The Defense Department and Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski announced Wednesday that the Pentagon picked Anchorage as the site of the new Ted Stevens Center for Arctic Security Studies.
“We are the state that makes America an Arctic nation and our geostrategic location creates unparalleled possibilities available nowhere else,” Murkowski, a Republican, said in a statement.
Murkowski and fellow Alaska Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan pushed to secure $10 million for the center under the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act.
The Defense Department already has five such centers focused on Europe, the Asia-Pacific region, Africa, the Middle East, and one focused on “Hemispheric Defense.” This is the first center to focus on far-north environments. While the creation of a military research center for the Arctic has been discussed for a while, there were questions about where it would be located. Other locations that were considered were Washington, D.C., and Colorado Springs. The Pentagon has not yet selected a specific site for the facility, or clarified whether it will be on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson or inside the Municipality of Anchorage.
“I have been very outspoken to both the president and his administration that the Ted Stevens Arctic Center for Security Studies must be located in Alaska,” Murkowski said.
“(The center) will address the need for U.S. engagement and international cooperation to strengthen the rules-based order in the region and tackle shared challenges such as climate change,” said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin earlier this year when the facility’s creation was first announced.
Regional Centers function more like think tanks than military training facilities, designed to convene civilian, academic, diplomatic and armed forces officials. There are already a number installations in Alaska focused on cold-weather fighting and survival tactics. The regional center is geared toward broader geopolitical strategy, including scientific research, diplomacy and multi-lateral security.
“My hope is that it provides the focus that the Arctic needs, that the Arctic demands,” Murkowski said in an interview Wednesday from her office in the capital. “My metric of success will be that the Arctic will be recognized as a significant place on the globe, rather than this snow globe that’s been sitting up on the shelf.”
The center is named for the late Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, intended to honor his legacy advocating for Alaska and Arctic interests during his decades of public service.
In September, retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Randy “Church” Kee was named the center’s Senior Advisor for Arctic Security Affairs, and will help set up the new facility. Kee’s career includes several positions focused on Arctic research and strategy.
In October, Kee authored a lengthy reflection on the geopolitical environment necessitating more investment in the region in an Air Force policy journal.
“The Arctic is changing dramatically in terms of the physical environment and geostrategic challenges,” Kee wrote. “As Arctic region climate change continues to develop, industry and nations alike are seeing the Arctic as a region of opportunity, and now competing national claims for extended continental shelfs across the Arctic basin are already well underway.”
While the region has not protracted industrial warfare like many other parts of the globe, the ongoing build up in resources by Russia and China is becoming increasingly apparent to U.S. officials.
“While Russia’s Arctic interests, understandably, include defense of its own national sovereignty, its military buildup across the Arctic is larger than that required solely for defense. China’s interests and continued investments in the Arctic are multifaceted,” Kee wrote, noting the nation’s expanded ventures into everything from commercial fishing to transportation routes.
“The Arctic is now a space in which military powers maintain presence, posture, and prepare for conflict that most hope will never materialize,” Kee wrote.
Kee said the center intends to collaborate with other Arctic nations, as well as Indigenous groups.
“As the Arctic’s permanent populations have unmatched Arctic insights and understandings, there is so much that civilian and military security practitioners can and need to learn,” Kee said.
“Everything is now put in motion,” Murkowski said of the center’s timeline. “My sense is we’re talking just a matter of months.”