America to be without a single icebreaker for the Arctic by 2019? For Alaska’s resource development future and America’s national security this is a path not to tread down.
America once had a strong fleet of seven heavy icebreakers, but now has only one remaining. Sadly, the reality is that the Arctic has been neglected, for the country hasn’t “commissioned a new [icebreaker] in 40 years. The Coast Guard’s sole remaining vessel, the Polar Star, is slated for retirement as early as 2019.” Heavy icebreakers serve many necessary functions relating to national security, commerce, and research purposes. As new shipping lanes in the Arctic continue to open, America and Alaska are being left in the dust. Russia, for example, is adding a dozen icebreakers to what already is the world’s biggest fleet of 41 icebreakers. This sorry state of affairs led Alaska Republican Senator Dan Sullivan to say, “The highways of the Arctic are paved by icebreakers. Right now, the Russians have superhighways, and we have dirt roads with potholes.”
Thanks to Alaska, America is an Arctic nation. However, without Congressional action regarding the funding for new icebreakers America’s presence and legitimacy as an Arctic nation will be severely diminished. Alaska’s Congressional delegation, and even the Obama administration recognize that America needs more icebreakers. The White House said in a statement that “heavy icebreakers will ensure that the United States can meet our national interests, protect and manage our natural resources, and strengthen our international … relationships.”
Alaska is losing its competitive edge due to our slipping levels of economic freedom as Headlamp outlined in a previous post. The Arctic is estimated to hold one quarter of the world’s oil and gas reserves. The U.S. should give a lot more attention and focus on developing the Arctic given such tremendous quantities of oil and gas resources. Headlamp certainly hopes that Alaska’s state leaders, and Congressional delegation can work to bring about a greater national interest in the Arctic, in a manner that shows how responsible resource development is fully possibly and already ongoing in this land of opportunity. The United States can no longer afford its complacency and must recognize the vital role icebreakers play in meeting the strategic challenges and opportunities ahead.
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