FoxNews on February 13, 2014, reported that while the Obama administration focuses on hotspots like the Middle East and Asia, some lawmakers worry the U.S. is ignoring what could be a critical battleground – the Arctic Ocean. Excerpts below:
The permanent sea ice around the North Pole has been receding since the 1970’s. Countries are now staking their claims, whether it’s for oil, valuable shipping lanes or national defense.
“The Arctic is already in play,” said Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif. “We do know there are many countries that are trying to set their sights on the Arctic, and that’s going to be an issue.”
The biggest immediate concern, some say, is the need for more icebreakers — vessels that can navigate the still-treacherous conditions. The U.S. Coast Guard has just two, and they have been busy.
Russia, meanwhile, has 25 icebreakers. Six of them are nuclear powered.
Alaska Democratic Sen. Mark Begich is critical of the Obama administration for largely ignoring the Arctic, and the battle for influence happening there.
“It’s like they’ve never heard of it,” he said. “With the Obama administration we’ve had to push back pretty hard to convince them and show them why they need to invest in not only icebreakers, but forward operating bases for the Arctic.”
A new icebreaker runs nearly $800 million. It even costs $300 million to retrofit an existing ship to be an icebreaker.
Complicating the push for more icebreakers is the timing and budget turf wars. The Coast Guard, which operates the ships, says they’re too expensive to absorb the cost. But the Navy doesn’t want to pony up the money, either, citing the Pentagon’s mandate to cut $70 billion in spending over the next two years.