While the West has primarily been focused on Russia’s recent actions in eastern Europe, Moscow has continued with its plans to militarize the Arctic. Russia’s strategic goals in the Arctic are to secure current and potential energy resources located in the region and to maintain military superiority above the Arctic Circle. Although the threat of armed conflict among the Arctic powers remains low, the U.S. should consider the implications of Russian militarization in the region in light of Moscow’s recent aggression in Ukraine.
Russia Is Militarizing the Arctic
Vladimir Putin has made it clear that Russia must maintain a strategic advantage in the region. Earlier this year he told his Security Council:
More often the interests of the Arctic powers, and not only them, cross here—countries that are far away from this region are also expressing interest [in the Arctic]. In these conditions we must take additional measures not to fall behind our partners, to keep our influence in the region and in some aspects be ahead of our partners.Although the current security challenges of the Arctic are not yet military in nature, military capability in the region can be used to support civilian authorities. Both civilian search and rescue (SAR) and natural disaster response in such an unforgiving environment as the Arctic can be augmented by the military. However, Russia has taken steps to militarize the Arctic for what can be only for non-civilian purposes.
It is Russia’s prerogative to place military assets inside its national territory as it wishes. However, these actions concern the U.S. because Moscow has shown its willingness to use its military force to achieve its national objectives outside its national borders. One must assume the Arctic region would be no different. The ultimate goal is for Russia to deploy a combined arms force in the Arctic by 2020, and it appears they are on track. Some of Russia’s recent actions in the Arctic include:
- Russia’s Northern Fleet, which makes up for two-thirds of the Russian Navy, has been based in the region.
- A new Arctic command was established in December 2014 to coordinate all Russian military activities in the Arctic region.
- Russia is increasing the number of marines assigned to the Northern Fleet by one-third. The force will eventually be equal to the size of another brigade and will be located near Pechenga, Russia—less than 10 miles from the border to Norway.
- Two new so-called Arctic brigades will be permanently based in the Arctic region over the next few years.
- Soviet-era military facilities in the Arctic region are being reopened after nearly 30 years.
NATO Is Divided
The role of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in the Arctic is the source of ongoing debate for the alliance. Although NATO’s 2010 Strategic Concept was praised for acknowledging new security challenges for the alliance, such as cyber and energy security, Arctic security was not included. In fact, the word “Arctic” cannot be found in either the 2010 Strategic Concept or the 2014 Wales NATO summit declaration.
As Russia continues to develop and increase it military capabilities in the Arctic region, the U.S. and its allies must closely monitor these activities. In the Arctic, sovereignty equals security and stability. Respecting the national sovereignty of others in the Arctic while maintaining the ability to enforce one’s own sovereignty will ensure that the chances of armed conflict in the region remain low.
Full article: Russian Military Activity in the Arctic: A Cause for Concern (The Heritage Foundation)