By David Hunt After long delays, the Obama administration has finally made a decision on its Arctic policy and focus on the development of the vast amounts of natural resources that encircle Alaska. Several decisions actually.
Unfortunately, they took a step in the wrong direction for the nation’s goals for self-sufficiency, economic growth and national security.
Rather than solidify our national security by expanding our country’s diverse energy portfolio and opening up several areas of the energy-rich Arctic region to exploration and production, the administration, with leadership of the Arctic Council just a few months away, chose to set a bad example by closing off much of this territory via a recent series of puzzling announcements that will be at the center of debate at next month's Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing, according to Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.
First, the president issued an executive order creating a steering committee on U.S. Arctic policy that excluded Alaskan natives and officials — you got that right, there were not any Alaskans on the Arctic policy steering committee. Then, the administration asked Congress to designate several parts of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as a wilderness area, putting the land off-limits for drilling and violating multiple agreements and promises that Washington had previously made to Alaska. Days later, the Interior Department unveiled a draft of its proposed leasing program for offshore waters between 2017 and 2022 — and did not include several portions of the Arctic’s resources-rich Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, restricting access to some of the world’s most prolific reserves of oil and natural gas. Not to be lost is the multiple-year delay in permitting and approving energy development in existing leases held in both seas.
This chain of proclamations shows just how out-of-touch the president continues to be on the significance of this influential part of the world. Newer, more efficient shipping routes, combined with potential world class untapped oil and natural gas resources, has made the Arctic an emerging hotbed for control of international affairs. But while many countries have moved quickly to leave their mark in the region, America, to date, has not.
Even though Alaskan oil was instrumental in helping the U.S. undo the Soviet Union back in the 1980s, the administration remains oddly in the dark about the geopolitical importance of the Arctic. This region’s significance, however, is not lost on the Russians, who have launched a large-scale militarization that includes a 6,000-solider permanent military force in the northwest Murmansk region, new radar and guidance system capabilities, and nuclear-powered submarines and icebreakers. Russia is also engaged in Arctic territorial disputes with Canada, sidestepping the United Nations in the process while drawing up somber memories of the Cold War.
With Russia shaken by tumbling crude oil prices — a global market trend led by America’s new role as an oil and gas leader with an abundance of energy and a decreasing need for imports — now is the time for the president to open more exploration and production in yet to-be-tapped regions. Such a maneuver would have helped to hamper Russia’s military advancement in the Arctic, while creating jobs here at home and further improving our national security. After all, it grows increasingly harder — and costly — to maintain a colossal military presence when oil prices, the Russian economy’s bread and butter, stays low.
Instead, the president has acted to restrict access to some of the most resources-rich sectors of the world. The damaging impact of his decisions are far reaching. They impede our ability to learn significant maritime information. They reduce our navigation and border security capabilities. And they obstruct our ability to grow our energy infrastructure, which would keep us moderately reliant on foreign rivals such as OPEC for oil. The results will be to lead us deeper into debt and help fund our greatest adversaries.
As both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives will highlight in upcoming hearings, there is still time for the administration to right this wrong and jettison overly prescriptive regulations that stifle innovation and are counter to our geopolitical interest in regions such as the Arctic. This would help us utilize all available resources to counter rivals such as Russia and boost our ongoing energy boom in the lower 48 states, which has made the U.S. more self-sufficient and secure than ever before.
It can be done. All it takes is advancing policy aimed at improving our infrastructure and safeguarding our borders rather than progressing misguided agendas that benefit our rivals.
David Hunt is a retired U.S. Army colonel and a former security adviser to the FBI. He served as counterterrorism coordinator for the 1988 Summer Olympic Games in Seoul. The 114th: CQ Roll Call's Guide to the New Congress Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.