By Keith Stinebaugh, Senior Fellow, Institute of the North

The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) hosted a discussion on 24 Jan entitled “In Defense of the Arctic: Assessing US Security Concerns.”  The program featured a presentation by US Senator Dan Sullivan (R-AK) on the soon-to-be-released updated version of the DOD Arctic Strategy and was followed by a panel discussion of the strategy and security concerns in the Arctic. A synopsis of the event as well as the recorded webcast, is available here. Institute of the North Senior Fellow Keith Stinebaugh viewed the webcast and what follows are some of his observations.

Ms. Heather Conley (Senior Vice President for Europe, Eurasia, and the Arctic; and Director, Europe Program at CSIS) opened the session by saying that the plan had been to discuss the new DOD Arctic strategy. However, the unclassified version has not yet been released so the speakers would instead take a “sneak peak” at some of the elements of the strategy.

Sen. Sullivan began by saying that recognition in the US about the Arctic has taken time, and he emphasized that the Arctic has impacts for the US beyond Alaska.  He cited five areas of importance: resources, transportation routes, the strategic location of Alaska, the environment, and people. One interesting item from this portion was a mention that resources extend beyond oil and gas, the fisheries of the Arctic near Russia and Alaska are also important.

He then presented his views on the new strategy. He said that it is a much more serious document than the 2013 strategy, which he characterized as a brochure instead of strategy. The new strategy includes a look at Russian interests in the Arctic and friction points with Russia, and the need for the US to increase control and maritime warning. His major conclusion is that the US needs to learn from Russia and begin to act, not just plan. He finished up with his five concerns: communications and domain awareness, search and rescue capability (to include doing more with the Arctic nations including Russia), the need to develop infrastructure, defending and controlling sea routes, and the need to get serious about our own interests in the Arctic.

The session then turned to a panel discussion moderated by Ms. Conley with Admiral Gary Roughead (USN, ret), the Robert and Marion Oster Distinguished Military Fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University; and James J Townsend, Jr., the former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for European and NATO Policy, Department of Defense. The discussion was wide-ranging but continually came back to issues with Russia, as well as several mentions of issues with the People’s Republic of China. Both Adm Roughead and Mr. Townsend talked about a lack of focus on the Arctic within the US DOD, with Mr. Townsend calling the Arctic an “orphan” in DOD policy. Ms. Conley raised the issue of how fractured the US approach to the Arctic is under the current Unified Command Plan with US Northern Command being the primary advocate for Arctic capabiliites but US European Command being responsible for the bulk of operations in the Arctic, while the US Pacific Command was responsible for the vital Bering Strait.

One recurring theme from both Sen. Sullivan’s presentation and the panel discussion is the need for domain awareness in the Arctic. As Alaskans may know, UAA operates the Arctic Domain Awareness Center for the Department of Homeland Security. Details of this Center may be found at With a growing emphasis on the need for Domain Awareness there are growing opportunities for Alaska and Alaskans to participate.