Fiber-Optic Cable Linking Europe and Asia via the Arctic Secures First Investment

By Anne Kauranen HELSINKI, Dec 2 (Reuters) – A plan to build the first fiber-optic cable across the Arctic has secured its first investment, the consortium behind the 1.1 billion euro ($1.15…

By Anne Kauranen HELSINKI, Dec 2 (Reuters) – A plan to build the first fiber-optic cable across the Arctic has secured its first investment, the consortium behind the 1.1 billion euro ($1.15...

Russia Opens Arctic Oil Tanker Route To China

By Elina Ganatra and Julian Lee (Bloomberg) Russia sent its second-ever crude oil shipment east through the Arctic Circle toward China, a route that could one day give the country a…

By Elina Ganatra and Julian Lee (Bloomberg) Russia sent its second-ever crude oil shipment east through the Arctic Circle toward China, a route that could one day give the country a...

NATO And China Face-Off At Arctic Summit

By Danielle Bochove (Bloomberg) A senior NATO official confronted a Chinese diplomat over China’s failure to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine, injecting tension over the war into an international…

By Danielle Bochove (Bloomberg) A senior NATO official confronted a Chinese diplomat over China’s failure to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine, injecting tension over the war into an international...

China, Russia Quietly Expanding Arctic Partnership, Says Panel

China is subtly installing a larger presence in the Arctic through an extensive partnership with Russia in areas ranging from multi-use ports and airfields to energy extraction, Arctic security experts said Tuesday. The partnership also includes scientific research and sharing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance data. However, this increased interest and activity has not yet led […]

Undated photo of the Chinese Xue Long Icebreaker.

China is subtly installing a larger presence in the Arctic through an extensive partnership with Russia in areas ranging from multi-use ports and airfields to energy extraction, Arctic security experts said Tuesday.

The partnership also includes scientific research and sharing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance data. However, this increased interest and activity has not yet led to China establishing a base in Russia.

Beijing’s attention remains focused on Taiwan and the South China Sea, said Liselotte Odgaard, a professor at the Norwegian Institute for Defense Studies. China has “little interest in establishing a military presence” in the Arctic, at least for now, she said.

Marc Lanteigne, an associate professor at UiT the Arctic University of Norway, said China still is a newcomer to the Arctic and is learning by joining other nations in many activities in the region. Beijing “wants very much an open Arctic” where it can seek out business for the Polar Silk Road that goes beyond Russia and ensure a supply of liquified natural gas.

But the effects of the pandemic and economic headwinds that Beijing is facing have caused a slowdown in basic operations in the region, he added.

“The Arctic is not the South China Sea,” where China has historic ties and bases, and where Beijing’s territorial claims have been more aggressive, Lanteigne said at the Hudson Institute event.

“China would be more than willing to help” Russia in developing a region that it sees as its top economic and security priority by building deep water ports and rail hubs and digitizing the waters for commerce and defense, Odgaard said.

But when China looks at the Northern Sea route now, Beijing sees “too much sea ice” to make it immediately valuable for commercial use, she said. To date, China has not scheduled any transits using the route for the coming year.

The panelists compared an open Northern Sea route to the Suez or Panama canals – if free of ice that would cut weeks off shipping times from Asia to Europe.

Odgaard said the two nations have “taken the first step in integrating satellite navigation systems” that have great value militarily. The sharing of intelligence is important for Russia to get better control of entry to the Barents Sea and for Moscow’s Northern Fleet submarine movements to and from the Atlantic.

However, even in an era of closer cooperation between the two powers, Lanteigne doubted Moscow would allow China to base submarines in Russia’s Arctic.

“I don’t think you’ll find a Chinese military base” in the Russian Arctic, Mike Pompeo, former secretary of state, said during the question and answer session following his keynote remarks. But Pompeo didn’t rule out a shared presence with the Kremlin in the future.

Kay Bailey Hutchison, former United States permanent representative to NATO during the Trump administration, said China is “quietly” establishing itself as a “near-Arctic state” and wants a seat at the table in deciding the region’s future. “This is part of a strategy,” similar to one Beijing employed in the South China Sea, to advance territorial ambitions far from the mainland.

The panelists noted there are other nations – Japan, South Korea, Singapore, France and the United Kingdom – that have similar long-term economic and military interests in the Arctic but do not fall within its geographic boundaries.

