Pentagon establishes new senior coordinator for Arctic policy

Reflecting the expanding global competition for influence and strategic advantage at the top of the world, the Defense Department has named Iris A. Ferguson as “deputy assistant secretary for Arctic and global resilience,” a new position to coordinate U.S. military policy in the increasingly-critical region.

The office will be the focal point for strategy in the Arctic, which encompasses three geographic combatant commands: the U.S. Northern Command, Indo-Pacific Command and European Command. Ms. Ferguson will help the military set priorities in the Arctic and develop partnerships with allies and partners. 

It will also have oversight of the newly-created Ted Stevens Center for Arctic Security Studies at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson near Anchorage, named for the late longtime Alaskan Republican senator. Critics say the U.S. has fallen well behind Russia and other rivals in the rush for advantage in the Arctic as a warming planet frees up natural resources and opens new shipping lanes.

“It’s important to have an office like this now to try to start laying the groundwork for how we can best prepare ourselves and to know what the challenges of the future may be,” Ms. Ferguson said. “There might not be conflict now, and there hopefully will never be conflict in the Arctic, but we need to be prepared to operate there.”

Changing climate conditions have opened up the Arctic for increased civilian maritime traffic and military operations by strategic competitors like Russia and China. With the largest landmass in the Arctic, Russia considers itself the regional preeminent power. The Kremlin has been rapidly improving its military capabilities in the Arctic.

The U.S. works alongside Canada to maintain missile defense facilities, radar positions and early warning sites in the Arctic through the North American Aerospace Defense Command. The Army recently established the 11th Airborne Division in the region to develop Arctic expertise in mobility and extreme cold weather operations. The Air Force also maintains top-of-the-line air combat units there.

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The Arctic “is a critical region for power projection and also for homeland defense,” Ms. Ferguson said.

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