Jun 7, 2019

New U.S. Arctic strategy omits climate change, takes aim at China, Russia

A lone iceberg amid sea ice along the coast near Sermilik Fjord, Greenland. Photo: NASA/Joe MacGregor

The Defense Department quietly released a new Arctic strategy on Thursday that omits any mention of climate change in the region and casts the Far North as increasingly slipping into a zone of great power competition.

Why it matters: The Arctic has long been a region where the eight Arctic nations have collaborated on governance challenges as well as environmental and scientific concerns. However, with a buildup in Russia's military presence in the region, and China's increasingly assertive role as a "near-Arctic" nation, the U.S. is taking a more aggressive posture.

Details: The new strategy, which replaces one the Pentagon issued in 2016, makes mention of melting sea ice and increasing temperatures in the Arctic, but does not cite human-caused climate change as the driver of these trends.

  • In fact, it omits the term "climate change" altogether, despite the overwhelming scientific consensus that human-caused emissions of greenhouse gases are pushing the Arctic climate into a new and perilous era.

The big picture: The strategy echoes a bellicose speech delivered by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at a meeting of Arctic nations in Finland last month, where he warned that China and Russia are turning the Arctic into a region of great power competition.

  • The strategy refers to the Arctic as a potential corridor of "expanded strategic competitions."
  • It also warns of China's extension of its Belt and Road Initiative to the region and pursuit of dual-use infrastructure to project power in the Far North.

But, but, but: While the new strategy suggests the U.S. will deploy more forces to the Arctic and seek to assert itself more in the region, there are limited opportunities to do so in the near-term due to a lack of Arctic-capable military assets.

  • These range from America's tiny number of icebreakers when compared to Russia, as well as the lack of serviceable military outposts in the region.

What they're saying: "While the 2016 Arctic strategy highlighted the collaborative nature of the region, the U.S. now sees the Arctic 'in an era of strategic competition,'" Malte Humpert, the founder and senior scholar at The Arctic Institute, tells Axios.

  • "With the first new U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker and any possibility to increase its surface vessel presence in the Arctic at least 6 years in the future, for now, the U.S. has to resign itself to stepping up its 'Arctic rhetoric' instead."

Go deeper: The Arctic is unraveling as climate change intensifies

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New Zealand sets sights on coronavirus elimination after 2 weeks of lockdown

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern gives a coronavirus media update at the New Zealand Parliament in Wellington. Photo: Mark Mitchell - Pool/Getty Images

AUCKLAND -- New Zealand has flattened the curve of novel coronavirus cases after two weeks of lockdown and the next phase is to "squash it," Professor Shaun Hendy, who heads a scientific body advising the government on COVID-19, told Axios.

Why it matters: The country imposed 14 days ago some of the toughest restrictions in the world in response to the pandemic, despite confirming only 102 cases and no deaths at the time.

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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

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Tariff worries hit record high amid coronavirus outbreak

Data: CivicScience, margin of error ±1 percentage points; Chart: Axios Visuals

Concern about President Trump's tariffs on U.S imports grew to record high levels among Americans last month, particularly as more lost their jobs and concern about the novel coronavirus increased.

Driving the news: About seven in 10 people said they were at least somewhat concerned about tariffs in March, according to the latest survey from CivicScience provided first to Axios.