None of those countries are members of the Arctic Council. Eight nations, including the United States and Russia, make up the council. When Sweden and Finland are admitted to NATO, all but Russia will belong to the security alliance.

The panelists agreed that this changes the security situation in the Arctic, particularly in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February and China’s increasingly bellicose actions threatening Taiwan. The region is also the subject of a newly-released American strategy to complement NATO’s. The strategy calls for an increased U.S. military presence in Alaska and in NATO nations, expanded military exercises and a commitment to rebuilding its icebreaking fleet.

But how quickly NATO nations can respond with equipment needed to operate in the Arctic is an open question.

“We need Arctic frigates; we need submarines; we need aircraft” to demonstrate NATO’s commitment, Odgaard said.

“We need rules of law in the region” that apply to Russia and China as well as democratic nations, Pompeo said. The rules emphasize respect for other nations’ sovereignty and transparency. “We can lead in the Arctic; we have done it before.”

Report to Congress on U.S.-Baltic Relations

The following is the Sept. 29, 2022, Congressional Research Service report, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania: Background and U.S.-Baltic Relations. From the report Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, often referred to as the Baltic states, are democracies and close U.S. allies. Strong U.S. relations with these three states are rooted in history. The United States never recognized […]

The following is the Sept. 29, 2022, Congressional Research Service report, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania: Background and U.S.-Baltic Relations.

From the report

Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, often referred to as the Baltic states, are democracies and close U.S. allies. Strong U.S. relations with these three states are rooted in history. The United States never recognized the Soviet Union’s forcible incorporation of the Baltic states in 1940, and U.S. officials applauded the restoration of their independence in 1991. Congress backed these policies on a bipartisan basis. The United States supported the Baltic states’ accession to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union (EU) in 2004. Especially since Russia’s initial invasion of Ukraine in 2014, potential threats posed to the Baltic states by Russia have been a primary driver of increased U.S. and congressional interest in the region.

Regional Security Concerns

Russia’s February 2022 renewed invasion of Ukraine has intensified U.S. and NATO concerns about the potential threat of Russian military action against the Baltic states. The Baltic states have supported Ukraine, including by providing military assistance and imposing sanctions against Russia that go beyond those adopted by the EU. Baltic states have been seeking to build up their military capabilities, but their armed forces remain relatively small and their capabilities limited. Consequently, the Baltic states’ defense planning relies heavily on their NATO membership. The Baltic states fulfill NATO’s target for member states to spend at least 2% of gross domestic product on defense.

Defense Cooperation and Security Assistance

The United States and the Baltic states cooperate closely on defense and security issues for the purposes of building capacity to deter and resist potential Russian aggression. In FY2021 and FY2022 combined, Congress appropriated nearly $349 million in U.S. Department of Defense security assistance funding to the Baltic states through the Baltic Security Initiative.

Under the U.S. European Deterrence Initiative (EDI), launched in 2014, the United States has enhanced its military presence in Central and Eastern Europe, with rotational U.S. forces conducting training and exercises in the Baltic states. The United States has stationed additional personnel and capabilities in the Baltic states since February 2022. NATO also has helped to bolster the Baltic states’ security. In 2016, the allies agreed to deploy multinational Enhanced Forward Presence battlegroups to the Baltic states. NATO allies have deployed additional personnel to these battlegroups since February 2022. Baltic leaders have advocated for further enhancements to the U.S. and NATO deployments.

Potential Hybrid Threats

Some observers have expressed concerns that Russia could use the Baltic states’ ethnic Russian minorities as a pretext to manufacture a crisis. Many ethnic Russians in the Baltic states traditionally receive their news from Russian media sources, potentially making those communities a leading target for disinformation and propaganda. The Baltic states suspended many Russia-based television channels following Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine. Cyberattacks are another potential hybrid threat; addressing potential vulnerabilities with regard to cybersecurity is a top priority of the Baltic states.

Energy Security

The Baltic states have taken steps to end energy reliance on Russia, including through a liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal in Lithuania and new pipeline interconnections with their European neighbors. Lithuania ended imports of Russian gas in April 2022, and Estonia and Latvia plan to do the same by the end of 2022.

