United States Coast Guard Arctic Strategy (May 2013)

By Polar Research and Policy Initiative

The United States Coast Guard released its Arctic Strategy on 21 May 2013. The aim of the U.S. Coast Guard Arctic Strategy, which is to guide the US Coast Guard’s efforts in the region over 10 years, is to ensure safe, secure, and environmentally responsible maritime activity in the Arctic.

Executive Summary

The United States is an Arctic nation with significant interests in the future of the region. The U.S. Coast Guard, as the maritime component of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), has specific statutory responsibilities in U.S. Arctic waters. This strategy outlines the ends, ways, and means for achieving strategic objectives in the Arctic over the next 10 years. The Coast Guard is responsible for ensuring safe, secure, and environmentally responsible maritime activity in U.S. Arctic waters. Our efforts must be accomplished in close coordination with DHS components, and involve facilitating commerce, managing borders, and improving resilience to disasters.

The Coast Guard’s current suite of cutters, boats, aircraft, and shore infrastructure must meet a number of near-term mission demands. The Coast Guard employs mobile command and control platforms such as large cutters and ocean-going ice-strengthened buoy tenders, as well as seasonal air and communications capabilities through leased or deployable assets and facilities. These mobile and seasonal assets and facilities have proven to be important enablers for front-line priorities in the region, including search and rescue operations, securing the maritime border, collecting critical intelligence, responding to potential disasters, and protecting the marine environment.

The Arctic environment is changing dramatically. Satellite observations over time show decreasing multi-year ice and increasing open water during the Arctic summer. The lowest sea ice extent on record occurred in September 2012. Consequently, coastal villagers have been experiencing environmental changes that have made their communities more prone to storm surges, diminishing permafrost, and coastal erosion. a lthough winter sea travel is still severely limited due to extensive ice coverage across the region, recent summer and early autumn sea ice extent record lows have made seasonal maritime navigation more feasible. e conomic development, in the forms of resource extraction, adventure tourism, and trans-Arctic shipping drives much of the current maritime activity in the region.

The Arctic region contains an estimated 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil and 30 percent of undiscovered gas. More than 35 percent of Alaska’s jobs are tied to the energy sector, and onshore production of oil in Alaska is diminishing. Decreasing sea ice and diminishing onshore oil production are creating incentives for further exploration offshore. These activities bring risk, which can be mitigated through appropriate maritime governance.

Additionally, tourism is increasing rapidly in the Arctic due to undeveloped shore-based infrastructure, much of the increased tourism is expected to involve transportation via passenger vessel, further increasing near- and offshore activities in Arctic waters.

This document outlines three strategic objectives in the a rctic for the U.S. Coast Guard over the next 10 years:

  • Improving awareness
  • Modernizing Governance
  • Broadening Partnerships

Improving Awareness: Coast Guard operations require precise and ongoing awareness of activities in the maritime domain. Maritime awareness in the Arctic is currently restricted due to limited surveillance, monitoring, and information system capabilities. Persistent awareness enables identification of threats, information-sharing with front-line partners, and improved risk management. Improving awareness requires close collaboration within DHS, as well as with the Departments of State, Defense, Interior, the National Science Foundation and other stakeholders to enhance integration, innovation, and fielding of emerging technologies. The Intelligence Community and non-federal partners are also vital stakeholders.

Modernizing Governance: The concept of governance involves institutions, structures of authority, and capabilities necessary to oversee maritime activities while safeguarding national interests. Limited awareness and oversight challenge maritime sovereignty, including the protection of natural resources and control of maritime borders. The Coast Guard will work within its authorities to foster collective efforts, both domestically and internationally, to improve Arctic governance. In so doing, the Coast Guard will review its own institutions and regimes of governance to prepare for future missions throughout the Arctic.

Broadening Partnerships: Success in the Arctic requires a collective effort across both the public and private sectors. Such a collective effort must be inclusive of domestic regulatory regimes; international collaborative forums such as the a rctic Council, International Maritime Organization (IMO), and Inuit Circumpolar Council; domestic and international partnerships; and local engagements in Arctic communities focusing on training and volunteer service. Success in the Arctic also depends upon close intergovernmental cooperation to support national interests, including working closely within DHS, as well as with the Department of State, Department of Interior and other federal partners as the U.S. prepares to assume Chairmanship of the Arctic Council in 2015.

Beyond these three strategic objectives, there are a number of additional factors that will position the Coast Guard for long-term success. These factors include building national awareness of the Arctic and its opportunities, strengthening maritime regimes, improving public-private relationships through a national concept of operations, seeking necessary authorities, and identifying future requirements and resources to shape trends favorably. This strategy outlines a number of priorities, ranging from capabilities and requirements to advances in science and technology that will facilitate our nation’s success in the region. Specifically, the strategy advocates to leverage the entire DHS enterprise and component capabilities to secure our borders, prevent terrorism, adapt to changing environmental conditions, enable community resilience and inform future policy.

Operating in the Arctic is not a new venture for the Coast Guard. However, adapting to changing conditions will require foresight, focus, and clear priorities. This strategy will ensure we attain the aim of safe, secure, and environmentally responsible maritime activity in the Arctic by improving awareness, modernizing governance, and broadening partnerships to ensure long-term success.

For the US Coast Guard Arctic Strategy, see here.

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