The Arctic Strategy
New Coast Guard plan focuses on understanding
the operating environment, governance, partnerships
By JOHN C. MARCARIO, Associate Editor
More Water, More Opportunities
The strategy was released the
The Coast Guard started operations in the Arctic in 1867 as the federal presence in what was known as
the District of Alaska. The service
was responsible for administering
justice, settling disputes, providing
medical care, enforcing sovereignty
and rescuing people in distress.
Today, the Coast Guard has specific statutory responsibilities in
U.S. Arctic waters that include core
missions — such as monitoring oil
drilling operations and assisting
cruise liners that may be in distress
— along with atypical missions,
such as the much-publicized 2012
operation that saw the Coast
The Coast Guard provides a seasonal presence
there, and the commandant has said a full-time facility
will not be needed for another decade, or two.
The service has spent the last six summers conducting operations in the region, with Arctic Shield 2012
stretching nine months and being hailed as a major
success that allowed the Coast Guard to not only continue studying what infrastructure would work in the
climate, but provided a better understanding of the
people who live there.
“The Arctic Ocean is rapidly changing from a solid
expanse of inaccessible ice fields into a growing navigable sea, attracting increased human activity and
unlocking access to vast economic potential and energy resources,” Papp said May 21, when he unveiled the
service’s 10-year strategy for the region at the Center
for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
The region has seen a dramatic increase in vessel traffic as ice has melted in the last few years, according to
Sea lanes in the Arctic are opening up for a longer period of time,
and that means more opportunities in waters that were once inaccessible for most of the year.
■ Shell Oil Co. started drilling two exploratory wells in the Arctic
last year and will continue this summer.
■ The Coast Guard and an interagency working group are looking to synchronize the efforts of federal agencies overseeing the
safe and responsible development of Alaska’s onshore and offshore energy.
■ The service also is engaging industry and the private sector to
address their responsibilities for pollution prevention, preparedness and response.
The Arctic presents opportunities for oil com- panies searching for untapped resources, mar- itime companies vying for quicker shipping
routes and tourists looking to take a cruise through the
icy region. But with opportunity comes cost and risk
for the agency responsible for safety and security in the
region, the U.S. Coast Guard.
Keenly aware of its future role in the region, the
service in May unveiled its “Vision for Operating in the
Arctic Region,” which will guide the service in devel-
oping requirements and capabilities over the next
decade. This document was released on the heels of the
White House’s first-ever “National Strategy for the
“Last September, we observed the lowest sea ice
extent in recorded history, and there are vast areas of
open water where there used to be ice,” Commandant
Adm. Robert J. Papp Jr. told Coast Guard stakeholders
on May 20, according to a service statement. “This strat-
egy is based on nearly 150 years of Coast Guard experi-
ence in maritime operations in the Arctic region.”