The Biden administration announced Friday that it will appoint a new ambassador for the Arctic, a region the US military and NATO view as a potential battleground with Russia.
US Arctic policy is currently handled by an official in the State Department, but the Biden administration wants to establish a full ambassador, which would require Senate approval.
The US and its NATO allies are looking to expand their military footprint in the Arctic, and the military alliance’s territory in the region could increase if Sweden and Finland’s memberships are approved.
Russia has a massive Arctic coast that stretches almost 15,000 miles across the Arctic Circle. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said that Russia’s capabilities in the Arctic are a “strategic” challenge for the military alliance.
Stoltenberg made the comments while in Canada, where he welcomed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s plan to increase spending for NORAD, a joint US-Canadian military command meant to provide air protection for the two nations.
The NATO chief and Trudeau visited a Canadian military base in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, above the Arctic Circle, where an air defense radar for NORAD is located. Earlier this year, Canadian military leaders said that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine requires more spending on Arctic capabilities.
The US military is preparing for a future conflict in the Arctic with Russia, as well as China, by revamping its forces in the region. The US Army released a strategy document last year that said the Arctic has the “potential to become a contested space where United States’ great power rivals, Russia and China, seek to use military and economic power to gain and maintain access to the region at the expense of US interests.”
The US Navy released a similar strategy document in early 2021. Then-Navy Secretary Kenneth Braithwaite suggested that the US could start challenging Russian claims to the Arctic by sending warships near Russia’s northern coast, similar to how the US Navy makes provocative passages near Chinese-controlled islands in the South China Sea.