US Senator Dan Sullivan, Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer, and US Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Karl Schultz were in Nome on Monday morning. They’re touring the state in an effort to push for national security in the Arctic.
Their visit coincides with the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which is scheduled to be signed by President Trump today. Funds for the construction of six new icebreakers are included in the bill. Senator Sullivan explains the implications for that bill in the Arctic.
“The era of asking our military to do more with less is over… and a lot of that money is coming to Alaska.”
Senator Sullivan expressed that the US has been slow to keep up with national security matters in the Arctic. As Arctic waters open, so does the potential for security threats. The construction of a deep draft port in western Alaska would allow the Coast Guard and Navy to have a strong presence in the US Arctic. Secretary Spencer explained that the Russians have already opened up six additional airstrips. China has also put out an Arctic strategy.
Secretary Spencer spoke about Alaska’s role:
“We have to have a plan up here because we are going to be one of the major stabilizing factors of how the Arctic plays out.”
Concerns are not limited to national security but also include economic sovereignty. Admiral Schultz added:
“Presence equals influence in the Arctic. And we absolutely need to assert our national interest. About 13 percent of the untapped fossil fuels remain at the ocean’s floor up here — about a third of all the natural gas — and then you’re looking at a trillion dollars of minerals. And the US wants to assert our sovereign rights over those resources.”
Ultimately, Senator Sullivan stressed that security in the Arctic is a matter of urgency. His office has had correspondence with the US Army Corps of Engineers, and he expressed concern over their pace with the deep draft port process.
“Trust me, when we get back to DC, we’re going to reiterate our message to the Corps: ‘No more foot dragging here, let’s finish this study. It’s important for Alaska, it’s important for Nome, it’s important for the country.’ And again, I think having the top leaders in the country on these issues here on the ground in Nome is going to help us make that point.”
Senator Sullivan, Secretary Spencer, and Admiral Schultz continue their tour with a stop in Port Clarence later today (Monday).