The U.S. Navy is preparing to take a page from its South China Sea strategy with plans to eventually carry out “freedom of navigation” missions through the Arctic as the geopolitical scramble for dominance heats up while long iced-in sea passages thaw.
Although the goal will be to send a clear signal to Russia and China that America is a force to be reckoned with in the race to control valuable territory at the top of the world, Pentagon leaders acknowledge that it could take years, and they stress that Washington has a lot of catching up to do.
Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer said this month that the U.S. is in danger of falling behind, specifically against increasingly provocative moves by the Russian navy, in the scramble for control over what may be the globe’s last major unexploited region.
“We need to have a strategic Arctic port up in Alaska. We need to be doing [freedom of navigation operations] in the northern passage. We need to be monitoring it,” Mr. Spencer told an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
He noted decades of American submarine activity deep beneath the Arctic surface but lamented a lack of major U.S. Navy ship missions through melting ice passages in recent years.
“Everyone’s up there but us,” he said. “I mean, we’re under the water. … We’ve been under the water since the ‘60s.