WASHINGTON — Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski is planning to introduce legislation intended to expand U.S. military and shipping activity in the Arctic to combat Russian influence in the region.
“The Arctic is about national security, it’s about energy security, it’s about commercial enterprise and activity,” Murkowski said in an interview.
According to a spokeswoman for the senator, the Arctic Commitment Act would lay the foundation for year-round military presence at the Port of Nome and deepwater ports at Port Clarence and Unalaska. The measure also mandates that the Navy, Coast Guard and Army Corps of Engineers ensure the Port of Nome is equipped to implement the Defense Department’s national Arctic strategy.
Murkowski had plans to introduce the Arctic Commitment Act last week, but tested positive for COVID-19. Murkowski hopes to introduce the bill in the coming days.
U.S. officials have become increasingly invested in building an Arctic strategy. The federal government has poured millions of dollars into building up the Port of Nome. Last year, the Army published its first Arctic strategic plan titled, “Regaining Arctic Dominance.”
Murkowski said the Port of Nome’s proximity to the Bering Strait is critical, and bolstering a military presence there could help protect U.S. interests in the region.
“All you need to do is look at our close neighbor across the water there and recognize that they have not been sitting idle. They have built up a military presence in the eastern part of Russia,” Murkowski said. “We close our eyes to that at our own peril.”
In recent years, Russia has developed Arctic shipping routes, airports and power plants while militarizing the region with 50 icebreakers. Also, 20% of Russia’s exports are generated above the Arctic Circle. After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, calls for a cohesive Arctic plan have intensified.
Along with other provisions, Murkowski’s measure would also require the Department of Transportation to report to Congress about Russia’s current Arctic influence and produce a plan to reduce Russian shipping dominance.
“I think there’s a real concern that the Russians are positioning themselves to have a monopoly presence in the Arctic when it comes to shipping,” Murkowski said. “How we understand the implications of that is going to be important from a policy perspective.”