US Secretary of State delivers bullish Arctic speech in Rovaniemi

America's top diplomat says his country will sharpen its focus on the region in light of Russian and Chinese action.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivers a speech at the Arctic Council Ministerial in Rovaniemi, 6th May 2019 / Credit: US Embassy Helsinki

American Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has delivered a speech in Rovaniemi setting out his country’s robust new strategy for the Arctic, designed to counter what the US sees as alarming Russian and Chinese actions in the region.

Pompeo gave the bullish speech during the two-day Arctic Council Ministerial meeting taking place in the northern city, attended by foreign ministers from eight Arctic countries, representatives of indigenous communities, and many non-governmental organisations.

Among the American diplomat’s top themes were the strategic importance the Arctic region is taking on, and geo-political pressures from Russia and China.

“Beijing claims to be a ‘Near-Arctic State’, yet the shortest distance between China and the Arctic is 900 miles. There are only Arctic States and Non-Arctic States. No third category exists, and claiming otherwise entitles China to exactly nothing” said Pompeo.

China, like a number of other countries including Germany, UK, South Korea, Japan and Singapore are observer members of the Arctic Council. They’ve been admitted on the condition that they respect the sovereign rights of Arctic States.

Pompeo warned that China was investing in infrastructure projects in the Arctic as a way to establish military bases.

“This is part of a very familiar pattern. Beijing attempts to develop critical infrastructure using Chinese money, Chinese companies, and Chinese workers – in some cases, to establish a permanent Chinese security presence” he outlined, warning that the Chinese could deploy nuclear submarines to the Arctic region.

America’s “concern” over Russia

Secretary Pompeo also used his speech in Rovaniemi to confront Russia over its Arctic ambitions, especially with regards to shipping lanes.

“In the Northern Sea Route, Moscow already illegally demands other nations request permission to pass, requires Russian maritime pilots to be aboard foreign ships, and threatens to use military force to sink any that fail to comply with their demands” he said.

Pompeo said Russia had carved a pattern of aggressive behaviour in the region, opening up old military bases and deep-water ports, and installed “sophisticated new air defense systems and anti-ship missiles” to secure their Arctic presence.

America’s new measures 

Secretary of State Pompeo promised to sharpen America’s focus on the Arctic region in response to Chinese and Russian actions.

Those measures include “fortifying” US diplomatic and security presences in the region, likely through enhanced military exercises.

He also said there would be a new point man in the US military tasked with specifically looking at the Arctic region.

“Just because the Arctic is a place of wilderness does not mean it should become a place of lawlessness. It need not be the case. And we stand ready to ensure that it does not become so” he stated.