The Damn Thing Melted”: Arctic Security in the Blue-Water Era

This article discusses climate change and national security.

When Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer told the media last week that “the damn thing melted,” he wasn’t talking about an ice cream cone. As the Arctic faces unprecedented levels of open water, Spencer and other naval leaders recently testified to Congress about the U.S. Navy’s strategy, which is changing as quickly as the Arctic itself. 

The Navy’s previous Arctic strategy was released in 2014, but the significant decrease in Arctic sea ice required an update to reflect the emergence of “blue-water Arctic operations,” now that the region has become ice-free enough for open waterways. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson told reporters “the Arctic triggered [the update]” of the four-year-old Arctic Roadmap, which was originally designed to last 16 years.

“The Arctic ice caps are as small as they’ve been in my lifetime,” Richardson said, as reported in USNI News. “And that gives rise to strategic changes. Waterways that are open. The secretary mentioned the blue-water Arctic. Continental shelves that are exposed, and the resources on those shelves. So there are strategic issues that arise from that shrinking of the icecap.”

Is the United States Prepared for the Blue-Water Arctic?

Other branches of the military and government agencies are planning for an ice-free Arctic—but not all of them. FEMA recently removed climate change from its strategy, which also makes no mention to the Arctic. The 2017 National Security Strategy does not mention climate change and references the Arctic only once.

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