Tucked away in the $619 billion defense bill that Congress passed last week is an amendment that requires the secretary of defense to develop criteria for designating a “strategic Arctic port.” The amendment requires the secretary of defense to submit a plan for designating a strategic Arctic port within two years.
This is a forward-thinking provision that shows America is looking further ahead than a year or two when it comes to our economic and national security.
Until recently, Arctic ports had been looked at mostly in economic terms. The Army Corps of Engineers had plans to study the viability of a deepwater Arctic port, but canceled them last year, after Shell halted plans to drill nearby. In many respects, the Army Corps of Engineers’ reasoning was sound — it was essentially that there’s no need to study a port if there isn’t an industry to support it — but it failed to take into account national security.
The U.S. is dealing with an increasingly belligerent Russia, and an unstable North Korea, in addition to feeling out a still-being-defined relationship with China.
An Arctic port could provide key security as the U.S. looks to pivot toward Asia and minimize Russia actions that are counter to American interests.
Additionally, an Arctic port could gain economic value over time. Some scientists have predicted that, thanks to global warming, sea ice could melt enough to establish a regular Northwest Passage by the middle of the century. That’s certainly bad news from a global perspective, but it also will mean that there will be new, more-efficient trade routes around Alaska and Canada that will be very, very valuable.
But from a defense perspective, such a port is valuable right now.
Just as it was wise for the Pentagon to delay cutting 2,600 soldiers from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson — a cut that would have affected the only airborne brigade the Army has in the Pacific — in light of a future where U.S. interests lie heavily in Asia, it is wise to look at developing an Arctic port right now — not 20 or 30 years from now.
By planning ahead, the U.S. can keep our country safe, secure, and prosperous.
— Ketchikan Daily News, Dec. 12, 2016