MOSCOW, July 24 (RIA Novosti) - The United States risks losing its seat at the Arctic table if it does not commit resources to the region, where government agencies have been heavily shortsighted, Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Duncan Hunter told RIA Novosti Wednesday.
“We have been shortsighted,” Hunter, a Republican from California, said about US capabilities in the Arctic.
“We’re not going to have a seat at the table. We’re going to have a bunch of great policy and a lot of great talking points and no ability to do anything about it,” he added.
The United States currently has three polar-class icebreakers, two of which are nearing the end of their active life.
Hunter chaired a hearing on the future of the US Arctic policy, dealing with the lack of resources allocated to US capabilities in the region, particularly medium capacity icebreakers.
Witness Vice Admiral Peter Neffenger of the US Coast Guard told RIA Novosti after the hearing that the US agencies were simply developing “a new awareness” of the region’s importance.
Hunter strongly disagreed saying the Coast Guard has been shortsighted and underfunded in its acquisition of icebreakers, while the Navy could build an icebreaker in six months if needed.
“If they really wanted to, we could build this thing quickly and we could pay for it,” he said, adding that the perception of the need to have capabilities in the Arctic was lacking.
The estimated price of a single medium capacity icebreaker with defense capabilities starts at $800 million to $1 billion. Commercial and scientific vessels cost around $500 million.
An amendment to the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act sought increased funding for a new icebreaker fleet but failed. In a different bill, just $8 million were allocated for the Navy and Coast Guard to work more closely to develop a plan to expand the fleet.
The most recent icebreaker, Healy, was commissioned in 1999 and paid for through US Navy shipbuilding allocations. Hunter argued that agencies, particularly the Navy, had the resources to reallocate to Arctic vessels.
“They shouldn’t have to be force-fed by Congress to have something that benefits them and the nation, which is what’s happening now,” Hunter said.
Since budget sequestration came into effect with the 2013 budget, all branches of the US military have had to cope with scarce resources. While funds could be reallocated to meet the needs of an established US presence in the Arctic, Hunter doubted that those difficult decisions will be made.
He said that the July 23 hearing was likely to have been the last one held by his subcommittee dealing with the Arctic during his chairmanship. He sees no commitment from government agencies to a concrete US presence in the region.
“I just don’t think it’s there; otherwise they would do it,” Hunter said.