lawson Brigham

“The only thing missing is a robust discussion and language regarding the role of the polar security cutters, the nation’s polar ice breakers and research. Certainly, the ice breakers are a global asset for the United States both ends of the world. Just as an example, the Coast Guard cutter (Alex) Haley has crisscrossed the Arctic Ocean over the decade more than any other ice breaker in the world. So, the role of the ice breaker fleet, polar security fleet and the nation’s research should be really emphasized more.”

“The drivers are not only climate change but globalization of the place in terms of relationship of natural resource development in the Arctic and the carriage of those resources to global markets. In my sense, that is what Russia and China are interested in, other countries as well. That the economics play a huge role in the changing dynamic at the top of the world. And, certainly for the Russians, if not the Chinese, having a stable Arctic is hugely important for the sale and buying of those natural resources.”

Sherri Goodman

“The Coast Guard acknowledges that the Arctic is a strategically competitive space for the first time since the end of the Cold War. That is significant. What it doesn’t do is acknowledge the reason that the space has become strategically competitive is because of climate change. So, climate change indeed has created a threat multiplier in this region. It does however, acknowledge that and states forthrightly that the twelve lowest summer minimum in Arctic ice extent in the satellite record have occurred in the last twelve years. So, there is a recognition that the region is changing dramatically. Presence and power projection are becoming more important. And, that the Coast Guard is on the front line providing that.”

“Arctic security requires leadership and cooperation across multiple national security areas of interest, including border security, economic security, environmental security, food security and a number of other areas. In that regard, I underscore the importance of U.S. leadership and continuing to support the efforts to reduce black carbon in the Arctic that is the front edge of reducing the climate threat in the region and one where American leadership continues to be important.”

Ambassador David Balton

“The Strategic Outlook describes an Arctic that has been a generally stable, peaceful and rules-based part of the world. And, it further describes a basic U.S. interest to keep the Arctic a stable, peaceful and rules-based part of the world. And it outlines many ways which the Coast Guard has contributed to the state of affairs and ways the Coast Guard can continue contributing to this state of affairs. The Strategic Outlook does point to China and Russia as presenting challenges to a stable, peaceful and rules-based Arctic.”

“We certainly need more ice breaking capability. We need more search and rescue assets. We need more capacity to manage increased Arctic shipping and to address potential oil spills, conduct research in the Arctic and while there is no commercial fishing permitted today in either the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone north of Alaska, nor in the high seas beyond that, at some point we need greater fisheries law enforcement capacity in the Arctic too. And yes, the Coast Guard can contribute to projecting the presence and engagement of our nation in the Arctic. And thus helps to demonstrate that the Arctic is the part of the world that matters to us. The Strategic Outlook makes the case that our nation needs to invest more in the Coast Guard’s operations.”

Dr. Rebecca Pinus

“The Coast Guard is out in front recognizing that it is an emerging area where U.S. leadership and U.S. presence through the Coast Guard is badly needed to ensure that as change comes to the Arctic, the U.S. is there helping to shape that change in way that aligns with our values and the values of our partners and allies.”

“From a harder security perspective, what Russia is doing in the Arctic region is causing a lot of concerns with our allies. Norway in particular has been very vocal about the concerning level of Russian activity and a lot of our allies are getting more uncomfortable with the increased pace of Russia’s activity in the Arctic and high north.”

Hosted By

Polar Institute

Since its inception in 2017, the Polar Institute has become a premier forum for discussion and policy analysis of Arctic and Antarctic issues, and is known in Washington, DC and elsewhere as the Arctic Public Square. The Institute holistically studies the central policy issues facing these regions—with an emphasis on Arctic governance, climate change, economic development, scientific research, security, and Indigenous communities—and communicates trusted analysis to policymakers and other stakeholders.  Read more

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