Pivot to Arctic: What's Behind US-NATO Military Buildup in High North?

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Jul 28, 2021, 11:40:01 AMJul 28
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. Daniel Love

Pivot to Arctic: What s Behind US-NATO Military Buildup in High North


by Ekaterina Blinova

The US is stepping up its military presence in the Arctic region together with its NATO allies, while at the same time calling on other nations to restrain from Arctic militarisation. What's behind Washington's self-contradictory stance and the latest push in the ice-cold region?

The Biden administration is bringing the Arctic into focus as glaciers are melting, expanding the region's shipping lanes and increasing access to natural resources, Foreign Policy Magazine noted on 20 May, citing Antony Blinken's official visit to Greenland and Iceland as well as NATO's growing presence in the "high north".

The magazine outlines three elements of a new emerging pattern:

·         First, on 16 April, Washington struck the Supplementary Defence Cooperation Agreement with Norway, which will allow the US to build infrastructure at three air bases and a navy facility along the Norwegian coast.

·         Second, American Virginia-class submarine the USS New Mexico (SSN-779) arrived in Tromso, Norway on 10 May.

·         Third, the Pentagon and its NATO allies are stepping up joint naval and air drills in the region: on 18 May, 10 countries kicked off Exercise Formidable Shield in the North Atlantic.   

Foreign Policy admits that despite warning against a military buildup in the Arctic, Washington appears to be doing the opposite: "Hypocrisy? It depends on who you ask. Top Russian officials certainly think so. But some Western experts say no", the magazine writes, suggesting that the US is "simply bulking up deterrence and dusting off the Cold War-era cobwebs on militaries practicing operating in the North Atlantic".

Washington's vested interests in the Arctic region are obvious given that the latter accounts for 22 percent of the world's hydrocarbon resources, according to the United States Geological Survey. By 2040, the Arctic could have almost no summer sea ice, providing shorter shipping routes and bolstering trade opportunities.

The Pentagon's New Arctic Doctrine

The US' renewed pivot to the high north stems from the Donald Trump era and is well reflected in the Department of Defence's 2019 Arctic Strategy. In subsequent years, every major US military service branch came up with their own specific Arctic doctrines. The US Coast Guard published its Arctic Strategic Outlook in April 2019; the Air Force came up with its blueprint in July 2020; the Navy released its own Arctic strategy in January 2021, while the US Army unveiled its "Regaining Arctic Dominance" on 16 March 2021.

"The United States maintains strong defense relationships with six of the seven other Arctic nations. Four are NATO Allies: Canada, the Kingdom of Denmark (including Greenland), Iceland, and Norway; and two are NATO Enhanced Opportunities Partners: Finland and Sweden. They are highly capable, with immense experience in high latitude operational environments", the DoD doctrine says.


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