open skies

A Developing Maritime Operational Environment: Forward Presence and Freedom of Navigation in the Arctic

Troy J. Bouffard,
January 12, 2021

The Arctic states that maintain military forces and alliance memberships also generally maintain defense-related strategies associated with the Arctic. However, concerns remain involving the lack of clear synergy that often exists between political (national security) and defense-focused Arctic national policies. As an example, developing US Arctic policies indicate national requirements of establishing a strategic Arctic port(s) as well as progressing toward the US Navy’s surface presence in the Arctic. Yet, very few studies provides tangible details concerning operational purposes and criteria. As a result, the practice of military forward presence, especially the principle involving freedom of navigation, provides an ideal contemporary Arctic (hard) security issue to examine given the current lack of study. Forward presence and freedom of navigation represent fundamental aspects that enable force projection, which is a basic component of any deterrence strategy. Additionally, both forward presence and freedom of navigation will improve the position of the United States to confront a significant geopolitical, competitive issue involving the status of Russian and Canadian Arctic waters. Both Canada and Russia maintain definitions of ‘internal waters’ as maritime domains under their full sovereign control. Canada’s internal waters are clearly claimed within a contested straight baseline that envelops the entire archipelago. For the United States and Canada, the issue of the sovereignty over the waters of and transit within the archipelago endures under protest, but under amicable arrangements (particularly the 1988 Canada- US Arctic Cooperation Agreement). With respect to Russia, the status is unresolved but lacks any manageable agreements and involves far more conflicting circumstances.