07 June 2019

Department of Defense Arctic Strategy

Report to Congress: Department of Defense Arctic Strategy (Arlington, VA: Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, June 2019).

Click here to download a cached copy.

DoD’s desired end-state for the Arctic is a secure and stable region in which U.S. national security interests are safeguarded, the U.S. homeland is defended, and nations work cooperatively to address shared challenges. Protecting U.S. national security interests in the Arctic will require the Joint Force to sustain its competitive military advantages in the Indo-Pacific and Europe, identified in the NDS as key regions of strategic competition, and to maintain a credible deterrent for the Arctic region.

DoD must be able to quickly identify threats in the Arctic, respond promptly and effectively to those threats, and shape the security environment to mitigate the prospect of those threats in the future.

The 2019 DoD Arctic strategy outlines three strategic ways in support of the desired Arctic end-state:

  • Building Arctic awareness;
  • Enhancing Arctic operations; and,
  • Strengthening the rules-based order in the Arctic.


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China’s operational presence in the Arctic is more limited. It includes China’s icebreaking vessels, the Xuelong and newly-constructed Xuelong 2, and civilian research efforts, which could support a strengthened, future Chinese military presence in the Arctic Ocean, potentially including deployment of submarines to the region.

Attempts to Alter Arctic Governance through Economic Leverage: Despite having no territorial claims in the region, China is seeking a role in Arctic governance. As part of China’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative, it has linked its economic activities in the Arctic to its broader strategic objectives, as articulated in its first Arctic policy white paper in January 2018. China’s stated interests in the Arctic are primarily focused on access to natural resources and the opportunities offered by the Arctic sea routes for Chinese shipping. China does not currently have a permanent Arctic military presence, but is increasing its presence through economic outreach,

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investments in Arctic states’ strategic sectors, and scientific activities. China maintains research stations in Iceland and Norway and has pursued energy development and infrastructure projects in Russia, such as the Yamal liquefied natural gas project. China also continues to seek opportunities to invest in dual-use infrastructure in the Arctic. Despite China’s claim of being a “Near Arctic State,” the United States does not recognize any such status. …

The Arctic as a potential corridor for strategic competition: The Arctic is a potential avenue for expanded great power competition and aggression spanning between two key regions of ongoing competition identified in the NDS — the Indo-Pacific and Europe — and the U.S. homeland. U.S. interests include maintaining flexibility for global power projection, including by ensuring freedom of navigation and overflight; and limiting the ability of China and Russia to leverage the region as a corridor for competition that advances their strategic objectives through malign or coercive behavior.

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Risks to U.S. National Security Interests

Trends in the Arctic security environment present specific risks across the three sets of U.S. national security interests:

Homeland: The Arctic is strategic terrain as a potential vector for an attack on the U.S. homeland. China and Russia pose discrete and different challenges in their respective theaters, but both are also pursuing activities and capabilities in the Arctic that may present risks to the homeland. In addition to the challenge posed by strategic competitors, coastal erosion and permafrost thaw pose risks to DoD Arctic installations. Increased economic activity in the Arctic raises the probability of a mass casualty incident in the Arctic where DoD assistance may be requested. Natural disasters or other contingencies, such as an oil spill, may severely affect Alaska, requiring DoD support to civil authorities. These events may also inhibit DoD’s ability to project power from the homeland.

Shared Region: In different ways, Russia and China are challenging the rules-based order in the Arctic. Russia regulates maritime operations in the NSR, contrary to international law, and has reportedly threatened to use force against vessels that fail to abide by Russian regulations. Russia has generally followed international law and procedure in establishing the limits of its extended continental shelf. Russia could choose to unilaterally establish those limits if the procedures prove unfavorable and could utilize its military capabilities in an effort to deny access to disputed Arctic waters or resources. China is attempting to gain a role in the Arctic in ways that may undermine international rules and norms, and there is a risk that its predatory economic behavior globally may be repeated in the Arctic.

Potential Corridor for Strategic Competition: Developments in the Arctic have the potential to directly or indirectly constrain DoD’s ability to flow forces globally, and more broadly to affect U.S. strategic objectives related to competition with China and Russia in the Indo-Pacific and Europe. The Arctic remains vulnerable to “strategic spillover” from tensions, competition, or conflict arising in these other regions.

DoD Arctic Objectives

The 2018 NDS provides the overarching strategic guidance for framing DoD’s Arctic Strategy. The NDS establishes DoD’s goals and priorities for defending the homeland and protecting U.S. and allied interests globally by regaining the Joint Force’s competitive military edge against China and Russia. … … …