But Antarctica is demilitarized. New tensions with Russia and China
[10 Giugno 2020]
US President Donald Trump signed the “Memorandum on Safeguarding U.S. National Interests in the Arctic and Antarctic Regions “with which he orders the secretaries of state, defense, trade, energy, internal security, the director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the assistant to the president for national affairs of security, to safeguard “US national interests in Arctic and Antarctic regions” and writes that “To help protect our national interests in the Arctic and Antarctic regions and maintain a strong presence of Arctic security together with our allies and partners, the United States requires a fleet of icebreakers for polar security ready, capable and available, which is operationally tested and fully deployable by fiscal year 2029 “.
And, “As a result, by the authority of which I am invested as president by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America,” Trump orders the US to develop a program to acquire an icebreaker polar fleet that supports interests. Americans in the Arctic and Antarctic regions.
The U.S. Federal Administration will need to analyze the requirements to acquire this icebreaker fleet which will also serve to ensure the “national security strategy and national defense strategy, as appropriate. Separately, the review will include the ability to provide a persistent presence of the United States in the Antarctic region, as appropriate, in accordance with the system of the Antarctic Treaty “, which however does not provide for a military presence in Antarctica.
The Secretary of National Security, through the Coast Guard, in coordination with the Secretary of Defense and the Navy and the Secretary of Energy, will conduct «A comparative study of the advantages and operational and fiscal risks of a mix of polar icebreaker fleets of security that consists of at least three heavy polar-class security cutters (PSC) that are adequately equipped to achieve the objectives of this memorandum “.
This study must be submitted to Trump by the Director of the OMB and the President’s Assistant for national security affairs, within 60 and must include: the cases in which to use in the Arctic “the full range of national security missions and economic (including facilitating the exploration and exploitation of resources and the laying and maintenance of submarine cables) that can be performed by a medium-sized PSC class, as well as analyzes of how these use cases differ from the intended use PSC heavy for these same activities. These use cases will identify the optimal number and type of polar safety icebreaker to ensure a persistent presence in the regions of the Arctic and, where appropriate, of the Antarctic “; an assessment of the extended operational capabilities, with the related costs, for the heavy and medium PSCs not yet subject to the contract, “including in particular the maximum use of these PSCs with respect to its ability to support national security objectives through the use of the following means: unmanned aviation, surface and submarine systems; space systems; sensors and other systems to achieve and maintain maritime domain awareness; command and control systems; secure communication and data transfer systems; and information collection systems. This assessment should also assess defensive armaments that are adequate to defend against the threats of nearby competitors and the potential of nuclear propulsion. Having defined the size and composition of the US polar fleet, it will be necessary to evaluate the identification of “at least two optimal locations of United States bases and at least two locations of international bases. The assessment of the location of the bases includes the costs, benefits, risks and challenges related to infrastructures, on-board personnel and logistical and maintenance support for the PSCs in these places. In addition, this assessment should take into account potential burden-sharing opportunities to be shared with the Department of Defense and allies and partners, as appropriate. For this reason, Trump also provides for a bridge refinancing of the USCGC Polar Star 2022-2029 program, also with chartering of ships. But the goal remains to “ensure a fleet of icebreakers for polar security that is fully capable of providing a persistent presence in the Arctic and Antarctic regions at the lowest possible cost”.
Currently the US can count on only one heavy operating icebreaker, the USCGC Polar Star, built in the 70s and now obsolete, and on a medium-sized icebreaker, the USCGC Healy. Trump has asked to close the gap that divides the US from other nations and the reference to Russia is more than evident.
Indeed, the confrontation over Arctic dominance between Washington and Moscow has become increasingly tough, and US national security secretary John Bolton said in May that the US Coast Guard was to challenge Russia’s “growing military influence” and China in the region.
Russia has never made a secret of the fact that it considers the Arctic vital for its strategic interests and that it does not intend to give up a handful of the sovereignty declared on the Arctic platform. As he explains Russia Television, “In this context, the Russian government has developed navigation rules in its territorial waters for the northern sea route for military boats from foreign countries, which stipulate the need to notify the transit 45 days in advance and the mandatory presence of at least one Russian captain or shipowner. Russia reserves the right to refuse access to the route, while, in the event of unauthorized access, extraordinary measures may be applied, such as detention, including the physical elimination of the ship “. Moscow justifies these measures with the need to react to the intensification of the military activities of other countries in the Arctic where Russian, Swedish, German, South Korean and Chinese icebreakers are currently sailing.