EUCOM Commander Cautions U.S. “Not Keeping Pace” with Russia’s Military Buildup in Arctic

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan (R-AK) yesterday questioned General Curtis Scaparrotti, commander of the U.S. European Command (EUCOM), during a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee on concerns over Russia’s continuing military buildup in the Arctic region including a new Arctic military command. Senator Sullivan noted Russia is aggressively building and refurbishing bases near the Northern Sea Route.

Russia Buildup in Arctic

Senator Sullivan Questions U.S. European Command on Russia's Military Build-Up in the Arctic (click image or here to watch).

Senator Sullivan pressed General Scaparrotti, “What do you think their intentions are? Are they installing any systems, including the fielding of major icebreakers that would give them de facto control of the Northern Sea route? They're clearly militarizing that part of the world. And what do you think they're trying to achieve?”

General Scaparrotti replied the Russians intend to provide safeguards and security for the economic wellbeing of the Arctic. He warned “if you look at what they’re putting into place, they would have the capability, in perhaps two or three years, to control the Northern Sea route, if they chose to do so.”

Senator Sullivan continued questioning General Scaparrotti on the impact of Russia having control over the Northern Sea Route, which is a “potentially incredibly important line of communication.” Senator Sullivan referred to the Defense Department’s Arctic Strategy, updated in 2016, which discusses the ability and necessity for the U.S. to run freedom of navigation operations in the Northern Sea Route. Sullivan asked, “Are we falling behind in terms of the capabilities that we have vis-a-vis the Russians to do that?”

General Scaparrotti replied, “we're not keeping pace.”

General Scaparrotti testified on the United States European Command’s Defense Authorization Request for Fiscal Year 2019 and the Future Years Defense Program. The Trump administration requested $6.5 billion request for the European Deterrence Initiative for 2019.

After the hearing, Senator Sullivan commended Secretary of Defense James Mattis for the Department of Defense’s new Arctic Strategy that identifies significant issues for the U.S. in the Arctic. Senator Sullivan sponsored legislation mandating an update for the plan. He also secured a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 calling for the department to report back on a new concept for a “Strategic Arctic Port” that would bolster U.S. military infrastructure to support future ice-hardened U.S. Navy Ships and/or U.S. Coast Guard heavy polar ice breakers in the Arctic region.