Sullivan Chairs Hearing on Coast Guard Arctic Strategy

Launches Senate Coast Guard Caucus, Announces New Legislation

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), chairman of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Security, today convened a hearing, “Expanding Opportunities, Challenges, and Threats in the Arctic: A Focus on the U.S. Coast Guard Arctic Strategic Outlook,” to examine the U.S. Coast Guard’s (USCG) current presence in the Arctic and what capabilities or infrastructure the service needs to meet America’s strategic priorities in the region. Additionally, Sullivan announced the formation of the U.S. Senate Coast Guard Caucus, and new legislation he will introduce directing the federal government to codify a strategy for the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard’s ability to operate in the Arctic.

“The U.S., one of the eight actual Arctic nations, has lagged behind in developing the infrastructure needed to meet the challenges…brought on by this expanding economic opportunity,” said Senator Sullivan. “A key component of the U.S. government’s strategy for managing the changing landscape in the Arctic is the U.S. Coast Guard. The Coast Guard has long been at the forefront of Arctic operations.” 

The hearing featured testimony from the vice commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, Admiral Charles Ray, and three policy experts: Heather Conley, director of the Europe Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS); Sherri Goodman, senior strategist at the Center for Climate and Security; and Dr. Michael Sfraga, director of the Polar Institute, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

In his first line of questioning, Sullivan pressed each of the initial three witnesses on the importance of having infrastructure and a deep-water port in place in the Arctic that can support the Coast Guard, Navy, and commercial vessels that will be increasingly operating in the region.

“We really don’t have any capability with regard to a strategic [Arctic] port. This isn’t a call for a giant Navy or Coast Guard base. It’s simply right now the ability to have an icebreaker or a national security cutter or a Navy destroyer to pull up to a port in America’s Arctic,” said Sullivan. “Right now, with the exception of Dutch Harbor and Anchorage, we can’t do that. Is that acceptable to you? Shouldn’t part of the DoD and Coast Guard plan be to at least have, what I have been calling for, a series of strategic Arctic ports in the region…?”

“Senator, we absolutely need a deep-water port in the Arctic,” replied Ms. Conley. “Let’s think about how long it took to get the polar security cutter. It took over a decade of talking and studying. We cannot wait ten years for this infrastructure.”

Ms. Goodman affirmed the senator’s concern, saying, “ I agree, we should have a strategic port in the Arctic and we should use this opportunity, because we need this infrastructure in the Arctic, also to understand … it should have an environmental security component as well. We should use it as a way to understand what it takes to build a resilient port—resilient to changing conditions, changing more rapidly than we expect in the region.”

The final witness, Dr. Sfraga, went a step further, emphasizing the need for more than just one port, saying, “I think we need a string of ports from the North Slope, along the Bering Strait, down to using our Adak naval base.” 

During the second panel, Sullivan then pressed Admiral Ray about the lack of a strategic port in the Arctic.

“There’s no question that a deep-water port north of Dutch [Harbor]…would benefit Coast Guard operations,” said Admiral Ray. “No doubt about it.” 

To watch the full hearing, click here

U.S. Senate Coast Guard Caucus

The Senate Coast Guard Caucus, announced by Sullivan at the hearing, was formed on October 30, 2019 to “advance [USCG] priorities through advocacy and legislation to ensure the continued security of the United States, safety of those operating on the nation’s waterways, and stewardship of our resources.”

Current co-chairs include Senators Sullivan, Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.). Members include Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Doug Jones (D-Ala.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). A copy of the caucus charter is available here

Strategic Arctic Naval Focus Act of 2019

Finally, during the hearing, Sullivan announced his plan to introduce the Strategic Arctic Naval Focus Act of 2019, with measures that would direct the federal government to recognize the importance of the Arctic to American national and economic security, and put forward a strategy for the U.S. fleet’s ability to operate in the Arctic and respond to challenges.

“I will also soon be introducing legislation to further advance the collaboration between the Navy and Coast Guard to increase their effectiveness for carrying out sustained operations in the Arctic,” said Senator Sullivan. “This bill will direct the strategic focus, infrastructure investment, and capability development needed to rapidly respond to crises in the Arctic, and to secure our sovereignty through persistent presence in this region of increasing great power competition.”

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