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The Arctic has a reputation for being dark, cold, and inhospitable but melting sea ice has made natural resources more accessible and opened shipping lanes, drawing the attention of the great powers. In 1996, to deal with competing interests the eight Arctic nations (Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and the United States) signed the Ottawa Treaty creating the Arctic Council. This council is an intergovernmental forum promoting cooperation in the region and involves 13 non-Arctic nations including China, France, India, Japan, and Poland. Most of the Arctic nations are U.S. Allies. Once Sweden joins NATO, Russia will be the only Arctic nation not in the alliance. Even with its allies, American capabilities in the region are challenged by Russia. Comparatively, Russia has extensive infrastructure and military bases in the region and has amassed the largest icebreaker fleet in the world with 46 ships. The United States has five and China only three. Even if the United States and its allies combined assets, it would number only 40 icebreakers. Icebreakers alone do not indicate a nation’s Arctic capability, but provide one indicator to be considered along with military bases, regional infrastructure, and air forces. Considering this situation, three main factors have pulled the great powers to the region. (1) The year-on-year reduction of sea ice has allowed greater access to shipping lanes and natural resources. (2) New technologies have made the region more accessible. This includes modern icebreakers, all-weather airstrips, drones, floating nuclear power plants, regional infrastructure improvements, and remote- sensing equipment. (3) The Arctic could provide alternative sources of oil and Rare Earth Elements (REE). With this purported opening of the Arctic, how should the United States and its allies respond?

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GNSI Decision Brief: Strategic Competition in the Arctic: Sooner or Later?