Arctic & Antarctica
A group of scientists and engineers deploy an ice tethered profiler on the Arctic ice, Sept. 30, 2018, about 350 miles northeast of Barrow, Alaska. ( U.S. Coast Guard photo by Senior Chief Petty Officer NyxoLyno Cangemi.)

Coast Guard plans to add resources in Arctic to counter Russia, China

April 23 (UPI) -- The U.S. Coast Guard wants to add resources to the Arctic because "dramatic changes in the physical environment" of the region have allowed China and Russia to become more competitive there.

The military branch has proposed upgrading ships, aircraft, unmanned systems and communications systems in a 48-page Arctic Strategic Outlook, which was released Monday.

"Since the release of the Coast Guard Arctic Strategy in 2013, the resurgence of nation-state competition has coincided with dramatic changes in the physical environment of the Arctic, which has elevated the region's prominence as a strategically competitive space," the report says. "America's two nearest-peer powers, Russia and China, have both declared the region a national priority and made corresponding investments in capability and capacity to expand their influence in the region."

Because of Russia and China's "persistent challenges to the rules-based international order around the globe," there is concern of "similar infringement to the continued peaceful stability of the Arctic region."

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The agency said it can uniquely address these challenges as the only U.S. service that combines military and civil authorities.

"Before, it was a peaceful, safe, secure Arctic collaboration," Adm. Karl Schultz, the commandant of the Coast Guard, said in an interview with Stars and Stripes. "None of that goes away. We want the Arctic to be a peaceful place where we work to cross international lines here with partner nations that share interests in a transparent fashion. But I think if you're looking around at what's going on in the Arctic, I would say it's maybe trending in a slightly different direction. This will pivot with a little more focus on projecting."

The U.S. territorial waters and exclusive economic zone in the Arctic comprises 1 million square miles and has a $3 billion economic impact on Alaska's seafood industry, 90 billion barrels of oil reserves, 30 percent of the world's undiscovered natural gas and $1 trillion value of earth minerals, including zinc, nickel and lead.

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But since 2013, China has engaged in six expeditions to the region, despite not being an Arctic nation. The communist nation has made the Arctic a strategic priority, declaring themselves a "Near-Arctic state," according to the report.

China has constructed a second multi-mission ice-capable ship and plans to build a nuclear-powered icebreaker, officials write in the report. And the nation wants to build "Polar Silk Road" in which goods can be delivered from China to Europe through the Arctic Ocean as ice in waterways diminish.

Russia has built 14 additional icebreakers, as well as six bases there, since 2013 as it continues to invest heavily in military facilities. Its fleet of 40 icebreakers is the largest in the world.

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