Senator, top brass visit Port of Nome
United States Senator Dan Sullivan accompanied by top brass of both the Coast Guard and the U.S. Navy visited Nome’s port Monday as part of their quest for a deep water port to serve the increasing strategic importance of the Arctic. They had been to Adak, a former naval base in the Aleutian chain, and after visiting Nome they traveled to Port Clarence for a look at that possible site.
With the senator were Admiral Karl L. Schultz, Commandant of the U.S.Coast Guard and Richard V. Spencer, Secretary of the Navy.
“Having the top leaders on the issue here on the ground in Nome is going to help us,” said Senator Sullivan.
On Monday President Trump signed the National Defense Authorization Act, which Senator Sullivan described as very strong bi-partisan bill that sets the funding levels and policies for the U.S. military.
“As a member of the Armed Services Committee I was one of the senators who helped write that,” he said. “It significantly increases our defense spending. As I’ve been saying the era of asking our military to do more with less is over. We have certain significant national security challenges but now we’re increasing our spending.” He added that a lot of that money is coming to Alaska.
“So what are we doing here? We’re having the most important people in the U.S. military looking at different options for Arctic ports,” said the senator.
The NDAA bill authorizes the construction of five additional polar class icebreakers.
“I talked about 6-3-1 strategy,” said Admiral Schultz of the Coast Guard. “Six icebreakers, a minimum of them being heavy icebreakers, or polar icebreakers, and one being now.” He added that they should be called “Polar security cutters.” “We have to have a plan up here,” he said. “Presence equals influence in the Arctic. And we absolutely need to assert our national interest. About thirteen percent of the untapped fossil fuels remain at the ocean’s floor up here, about a third of all the natural gas, and then you’re looking at a trillion dollars of minerals. The US wants to assert our sovereign rights over those resources.”
Richard Spencer, Secretary of the Navy said, “As the blue water Arctic opens we have to be up here. We are definitely focused on where we go forward with the Arctic.” He described the increased threat from Russian forward positioning in the Arctic with more airstrips and 10,000 Spetsnaz troops.
The Nugget’s asked about UNCLOS, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Both the Coast Guard and the Navy support ratification of the treaty, which the US has signed but has yet to ratify.
“I know a lot of the Navy and the Department of Defense think that’s important,” replied Senator Sullivan. “There are provisions of the current treaty, particularly giving authority to the UN that allows for taxing of mining companies that I have an issue with. If you look historically, when treaties have come to the floor of the senate, I think it’s over one hundred times that senators have actually amended treaties during the debate and then sent it back to the negotiators saying ‘Hey, we’ll pass this if you can amend it along these lines.’ It would be important certainly for Alaska. But what I’ve said is the provision that gives the UN the authority to tax mining I have an issue with. And that needs to be fixed before I would support it.”