Jon White – From the President’s Office: 12-17-2018

2018-12-17T16:02:55+00:00 December 17, 2018|

Walls and Narwhals

The Arctic is host to a number of unique animals, including the “unicorn of the sea” – a narwhal, a whale species with a tooth that grows into a nearly nine-foot long spiral tusk. But this region is more than just a home for these marine mammals, it is also critical to our country’s national security. Arctic nations are jostling for a foothold in the region, where the climate is changing faster than anywhere else in the world (NOAA just reported that the Arctic Ocean has lost 95 percent of its oldest and thickest sea ice) and geo-temporal maritime access steadily increases. But the United States may be out-jostled and outsmarted in terms of ocean knowledge and maritime presence, as attempts to rejuvenate our aging and undersized icebreaker fleet vacillate. Meanwhile, Russia and China continue to develop infrastructure (including new icebreakers) and set forth deliberate plans to increase their Arctic presence and knowledge at an alarming rate. This inconsistency in our nation’s Arctic investments flies in the face of our National Security Strategy that states “China and Russia challenge American power, influence, and interests, attempting to erode American security and prosperity” and our National Defense Strategy that states “the central challenge to U.S. prosperity and security is the reemergence of long-term, strategic competition” – chiefly Russia and China.

Ocean scientists and technologists across our country (and throughout our allied nations) strive to conduct essential research and development as we attempt to understand the changing Arctic in numerous aspects that impact national, homeland, energy, and food securities (ocean security). But that requires access to the region where ice, ocean, and atmospheric dynamics are all rapidly evolving, and the need for increased icebreaker capacity to ensure safe and effective access and presence is well documented.

Last week, the House introduced a new FY 2019 spending bill for the Department of Homeland Security that would scrap a program to expand our icebreaker presence (previous bills introduced in the House and Senate included $750 million for it) but fully funds the southern border wall at the $5 billion requested by the president. It is imperative we recognize the critical importance of the Arctic region to our national security and the dire consequences that will come from ignoring it – or being unable to access it, understand it, and ensure its health and prosperity going forward (which are all tied to ocean security concerns). Congress and the president must fund our icebreaker program; the Arctic may have its own “unicorns,” but that doesn’t make the security challenges make-believe. If we’re not careful, we may end up with an Arctic without narwhals or U.S. presence and leadership, which are desperately needed in this maritime region of rapidly growing strategic, economic, and environmental importance.

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