Relations with China

A variety of factors have contributed to the Baltic states developing a skeptical view of China over the past several years. In 2021 (Lithuania) and 2022 (Estonia and Latvia), the Baltic states quit the 17+1, a forum China launched to deepen cooperation with countries in Central and Eastern Europe. Tensions between Lithuania and China are especially acute, with China recently launching a de facto trade embargo against Lithuania due to Lithuania’s expanded relations with Taiwan.

Download the document here.

Update to Congress on Military, Political Developments in North Korea

The following is the Sept. 15, 2022, Congressional Research Service report, North Korea: September 2022 Update. From the reprort For more than 30 years, 16 Congresses and 6 presidential administrations have struggled with North Korea’s (officially the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea, or DPRK) advancing nuclear weapons and missile programs, human rights abuses, sponsorship […]

The following is the Sept. 15, 2022, Congressional Research Service report, North Korea: September 2022 Update.

From the reprort

For more than 30 years, 16 Congresses and 6 presidential administrations have struggled with North Korea’s (officially the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea, or DPRK) advancing nuclear weapons and missile programs, human rights abuses, sponsorship of cyber-attacks and cyber-crime, and threats to U.S. regional allies. As Members of Congress seek to shape and oversee U.S. policy toward North Korea, they may wish to consider a number of developments that have occurred since nuclear talks collapsed in 2019.

The Biden Administration says it is pursuing a “calibrated, practical approach” that “is open to and will explore diplomacy with North Korea” to eventually achieve the “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. The Administration appears to envision offering partial sanctions relief in exchange for partial steps toward denuclearization. Its approach appears to be in alignment with that of South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, who assumed office in May 2022 and has hardened Seoul’s stance toward the DPRK. Since Yoon’s inauguration, Washington and Seoul have shifted their emphasis from diplomacy to deterrence, for instance by expanding the size and scope of bilateral military exercises. They also have offered Pyongyang unconditional humanitarian assistance, and Yoon has pledged to provide large-scale economic assistance if North Korea “embarks on a genuine and substantive process for denuclearization.”

Pyongyang largely has ignored attempts by the Biden and Yoon Administrations, and their predecessors, to resume dialogue and has rejected offers of humanitarian assistance, including COVID-19 vaccines. Meanwhile, North Korea reportedly has continued to produce fissile material for weapons. It also has continued to test missiles of various ranges and capabilities, including more than 30 ballistic missiles since the start of 2022, in violation of United Nations Security Council (UNSC) sanctions. The tests appear to have advanced the reliability and precision of its missile forces, and improved its ability to defeat regional missile defense systems. In March 2022, North Korea tested an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) for the first time since 2017. Many observers see evidence that North Korea is preparing to conduct its seventh nuclear weapons test. It has not tested a nuclear device since 2017.

The United States has responded to North Korea’s missile tests by introducing new unilateral sanctions designations, dispatching U.S. military assets to Northeast Asia, and working with the Yoon Administration to expand U.S.-ROK deterrent activities and to reinvigorate trilateral cooperation with Japan. In June 2022, the Senate passed the Otto Warmbier Countering North Korean Censorship and Surveillance Act of 2021 (S. 2129) that, among other steps, would require the State and Treasury Departments to report annually to Congress on U.S. government sanctions-related activities and enforcement.

North Korea has undertaken these activities despite signs that its economy has contracted significantly since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since early 2020, the North Korean government has largely closed the country’s borders and imposed restrictions on economic activities. Between January 2020 and January 2022, North Korea’s official trade, which already had been reduced to a trickle due to sanctions, fell by nearly 90%. The difficulty of importing food and agricultural products during the border shutdown, combined with poor weather, appears to have exacerbated North Korea’s chronic food shortages. The U.N. estimates that over 10 million North Koreans, roughly 40% of the population, are undernourished. However, there are few outward signs that North Korea’s economic difficulties are threatening the regime’s stability or are compelling North Korea to pursue engagement with the United States.

Download the document here.

Russia Conducts Military Drills In Arctic Sea

(Reuters) – Russian nuclear-powered submarines fired cruise missiles in the Arctic on Friday as part of military drills designed to test Moscow’s readiness for a possible conflict in its icy northern waters, the defense…

(Reuters) – Russian nuclear-powered submarines fired cruise missiles in the Arctic on Friday as part of military drills designed to test Moscow’s readiness for a possible conflict in its icy northern waters, the defense...

