US Coast Guard chief: We are 'not even in the same league as Russia' in the Arctic

Putin arcticREUTERS/ITAR-TASSRussian President Putin and Defence Minister Ivanov share a joke while visiting military exercises in the Russia’s Arctic North on board nuclear missile cruiser Pyotr Veliky. Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) listens to Russia’s Navy deputy commander Mikhail Zakharenko while visiting military exercises in the Russia’s Arctic North on board nuclear missile cruiser Pyotr Veliky (Peter the Great), August 17, 2005.

The US is lagging far behind the other nations, especially Russia, when it comes to planning for the Arctic region as ice melts.

“We’re not even in the same league as Russia right now,” Newsweek quotes Coast Guard Commandant Paul F. Zukunft as saying. “We’re not playing in this game at all.”

One of the main measures of Arctic capability are icebreakers. While not a direct military tool, these vessels play a mutli-faceted role in any nation’s Arctic strategy. The vessels allow a range of other merchant, survey, and military vessels to ply through the Arctic ice safely and in a year round manner.

Currently, the US only has two diesel icebreakers. In comparison, Russia has six nuclear-powered icebreakers already in service. The Russian also have at least a dozen other diesel icebreakers in service. In 2017, Moscow is expecting the delivery of another new nuclear powered vessel.

Of the US’ two icebreakers, only one, the Polar Star, is in functional condition, according to NPR. It’s sister vessel, the Polar Sea, has been languishing at port for years following a major breakdown.

Polar Start icebreakerUS Coast GuardThe US Coast Guard’s Polar Star.

“The Polar Sea had a major engine breakdown in 2010, had to be towed into its home port of Seattle, and it’s basically been … just rusting in the docks in Seattle,” Shiva Polefa, of the Center for American Progress,toldNPR.

This forces the US to rely upon a single icebreaker in the Arctic as the region takes on unprecedented levels of economic and geopolitical significance.

The region is stocked with valuable oil, gas, mineral, and fishery reserves. The U.S. estimates that a significant proportion of the Earth’s untapped petroleum — including about 15% of the world’s remaining oil, up to 30% of its natural gas deposits, and about 20% of its liquefied natural gas — are stored in the Arctic seabed.

Shipping throughout the Arctic will also become critically important. A proposed Russian Northern Sea Route could eventually rival the Suez Canal in economic importance. The route would connect shipping from Europe to Asia in 35 days, as opposed to the 48-day journey via the Suez canal.

Without the needed investment, the US will likely stay leagues behind Russia as the Arctic becomes a pivotal geopolitical region.

Check out the full report at Newsweek >

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