ICYMI: Sullivan Discusses Alaska’s Strategic Importance & Military Build-Up at Aspen Security Forum
WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) and chairman of the International Republican Institute (IRI), emphasized the geo-strategic significance of Alaska and the need to continue the state’s military build-up in his remarks at the Aspen Security Forum on Friday. Senator Sullivan participated in a panel titled, “On Thin Ice? Navigating the New North,” which was moderated by Jim Sciutto, Chief National Security Correspondent for CNN.
In his remarks, Senator Sullivan said ensuring the Pentagon develops an adequate Arctic strategy has been a top priority since he was first elected to the Senate. The FY 2024 National Defense Authorization Act, as approved by SASC, continues the military build-up in Alaska with more than $168 million allocated for military construction projects and equipment in Alaska.
“The forces based in Alaska are closer to Korea, closer to Japan, closer to the Taiwan Strait than our forces based in Hawaii, than forces based in Australia,” said Senator Sullivan at the Aspen Security Forum. “We are making progress on a whole host of areas in the Arctic. But I will tell you—and again, no offense to the Pentagon—every single one of these initiatives has been pushed by the Congress, oftentimes at the reluctance or even opposition of the Pentagon. So we have a long way to go on recognizing the strategic interests in the Arctic. The good news is, it's finally starting to happen.”
To watch Senator Sullivan’s remarks, click here.
Senator Sullivan on the strategic significance of Alaska for America’s national security interests:
SENATOR SULLIVAN: “Alaskans have known for a long time about the strategic interests in the Arctic and its resources. The Arctic is a very rich area for natural resources—oil, gas, critical minerals. I had my team, back in the day when I was the Commissioner of Natural Resources and Energy in Alaska, we did a study on critical minerals. If Alaska were its own country, we would be in the top ten in the world in numerous critical minerals. So we have enormous opportunities there. . .
“Billy Mitchell, the father of the U.S. Air Force, called Alaska the most strategic place in the world. Because, if you look at a map, the way you just talked about, you can get to Asia, to Europe, all over the place in a very short amount of time. So it's a strategic crossroads. . .
“The forces based in Alaska are closer to Korea, closer to Japan, closer to the Taiwan Strait than our forces based in Hawaii, than forces based in Australia. So there's just a whole orientation that is often missed when it comes to the Arctic and, again, to your point, how strategic it is.”
Senator Sullivan on how he has pressed the Pentagon to develop an adequate Arctic Strategy:
SENATOR SULLIVAN: “When I got to the Senate, the commander of NORTHCOM back then, I was pressing him on the Arctic. He was very uninterested, I will tell you. And the one thing he actually mentioned to me—and he was going through the reasons why they weren't focused a lot in NORTHCOM, that's eight years ago on the Arctic—He literally said, well, there's no one up there. I was like, “Damn, Admiral.” My constituents are up there! Right? And so those are our strategic interests. Now, I love the military. No offense to the admiral here. I'm a colonel in the Marines myself in the Reserves. But the Pentagon has been the last agency in Washington, D.C. to get that.
“We have strategic interests in the Arctic and it has been a source of enormous frustration. Eight years ago, we had an Armed Services hearing. The Secretary of Defense was testifying and he brought out his Arctic strategy. It was 13 pages, seven of which were pictures. Climate change was mentioned five times and Russia was mentioned once in a footnote. I held it up in a hearing, looked at the Defense Secretary, and said, with all due respect, this is a joke. This is not a serious defense strategy.
“So here's the good news. Since that time, we have made enormous progress on a whole host of issues. We're building icebreakers, finally. Like I said, we have two. One is broken, but at least we're building. Russia, by the way, has 54, many of which are nuclear-powered. They're weaponized. We have the Ted Stevens DOD Center for the Study of Arctic Strategy in Alaska. We are building, finally, a deep-water port in Nome. We have a build-up of the military that's going on in Alaska that is very, very significant. So we are making progress on a whole host of areas in the Arctic. But I will tell you—and again, no offense to the Pentagon—every single one of these initiatives has been pushed by the Congress oftentimes at the reluctance or even opposition of the Pentagon. So we have a long way to go on recognizing the strategic interests in the Arctic. The good news is, it's finally starting to happen.”
Senator Sullivan on possible domain awareness vulnerabilities in Alaska:
JIM SCIUTTO: “Senator, so that for a brief moment a few months ago, the Arctic was very much in the news when a certain inflatable cable came across and over the north. And, you know, over the U.S. and then basically anything that was floating in that space got shot down for for about a week. It appears that there was a vulnerability, if you want to call it that, in Near-space that was exploited. Has the U.S. military has the U.S. plugged those holes?”
SENATOR SULLIVAN: “The issue of domain awareness for any kind of weapons system that's going to be coming to potentially threaten the United States, every single one of those weapons systems, if they're coming to threaten Chicago or Aspen or New York or Miami, they traverse over Alaska. That's just the geography. That's ballistic missiles. That's hypersonics. That's cruise missiles. These are all threats. We have all the missile defense systems for the United States pretty much everything is based in the Arctic or in Alaska. The ground-based missile interceptors, the radar systems. We have a brand new long-range discrimination radar site that's the most sophisticated in the world. We have been focused on ballistic missiles, but not on hypersonics, not on cruise missile capabilities, and, believe it or not, not on spy planes. And so that was a wake-up call with regard to domain awareness. And, again, when people say, well, we don't need those systems just protecting Alaska—they don't just protect Alaska. They protect the whole country. The outgoing NORTHCOM commander, General Van Herck, I think has been doing a really good job on this. He has been raising the alarm bell on domain awareness in the Arctic and Alaska for the whole country.”
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