February 08, 2012

Read This Now: Admiral Robert J. Papp Jr. on the Arctic Frontier

For those of you who have not been following the national
security or defense journals recently, the U.S. Naval Institute’s Proceedings published in its February
2012 edition a great article by U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) Commandant Admiral
Robert J. Papp Jr. on the Arctic, paving the way – I hope – for a national
level discussion on U.S. interests and goals in the High North.

Arctic region—the Barents, Beaufort, and Chukchi seas and the Arctic Ocean—is
the emerging maritime frontier, vital to our national interests, economy and
,” Admiral Papp writes. “The
difference [between the Arctic and the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans] is that in
the rest of the maritime domain, we have an established presence of shore-based
forces, small boats, cutters, and aircraft supported by permanent
infrastructure and significant operating experience. Although the Coast Guard
has operated in southern Alaska, the Gulf of Alaska, and Bering Sea for much of
our history, in the higher latitudes we have little infrastructure and limited
operating experience, other than icebreaking

Admiral Papp describes the U.S. Coast Guard’s
responsibilities in the Arctic and, by doing so, lays out how the Coast Guard
should be prepared to lead. “Our
first challenge is simply to better understand the Arctic operating environment
and its risks, including knowing which Coast Guard capabilities and operations
will be needed to meet our mission requirements
,” Admiral Papp states. This
includes addressing the lack of USCG infrastructure that can support shore-based
operations, as well as “ensuring
that Coast Guard men and women have the policy, doctrine, and training to
operate safely and effectively in the northern Arctic region.”
In addition,
the Coast Guard is “working closely with other key federal partners to lead the
interagency effort in the Arctic,” leveraging its experience with “speaking the
interagency language” and success with engaging the range of
public and private stakeholders active in the Arctic, from local tribes to
corporate adventurers.

According to Admiral Papp, beginning in summer 2012 the USCG
will begin an Arctic Maritime Campaign that will “define
the required mission activities for the Coast Guard in the northern Arctic
,” which by necessity will require the USCG to evaluate what
capabilities it needs to execute those activities, and, more importantly in
this budget-constrained environment, what capabilities it lacks. The effort,
Admiral Papp writes, will begin with the Coast Guard and then (hopefully)
include others from the interagency.

Even with the Coast Guard charging forward, the United
States still needs a comprehensive Arctic strategy. To develop that strategy,
we need more than just the Coast Guard at the interagency table having a
conversation about strategy in the Arctic. The U.S. government needs all
stakeholders to be involved in the conversation about what it is in the United
States wants to do in the Arctic region. I give the Coast Guard a lot of credit
for getting the conversation started. But there is a delicate balancing act
that has to happen with respect to resources and strategy. Strategy must drive the
conversation about what resources we need to accomplish our policy objectives
in the region, not the other way around. Let’s be prepared to do what we want
to do in the Arctic, and not be hamstrung by a lack of strategic thinking that translates into a lack of resources to accomplish our goals. The
Coast Guard has started the conversation about strategy and resources; it is time for others in the
interagency to join in.