The Arctic is quickly reemerging as a strategic area where vital U.S. interests are at stake. The geopolitical and geo-economic importance of the Arctic region is rising rapidly, and its mineral wealth will likely transform the region into a booming economic frontier in the 21st century. The coasts and continental shelf of the Arctic Ocean are estimated to hold large deposits of oil, natural gas, and methane hydrate (natural gas) clusters along with large quantities of valuable minerals.
With the shrinking of the polar ice cap, extended navigation through the Northwest Passage along the northern coast of North America may soon become possible with the help of icebreakers. Similarly, Russia is seeking to make the Northern Sea Route along the northern coast of Eurasia navigable for considerably longer periods of the year. Opening these shorter routes will significantly cut the time and costs of shipping. (See Map 1.)
In recent years, Russia has been particularly active in the Arctic, aggressively advancing its interests and claims by using international law and by projecting military might into the region.
Despite the Arctic's strategic location and vast resources, the U.S. has largely ignored this region. The United States needs to develop a comprehensive policy for the Arctic, including diplomatic, naval, military, and economic policy components. This should include swiftly mapping U.S. territorial claims to determine their extent and to defend against claims by other countries.
The difficulties of operating in this region and our recent neglect argue for a command that can make up some ground in understanding the problems of operating in extreme cold.
Further, a separate command will help with dealing with other countries since we share responsibilities with Canada, Denmark, and Norway as frontline members of NATO who must cooperate in defending the area from Russian intrigue.
So, if we can justify AFRICOM, why not POLARCOM?