In a commentary on August 3, 2015, in Washington Times David Hunt pointed out that America is missing a chance to check Russian ambitions in the Arctic. The U.S. Government Accountability Office says that the Obama administration is forcing the military to measure ice levels in the resources-rich Arctic. The president’s thinking, according to reports, is that shrinking ice could force us to institute a “military and homeland security presence” in the region. Excerpts below:

I’m all for having a strong military presence in the Arctic. In fact, the need for one has already been demonstrated and doesn’t require analysis of ice levels to understand why.

The Arctic is an incredibly important region geopolitically that is home to critical natural resources, including about 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil and 30 percent of the world’s undiscovered natural gas, as well as vital trade routes.

As the United States has dithered in the Arctic, Russia has deployed an array of fighter aircraft, surface-to-air missile systems, and state-of-the-art radar systems to islands off the Russian coast in the Arctic.

It is an example of Russia’s latest militarization and construction blitz. After sending in about 38,000 troops with new radar and guidance system capabilities, nuclear-powered submarines, and various warships and icebreakers, Russia is now constructing an assortment of Arctic search-and-rescue stations, deepwater ports, airfields and air-defense radar stations that will allow other merchant, survey and military vessels to continuously ply through the Arctic ice securely.

Russia has also increased its military spending by a third, even though it’s in the middle of an economic downturn.

While the recent U.S. accession to chairmanship of the Arctic Council presents an opportunity for leadership, America continues to be anchored by constraining policies and misplaced priorities that have greatly hampered …influence in the Arctic. Access to natural resources in the U.S. Arctic offshore, which contains an estimated 23.6 billion barrels of oil and 104 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, has been severely curtailed through restricted leasing opportunities and increasing federal regulatory obstacles and delays. In addition, we have just two heavy diesel icebreakers and one medium icebreaker, only one of which is currently functional.

From a geopolitical perspective, the government would be wise to promote Arctic energy production as a strategic neutralization tactic against the Russians. Oil revenue finances more than half of Russia’s coffers, and production and exports have dropped ever since oil prices fell about a year ago.

Recent actions by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries highlight how US production can weaken the interests of our adversaries around the world.

Building a strategy that truly facilitates economic development in the U.S. Arctic would also enable America to take advantage of new shipping routes that have materialized thanks to continuously melting ice. Russia has already jumped on this commercial opportunity; the Russian Northern Sea Route, according to reports, could soon rival the Suez Canal in economic importance.

Americans are used to being No. 1, but when it comes to the Arctic and its record quantities of yet-to-be-tapped oil, gas, mineral and fishery reserves, we don’t even qualify for the silver or bronze. As such, we’re jeopardizing our worldwide competitiveness and leadership, and risking a renewed reliance on imported oil and gas. There’s only one way we can change this. We must push our president to think more strategically about the Arctic, or elect someone who will.

David Hunt is a retired U.S. Army colonel and a former security adviser to the FBI. He served as counterterrorism coordinator for the 1988 Summer Olympic Games in Seoul.

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