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Subcommittee Chair Gimenez: The U.S. Can’t Afford to Ignore Increased Interest in the Arctic From China, Russia

July 18, 2023

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Homeland Security Subcommittee on Transportation and Maritime Security Chairman Carlos Gimenez (R-FL) delivered the following opening remarks in a hearing to examine the existing and future security threats in the Arctic Region and opportunities for the United States Coast Guard (USCG) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to effectively respond and address these threats.

Watch the full hearing here

As prepared for delivery:

Today, our subcommittee will discuss strategic competition in the Arctic region and its impact on U.S. homeland and national security interests.  

The Arctic is critically important to the United States’ strategic interests. The United States is one of only eight countries globally with territory above the Arctic Circle, so what happens in the Arctic directly impacts U.S. citizens. 

Historically, our adversaries have targeted the United States in the High North to undermine our national security. During World War II, the forces of Imperial Japan saw strategic value in occupying the Aleutian Islands off the coast of Alaska, going so far as to seize some islands within the Chain. 

During the Cold War, Soviet aircraft and submarines regularly attempted to breach U.S. sovereign air space and territorial waters in Alaska. The United States early warning missile defense capabilities focused on the Arctic as a potential entry point for Soviet nuclear missiles into North American airspace.

Today, we face a growing number of challenges from near peer competitors. For the last decade, Russia has been building up its military capabilities in the Arctic, including its fleet of heavy icebreakers. Vladimir Putin has repeatedly stated his vision for the Northern Sea Route to become an alternative to the Suez Canal to facilitate faster trade between Europe and Asia. 

More recently, Russia is forgoing cooperation on Arctic issues with other Arctic states as it continues its illegal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, thus breaking decades of precedent in which the eight Arctic states collaborated closely on scientific research, environmental protection, and maritime safety. 

Additionally, the People’s Republic of China, despite having no sovereign territory within the Arctic region, is attempting to stake out interests in Arctic affairs. In 2018, the CCP declared the PRC to be a so-called “Near Arctic Nation.” The CCP and state-owned entities own and operate icebreakers and other polar capable ships, and during the last decade, these entities showed an increased willingness to transit their vessels through Arctic waters.   

The United States cannot afford to ignore this increased interest in the Arctic from near-peer competitors. As sea ice recedes and technology improves, traffic in the Arctic’s maritime channels will continue to increase. This will lead to greater scientific research, natural resource exploration, fishing, and tourism taking place in the Arctic region. 

Additionally, our military relies upon the flight routes through the Arctic to deploy personnel, equipment, and other materiel to theaters around the world. 

The United States Coast Guard has had an active presence in the Arctic for decades, providing invaluable search and rescue capabilities, patrolling U.S. waters, and upholding U.S. sovereignty at sea. 

The Coast Guard also supports the military’s sustained presence at bases around Alaska and helps enforce U.S. customs and laws concerning trade and fishing in Arctic waters.

The Coast Guard’s icebreakers have long been an integral component of the U.S. government’s presence in the Arctic. However, I am concerned that the delays the Coast Guard is experiencing with the development and deployment of the new Polar Security Cutters will negatively impact the Coast Guard’s ability to carry out its diverse mission set and protect the homeland in the Arctic.

Going forward, this subcommittee needs to play an active role in ensuring that the United States can effectively respond to threats in the Arctic.     

I am grateful to our three witnesses to share with us their perspective on the geopolitical situation in the Arctic and ways in which the Coast Guard, the Department of Homeland Security, and the wider U.S. government can deter threats and protect our homeland in the Arctic. Thank you again, and I look forward to your testimonies.