Point Counterpoint

Militarization Of The Arctic?

ME High School Debate Team Hashes it Out


The Arctic is an emerging issue in international politics from both an economic and an environmental point of view, and whether or not the U.S. does increase its military presence, the Arctic will definitely be a point of international contention in the future.  Many experts suggest that the militarization of the Arctic will be one of the future flashpoints in our geopolitical future.  

For September and October of this year, debaters across the country will be presenting arguments for and against the following resolution—Resolved: The United States should increase its military presence in the Arctic.  Debate Captains Gwen Berger and Stella Straub discuss some of the major issues below.  The following excerpts go through some arguments for the CON and PRO sides of the September/October debate topic.  

Nota Bene: High school debates center on a controversial topic and follow specific rules of debate to ensure a fair and challenging competition.  Competitors are required to argue both sides of the topic, both pro and con.  Arguments and opinions do not represent the opinion of the debater.  This article first goes through the CON side then PRO.

THE NEGATIVE SIDE ARGUES that the U.S. does not need to increase its military presence in the arctic.  The following are a few arguments that CON might use. 

CON ARGUMENT:  First, the topic requires an understanding of what is occurring in the arctic.  The arctic has captured the attention of eight countries; U.S., Russia, Greenland, Canada, Norway, Iceland, Finland, and Sweden. (1).   China is also interested in the Arctic due to its emerging trade routes.  The arctic is believed to have an abundance of resources, potentially holding “30% of the world’s undiscovered gas and 13% of its undiscovered oil.”  (2) Furthermore, climate change in the arctic has led to opening shipping routes - making journeys to Europe and East Asia far more efficient.  CON argues that bringing military negotiations to the table could risk damaging current cooperation between arctic states and indigenous communities on important issues like climate change, science, health, etc.  (3).  This is particularly threatening as indigenous communities safeguard an estimated 80% of the world’s biodiversity (4).

Furthermore, the Arctic Council was originally formed to enhance cooperation on environmental issues and foster an economy in the region.  By further militarizing, the U.S. risks its relations with other countries and loses sight of its original goal.  Although the Arctic Council has changed in the years since it was founded, traditional hard security has been left out for a reason.  Enhancing military strength in the arctic threatens to worsen tensions between Russia and the West.  CON argues that it is important that tensions do not enter a region where cooperation is still occurring and an important goal of tackling climate change is underway.  A goal integral when climate change only seems to get worse.  In fact, 2022 was the sixth warmest year in temperature data (5). 

Also, CON negates the fact that there is a “race” to conquer the Arctic.  Because of orbital configurations, satellite communications are limited.  With the limited communications combined with the harsh environment, it is necessary that countries assist each other to ensure safe and secure operations in the area.  Bringing the military to the area would heavily impair the ability to do so because it would foster distrust between countries. 

THE AFFIRMATIVE SIDE of this case argues for an increase in United States military presence in the Arctic.  There are several main arguments that the affirmative focuses on.

PRO ARGUMENT:  In the Arctic, ice is melting due to climate change.  As a consequence, opportunities for new shipping routes to open up that the U.S. could take advantage of.  These two routes, the Northeast Passage and the Northwest passage, have the capacity to reduce sailing time on trade routes all over the globe. In particular, The Northeast Passage connects the eastern and western parts of the Arctic Ocean, and it could be a game-changer for global trade. Compared to the 21,000-kilometer Suez Canal route between Europe and Asia, the Northeast Passage has a distance of just 13,000 kilometers, which reduces the sailing time from one month to less than two weeks between Europe and Asia. 

However, the current status of U.S. military forces for the arctic is insufficient and pale in comparison to those of other global superpowers like Russia.  In fact, the U.S. has only one operational icebreaker that is not even available year-round, compared to the over 40 icebreakers owned by Russia. 

With the melting ice, it becomes increasingly more clear that America’s military is insufficient at this time to grasp the full potential of the Northern Sea Route and
the economic benefits to be reaped from it. 

Additionally, the Arctic is home to some of the rarest materials on Earth.  According to Mark Rowe in an article from Geographical, “the main drivers of the Arctic resource rush are minerals, in particular rare earth metals such as neodymium, praseodymium, terbium, and dysprosium.  These minerals are key to the world’s electric-vehicle and renewable-energy revolutions, underpinning battery technology and wind turbines among other things.”  In addition to these minerals, the total mean undiscovered conventional oil and gas resources of the Arctic are estimated to be approximately 90 billion barrels of oil, 1,669 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, and 44 billion barrels of natural gas liquids.

However, with the U.S.’s singular icebreaker and insufficient military presence, this abundance of resources will fall to the hands of other global superpowers. 

Another point on the affirmative side of this case is on the environment.  U.S. military presence can help to mitigate the effects of oil spills in the Arctic, which present a unique risk.  Oil in the water spreads quickly through wind and currents, affecting entire ecosystems.  They affect wildlife and indigenous people’s food sources.  With an increase in U.S. military presence, environmental protection laws could be better enforced and oil spills more quickly dealt with. 

Gwendolyn Berger and Stella Straub are seniors on Manchester Essex Regional High School Debate Team.  Point / Counterpoint is a regular feature in the Manchester Cricket by the debate team.  Readers who would like to respond or follow up with the team, please email news@thecricket.com.