So, with over 300 in attendance from over 40 nations, Hagel outlined the department’s Arctic strategy emphasizing President Obama’s fundamental goal to ensure that “the Arctic region is peaceful, stable, and free of conflict.” Hagel explained how the U.S. would strengthen its military-to-military ties between Arctic nations, specifically referencing Russia, lest minds drift to the “us versus them” mentality of the past century. Indeed, all Arctic nations share a common interest in coordinating military activities for numerous reasons brought on by increasing interest in the Arctic region from nations far and wide.
For example, even though we have seen a drastic loss of multi-year Arctic ice, this does not mean that conditions for maritime activity are any less treacherous. Indeed, increasing marine transit and a desire for exotic tourism will assuredly accelerate the necessity for multinational search and rescue missions. The significance of multi-state cooperation was well illustrated when a Russian research ship, the Akademik Shokalskiy, was stranded in Antarctic ice pack on December 24, 2013. China’s icebreaker, the Xue Long, or Snow Dragon, made the first attempted rescue. But at 6.5 nautical miles from the 74 passengers including scientists, crew, journalists, and tourists, the Xue Long was also stalled in an estimated 4 meters (13 feet) thick ice.
French and Australian icebreakers followed, both of which were unable to break through the heavy ice. The passengers were eventually airlifted by a Chinese helicopter and transferred to an Australian icebreaker. The U.S. icebreaker, the Polar Ice, was en route, when the Akademik Shokalskiy and the Xue Long finally broke free on January 8, 2014. This rescue mission alone took the efforts of four countries, countless personnel, and a yet to be calculated financial expenditures shared among nations that came to the rescue. Simply put, rescue missions in the Polar Regions are costly and require multinational cooperation.