The competition between China and the United States for global supremacy is moving into a new frozen theater.

The undeveloped Arctic region, with its wealth of resources, logistical nodes for faster travel and vast military and strategic potential, has long made it an important frontier for nations including Russia and the U.S. seeking geopolitical dominance.

Now, the People’s Republic of China is looking to the Arctic as part of its long-term strategy to replace the U.S. as the leading world power both economically and militarily. It wants the access and positional advantage of potential new shipping routes and resources that the Arctic region provides, and China is investing and engaging in scientific studies to increase influence in the region.

As a “near Arctic state,” China is unable to pursue open military presence in the region, so the country is pushing economically by investing over $90 billion in scientific research. The Chinese first entered the region back in 2003 in Norway by building a research base which began their expanse of influence within the region. It is also establishing other connections with Arctic states and involving itself in the counsels.

This strategy is giving China a growing foothold in the area. The country’s involvement in the free trade agreement policy with Iceland also brings it to the table as it discusses a future influential area with untapped recourses and closer borders to more vulnerable regions of the world.

At first glance, this approach seems simple and straight-forward, however, a deeper look shows that China is conducting strategic moves that will have long-term benefit for the PRC. Multiple attempts of purchasing land has been made in nations in or near the Arctic regions, including potential golf courses, three airfields, and a former military base.

All of these proposals have been rejected by the Arctic state amid growing concern of China choosing strategic infrastructure that would develop ports, active airfields and access to future nodes. Even against opposition, the PRC is able to partner with nations such as Finland and Greenland to increase communication capabilities in new areas. It’s is also working on undersea cables along the Northern Sea Route to lessen their dependency on external nations for information movement flows.

The number one priority for the U.S. in the region is security,as outlined in the National Strategy for the Arctic Region. Updates made in 2022 define more focused and achievable goals after observing the lack of effort compared to other Arctic states and near-Arctic nations. The U.S. goal is to protect its interests by deterring potential threats and mitigating future risk.

The best method to deter adversaries is by having a consistent and strong presence. Specialized training in harsh Arctic environments prepares soldiers how to handle situations in extreme cold weather that are harmful to people and leads to slower mission planning and execution by substantial margins. Being able to survive or thrive in temperatures below negative thirty degrees Fahrenheit requires an already present and equipped force that has established processes to win in that environment.

On June 6, 2022, the 11th Airborne Division was activated to achieve success in those harsh environments. By executing expeditionary missions and expanding the unknown impacts of multi-domain operations, they can better predict how to win in an Arctic environment. They increase their competence through the Joint Pacific Multinational Readiness Center in Alaska to make them a stronger presence in the Arctic to deter threats and mitigate risk to previously vulnerable regions.

China has had more than twenty years of strategically moving to become an actual Arctic state player. The investment far exceeds the time and effort the U.S. has put into the new frontier. The PRC still lacks the advantage, but is staged to be more influential and successful in the joint cooperation and infrastructure development required to maintain a growing presence in the Arctic.

The best time to start this endeavor was twenty years ago and the second-best time to start is now. America has started late in this race and needs more foresight on how to win in the Arctic.

Captain Nicholas Tachias is a Military Intelligence Officer in the United States Army. He’s a graduate of the University of Alabama in Huntsville earning a Bachelor of Science Degree in Information Systems with a concentration in Business Analytics in 2019.

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