Washington and its allies have been too slow to react to Russian and Chinese expansion in the Arctic, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said. Still, the US will “succeed” in entrenching there, he believes.
“I think we have all been a little bit naive to watch not only the Russians but the Chinese interest there continue to become more and more aggressive,” Pompeo told Danish public broadcaster DR on Wednesday.
We are a little late. That’s alright, I’ve been late to parties before and had a great time. We’ll succeed.
Expanding into the Arctic has been on the US agenda for quite some time, with the goal accelerating under the Trump administration. Indeed, President Trump prompted international mockery after floating the idea of purchasing Greenland from Denmark last year. The vast island is located almost entirely beyond the northern polar circle.
Back in June, the US president ordered the building of a “fleet of polar security icebreakers” to protect the American interests in the Arctic and the Antarctic alike. The fleet is due to become operational as soon as 2029.
The US currently only has one heavy icebreaker in its inventory, the USCGC Polar Star, and one medium icebreaker, the USCGC Healy. The Polar Star was built back in the 1970s and is quickly approaching the end of its service life.
Russia, for its part, has been prioritizing development of the Arctic region for decades already, which is hardly surprising since vast parts of its territory lies beyond the polar circle. Moscow maintains a large fleet of conventional and nuclear icebreakers – in fact, it’s the only nation that has such vessels.
The icebreakers are used for both military and civilian needs, namely to provide an uninterrupted goods flow over the Arctic trade route, which lies past Russia’s northern shores. In recent years, the importance of the route has increased as it became a major artery for the liquefied natural gas trade which primarily flows to Southern Asia, including the Chinese market.
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