Here’s what’s in the U.S. Defense Department’s new Arctic strategy

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Republican senator Dan Sullivan, Alaska. (Zach Gibson/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Defense Department has released an updated Arctic Strategy that goes beyond prior, photo-filled versions of the plan, identifying shortfalls for the military in the northern stretches of Alaska.

Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, has pushed for an upgrade to the Arctic strategy, and included a requirement in a fiscal year 2016 Defense authorization bill.

“After nearly two years of advocacy and bipartisan efforts, I am pleased that we finally have a much more serious military strategy for the Arctic region,” Sullivan said on the document’s official release.

While it’s more in-depth than prior Arctic strategies out of the department, the document isn’t a deep dive; it’s only 17 pages long. The new strategy details military responsibilities in the Arctic and long-term needs. But there is little discussion on how to manage Russian expansion in the region, or a need for increased infrastructure.

“While this strategy is not perfect – including a failure to offer how best to counter the common threat it identifies – it is a dramatic improvement from the 2013 version, which was more platitudes and pictures than actual substance,” Sullivan said. “I am hopeful that the entire Department of Defense, our new president, and the country will take a serious look at this document and begin to formulate how our country will safeguard our interests, and that of our allies, in this strategically-important region.”

An area of cooperation

Because of melting sea ice driven by climate change, shipping lanes are opening up in the Arctic, the report says. DOD’s goal in the region is security, safety and cooperation with other Arctic countries, it says.

“The Arctic generally remains an area of cooperation, ranging from scientific, environmental, and economic collaboration,” through a variety of entities. “Friction points, however, do exist,” the report says. It points mainly to disagreements over regulating navigation and ownership of Arctic waters.

While the shrinking sea ice will open up economic opportunities in the region, it adds “concerns about human safety and protection of a unique ecosystem that many indigenous communities rely on for subsistence,” the report says.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada:  Canadian military trains to respond to Arctic earthquake, Radio Canada International

Finland:  Finnish Air force to take part in joint Finnish-Swedish-US military exercises, Yle News

Norway:  Norway hikes 2017 defense budget, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia:  Paratrooper exercises over Arctic Russia, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden:  New security landscape in the Arctic, Radio Sweden

United States: U.S. general says Alaska military cuts not final without Arctic plan, Alaska Public Radio Network

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