Was The World’s ‘Northern-Most Island’ Erased From Charts?

by Kevin Hamilton (University of Hawaii) In 2021, an expedition off the icy northern Greenland coast spotted what appeared to be a previously uncharted island. It was small and gravelly,…

by Kevin Hamilton (University of Hawaii) In 2021, an expedition off the icy northern Greenland coast spotted what appeared to be a previously uncharted island. It was small and gravelly,...

Report to Congress on Coast Guard Polar Security Cutter

The following is the Aug. 30, 2022, Congressional Research Service report, Coast Guard Polar Security Cutter (Polar Icebreaker) Program: Background and Issues for Congress. From the report The Coast Guard Polar Security Cutter (PSC) program is a program to acquire three new PSCs (i.e., heavy polar icebreakers), to be followed years from now by the […]

The following is the Aug. 30, 2022, Congressional Research Service report, Coast Guard Polar Security Cutter (Polar Icebreaker) Program: Background and Issues for Congress.

From the report

The Coast Guard Polar Security Cutter (PSC) program is a program to acquire three new PSCs (i.e., heavy polar icebreakers), to be followed years from now by the acquisition of up to three new Arctic Security Cutters (ASCs) (i.e., medium polar icebreakers). The procurement of the first two PSCs is fully funded; the Coast Guard says the first PSC is to be delivered to the Coast Guard in the spring of 2025.

The Coast Guard’s proposed FY2023 budget requests $167.2 million in continued procurement funding for the PSC program, which would be used for, among other things, program management and production activities associated with the PSC program’s Detail Design and Construction (DD&C) contract, long leadtime materials (LLTM) for the third PSC, and government-furnished equipment (GFE), logistics, and cyber-security planning costs.

The Coast Guard’s proposed FY2023 budget also requests $125.0 million in procurement funding for the purchase of an existing commercially available polar icebreaker that would be used to augment the Coast Guard’s polar icebreaking capacity until the new PSCs enter service. Under the Coast Guard’s proposal, the Coast Guard would conduct a full and open competition for the purchase, the commercially available icebreaker that the Coast Guard selects for acquisition would be modified for Coast Guard operations following its acquisition, and the ship would enter service 18 to 24 months after being acquired.

The Navy and Coast Guard in 2020 estimated the total procurement costs of the three PSCs in then-year dollars as $1,038 million (i.e., about $1.0 billion) for the first ship, $794 million for the second ship, and $841 million for the third ship, for a combined estimated cost of $2,673 million (i.e., about $2.7 billion). Within those figures, the shipbuilder’s portion of the total procurement cost is $746 million for the first ship, $544 million for the second ship, and $535 million for the third ship, for a combined estimated shipbuilder’s cost of $1,825 million (i.e., about $1.8 billion).

On April 23, 2019, the Coast Guard-Navy Integrated Program Office for the PSC program awarded a $745.9 million fixed-price, incentive-firm contract for the detail design and construction (DD&C) of the first PSC to Halter Marine Inc. (formerly VT Halter Marine) of Pascagoula, MS, a shipyard owned by Singapore Technologies (ST) Engineering. Halter Marine was the leader of one of three industry teams that competed for the DD&C contract. On December 29, 2021, the Coast Guard exercised a $552.7 million fixed price incentive option to its contract with Halter Marine Inc. for the second PSC.

The DD&C contract includes options for building the second and third PSCs. If both of these options are exercised, the total value of the contract would increase to $1,942.8 million (i.e., about $1.9 billion). The figures of $745.9 million and $1,942.8 million cover only the shipbuilder’s portion of the PSCs’ total procurement cost; they do not include the cost of government-furnished equipment (or GFE, meaning equipment for the ships that the government purchases and then provides to the shipbuilder for incorporation into the ship), post-delivery costs, costs for Navy-specific equipment, or government program-management costs.

The operational U.S. polar icebreaking fleet currently consists of one heavy polar icebreaker, Polar Star, and one medium polar icebreaker, Healy. In addition to Polar Star, the Coast Guard has a second heavy polar icebreaker, Polar Sea. Polar Sea, however, suffered an engine casualty in June 2010 and has been nonoperational since then. Polar Star and Polar Sea entered service in 1976 and 1978, respectively, and are now well beyond their originally intended 30-year service lives. The Coast Guard plans to extend the service life of Polar Star until the delivery of at least the second PSC. The Coast Guard is using Polar Sea as a source of spare parts for keeping Polar Star operational.

Download the document here.