JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska (KTUU) – The senior military commander responsible for homeland defense says Russia and China are building their military and economic presence in the Arctic, and it’s imperative for the United States to keep up.
“Changes in the Arctic environment could give our adversaries the impression that the Arctic offers a soft underbelly in our ability to defend the homeland,” four-star Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy said during a speech on JBER Thursday morning.
O’Shaughnessy is the commander of NORAD and the U.S. Northern Command. He’s one of many senior military officials in Anchorage this week for the Arctic Maritime Symposium, an event looking at the challenges of Arctic maritime operations.
“The defense of the homeland requires us to reinvigorate our efforts to ensure that we remain ready to operate in and through the Arctic,” O’Shaughnessy said. ‘[Defense] Secretary Mattis recently laid out that America has got to up its game in the Arctic.”
Declining sea ice has made Arctic waters more accessible than ever, and China earlier this year announced intentions to establish new sea routes to create a “polar silk road.” Meanwhile, O’Shaughnessy says Russia is expanding its existing presence in the Arctic.
“Russia most notably has aggressively built arctic military capability, securing planes and expanding access along the northern sea route,” he said. “We must keep in mind that for the Russians the Arctic is their front yard and their backyard.”
As the political and environmental nature of the Arctic shifts, O’Shaughnessy says Alaska remains crucial to national defense because of its missile defense infrastructure, squadrons of fighter jets and large amount of space to conduct joint military drills.
“Given the Arctic’s unique challenges, coupled with increased accessibility, it is vital that we have the capability to respond in and through the Arctic,” he said.