Breaking the ice in the Arctic

The polar ice cap is melting and the Arctic Ocean is fast becoming navigable and every country with access to the Arctic Ocean is rushing to take advantage of all that navigable water except us. We are so unprepared, in fact, that the United States has only one ice breaker capable of navigating the Arctic in icy months. And it’s only a medium sized vessel, based out of Seattle. Not Alaska, Seattle. Our one heavy ice breaker, the forty year old USS Polar Star, is also in Seattle, but it’s mothballed, ready for scrap. On the other hand, Russia has four heavy icebreakers already in the water–and based in the Arctic–and another four on the way. No idea what the U.S. is supposed to do if our one operating icebreaker has to go into dry dock. Borrow one of Russia’s?

Yet any attempt by the Obama Administration to somehow ready us for the open water Arctic is met with stiff resistance by congressional Republicans. They’ll be no more icebreakers. That would mean an increased presence in the Arctic. Which would mean that the ice has melted. Which would mean temperatures have risen. And that’s where we get into trouble. The Republicans oppose anything that suggests global warming might be real. They pretend it all isn’t happening. Their opposition is so uncompromising that the US has done next to nothing to prepare for the new realities up there. Denmark–yes, Denmark–will have a bigger presence on the Arctic Ocean than we will. As will England, though they have no Arctic shore to call their own. Even tiny Iceland could be better prepared than us, and we have one thousand times as many people as they do.

Of course, we still have submarines up there, playing cat and mouse with their Russian counterparts. But that is underwater, and the Republican congressmen find solace in that, no doubt seeing visions of Ice Station Zebra, with submarine conning towers poking through a vast plain of ice. They can’t be looking at the same satellite photos we all see, with blue ocean stretching the length of the Siberian coast all the way to Canada. They just pretend its frozen solid and inaccessible, and if they wish hard enough maybe it will all go away. How did Republicans, once the cold-eyed realists in foreign policy, ever become so delusional?

Our national icebreaker, USS Polar Star, in better days.

Our national icebreaker, USS Polar Star, in better days.

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