WASHINGTON — For weeks on Capitol Hill, lawmakers have been peppering Pentagon officials about their plans in the Arctic. Russia, it seems, is winning in the Arctic while the US military hasn’t even got its snow boots on.
Lawmakers in most instances referenced the testimony of Joint Chiefs Chairman Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, who with Defense Secretary Ash Carter, acknowledged the region as strategically important. Russia had just decided to reactivate six brigades, four of them in the Arctic, Dempsey said in response to questions from Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska.
It was a factoid that appeared long after Dempsey’s mention of it at that March 3 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, bolstered by an Associated Press report March 12 that the Russian military had launched sweeping military maneuvers in the Arctic and other areas, a show of force ordered by President Vladimir Putin amid spiraling tensions with the West over Ukraine. The five-day Arctic drills involved 38,000 servicemen, more than 50 surface ships and submarines, and 110 aircraft.
The combination fueled a push and pull in budget hearings that seemed to produce little beside agreement between lawmakers and military officials that the Arctic is important. Between the Navy and Coast Guard, some lawmakers were confused about who is responsible for the region.
It is US Northern Command, which took responsibility for the region in October. Its ambitious mandate — in line with DoD’s 2013 Arctic Strategy — includes persistent domain awareness, robust communications, deployable forces and infrastructure in the Arctic.