Chilling Effects: The Debate Over U.S. Arctic Policy

Ahead of a diplomatic swing highlighted by an encounter with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Secretary of State Antony Blinken has broadcast the Biden Administration’s concerns about the militarization of the Arctic. Against the backdrop of increased Sino-Russian cooperation in the region, united by shared economic interests in its control, Blinken has stated that the U.S. wishes to avoid militarizing the Arctic. Instead, the Biden Administration wishes to foster closer international cooperation on climate mitigation. Both on its merits and as a proxy for the ongoing debate in Washington over the merits of multilateralism, Blinken’s statement has experts buzzing:

Some Arctic allies suggest that neglecting to harden deterrence in the region would be foolhardy. The Russian navy is already optimized for the region, and China in official documents identifies itself as a “near-Arctic state”:

Col. Petteri Seppala, defense attaché at the Finnish embassy in Washington, stated at a Wilson Center forum, that “we do need military capabilities to ensure all follow the rules” and that multilateral bodies were “too limited” in their scope to take on matters that had to be dealt with militarily.

On the other hand, other American experts maintain the Biden Administration’s line, holding that notwithstanding Sino-Russian interests in militarization, the irreplaceable role played by the U.S. as a leader on climate issues must take priority in shaping our policy:

Thomas Greene and Amy Meyer Jaffe wrote last year in Foreign Affairs that the scramble for the Arctic was an illusion, and that environmental issues demanded cooperation over competition.

In either case, it may well be Russian action that serves as the forcing function for the continuity or rupture of the Biden line:

Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov stated at a press conference this week, referring to the Arctic: “It has been absolutely clear for everyone for a long time that this is our territory, this is our land,”

Only time will tell if that’s all hat and no cattle, but where do you stand?

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