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NDAA Shines Spotlight on Great Power Competition in the Arctic

NDAA Shines Spotlight on Great Power Competition in the Arctic

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On Wednesday, December 11, the House voted and passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2020. The Senate is expected to approve the measure in the coming days. The bill will then go to the White House, where the President is expected to sign it into law. This year’s NDAA is notable for the number of provisions related to the Arctic.

Prior to 2014, the term “Arctic” only appeared in two NDAAs, and US interest in the region was not framed in national security terms. Since 2014, the Arctic has steadily grown in importance. Between 2014 and 2019, there have been 12 Arctic provisions. Five of the provisions were focused on the Arctic and directly related to national security. For example, the 2018 law required reports on Department of Defense (DoD) and Navy capabilities in the Arctic, and the 2019 law required a report from DoD on Arctic strategy. The 2020 NDAA includes four provisions that address the Arctic and are directly related to national security.

Sec. 1238 requires reports to Congress on the military activities of Russia and China in the Arctic.
Who is responsible for the report? The Secretary of Defense, in consultation with the Secretary of State and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence
Timeline for the report? Not later than 180 days after the enactment of the legislation
What are the report requirements?
• Description of the military activities of Russia and China in the Arctic;
• Assessment of the intentions of those countries in the Arctic, and the threat their activities pose to US interests; and
• Explanation of any current or future US plans with respect to Russia’s and China’s Arctic activities.

 

Sec. 1260E commissions an independent report on Chinese foreign direct investment (FDI) in the Arctic region.
Who is responsible for the report? The Secretary of Defense in partnership with a federally-funded research center
Timeline for the report? Not later than 750 days after the enactment of this legislation
What are the report requirements?
• Description of any infrastructure, real estate, and/or energy exploration projects in the Arctic that are directly or indirectly funded by Chinese FDI;
• Legal analysis of the Chinese FDI is occurring in US, Russia, Canada, Greenland, Norway, and Iceland, in addition to the screening, assessment of the transparency, and monitoring of Chinese FDI;
• Analysis of the 2018 Chinese Arctic Policy and China’s strategic objectives in the region vis-à-vis the US and Russia; and
• Recommendations on how the US should engage nongovernmental organizations, such as the Arctic Council; whether or not the US should pursue the creation of the Arctic Development Bank; measures the US can take to promote regional governance and eliminate the soft-power influence from Chinese FDI; and the possibility of negotiating a regional arrangement to regulate FDI in countries of the Arctic region.

This section is notable because it is the first time Congress has recognized China’s growing influence in the Arctic, and perhaps signals its intent to counter China’s Polar Silk Road in the future.

 

Sec. 1706 requires a report to Congress on the plans for assisting mass-casualty disaster response operations in the Arctic.
Who is responsible for the report? The Secretary of Defense, in coordination with the Secretary of Homeland Security
Timeline for the report? Not later than 180 days after the enactment of the legislation
What are the requirements of the report?
• Assessment of logistical challenges associated with evacuations from the Arctic;
• List of all assets that could be made available to other agencies for disaster response, to include those for aeromedical evacuations;
• Assessment of the command, control, and coordination relationships that would be needed, as well as any communications assets that could be available; and
• Description of any pertinent cooperative arrangements with Canada and other regional partners for providing rescue assets and infrastructure.

 

Sec. 1752 requires a report to Congress on potential sites for one or more strategic ports in the Arctic. This provision updates the Arctic strategy report provision in the 2018 NDAA.
Who is responsible for the report? The Secretary of Defense, in consultation with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Commanding General of the United States Army Corps of Engineers, the Commandant of the Coast Guard, and the Administrator of the Maritime Administration
Timeline for the report? Not later than 180 days after the enactment of the legislation; Not later than 90 days after the report is submitted to Congress, the Secretary of Defense may designate one or more ports as Department of Defense Strategic Arctic Ports from the sites identified
What are the requirements of the report?
• Evaluation of the amount of space needed to create a port and other necessary infrastructure for several Coast Guard and Navy ships, as well as equipment and fuel storage, technological infrastructure, and civil infrastructure to support military and civilian operations;
• Identification of road access to an airport capable of supporting military and civilian aircraft for operations;
• Description of the requirements for communications and logistics necessary to improve response effectiveness to support military and civilian operations;
• Identification of the sites that the Secretary recommends as potential sites for designation as Department of Defense Strategic Arctic Ports; and
• Estimated cost construction necessary to initiate and sustain expected operations at such sites.

ASP has written numerous articles regarding US interests in an opening Arctic. Earlier this year, ASP published an article on the national security implications of a US strategic port in the Arctic and a piece on US policy in the Arctic. In previous years, ASP has written about the US need for more Arctic icebreakers, China’s Arctic strategy, the potential for US-Russia cooperation in the region, as well as other Arctic topics.

A resurgent Russia, ascendant China, and rapid climate change indicate that the Arctic is likely to be at the forefront of Congress’ and policymakers’ minds for the foreseeable future. In the new year, ASP plans to expand its work on the Arctic. Be sure to stay update to date on ASP’s articles on the Arctic.

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