Members of the Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star (WAGB 10) deck department work in below freezing temperatures to remove ice from the ship’s deck and deck equipment while underway in the Chukchi Sea on Dec. 28, 2020. The 44-year-old heavy icebreaker is underway for a months-long Arctic deployment to protect the nation’s maritime sovereignty and security throughout the region. (U.S. Coast Guard Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Cynthia Oldham)

DHS Strategy Calls for Expanded Component Roles in Securing Changing Arctic Region

The Department of Homeland Security “stands poised and well-positioned to play an expanding role in the Arctic Region” bringing together the capabilities of the U.S. Coast Guard with components such as Customs and Border Protection, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to the department’s new Strategic Approach for Arctic Homeland Security.

“While preventing the threat of terrorism by non-state actors like Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) continues to be a cornerstone of our homeland security strategy, DHS must also contend with Great Power Competition posed by nation-states such as the Peoples’ Republic of China (PRC) and Russian Federation (RF), whose malign behavior is at its most acute point since the Department’s creation,” the strategy states. “These actors increasingly deploy non-kinetic instruments of power and influence, including cyber-attacks, disinformation campaigns, and exploitation of our immigration and trade systems, to undermine the Homeland and our vital national security interests.”

Threats also include “natural hazards increasing in both scope and scale” such as tsunamis, fires and earthquakes that will “increasingly necessitate expanded DHS presence.”

The strategy focuses on securing the homeland through “persistent presence and all domain awareness,” strengthening “access, response, and resilience” in the Arctic, and advancing Arctic governance and “a rules-based order through targeted national and international engagement and cooperation.”

Release of the strategy was approved by former Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf before he resigned, days before the end of former President Trump’s term.

“The 2020 DHS Strategic Approach for Arctic Homeland Security charts a vision that advances the Department’s Homeland Security Arctic mission, one that is expanding by the day,” Wolf wrote in the report foreword, dated on his last day at DHS. “As the overt United States Government (USG) presence in the region, DHS will fortify our long-standing role in the Arctic by seeking innovative and resourceful ways to address challenges from non-traditional actors of the DHS Enterprise. The Department leads homeland security initiatives across this Nation, with an increased focus on the Arctic, to defeat current and emerging threats across the breadth of the Department’s authorities and Component missions.”

“Working with like-minded allies and partners, DHS will bolster adherence to the rules-based order and responsible, sustainable growth across the Arctic region,” he added.

The strategy notes that the Coast Guard “has long held the primary USG role in overt – albeit resource-limited – presence in the Arctic,” including representation in international navigation governing bodies, conducting search and rescue missions, ensuring vessel safety, fisheries enforcement, and pollution response across the region.

The USCG role “will continue to expand and evolve,” while “changing geostrategic and environmental dynamics, however, necessitate an increasingly expansive and integrated leadership role for the Department in the Arctic” with a need for “new operational capabilities and additional resources to perform cyber and infrastructure security missions, trade and travel facilitation, and natural disaster response in the near term; and later, inevitably additional mission sets.”

A “continued shift to intercontinental electronic communications through undersea cables” and “growing shift in digital infrastructure” calls for CISA to play a greater role in Arctic security, and as climate change opens northern shipping routes CBP “must continue to proactively anticipate these changing trends, including illicit and nefarious activities that follow increases in trade.”

FEMA “must have the resources available to leverage their unique statutory authorities and resources” to “anticipate expanded recovery operation efforts in the Arctic,” while the Coast Guard focuses on implementing the recent joint maritime strategy issued by the Coast Guard, Navy, and Marines.

The strategy says the factors that most drive the need for a comprehensive homeland security Arctic strategy are increased geopolitical influence and the race for strategic influence from Russia, China, and “like-minded partners” with a vested interest in the region, environmental change coupled with increased human activity that “could outpace DHS’s ability to detect, deter, prevent, and respond to those changes and activities,” and the challenge of “vast, underdeveloped and undergoverned spaces.”

Achieving strategic homeland security goals in the region requires acceleration of Coast Guard icebreaker acquisition, investment in critical technology such as unmanned systems, enhancing high-latitude communications systems, and expanding DHS resources to facilitate trade and travel in the region.

“While some DHS Components have long-standing, historic missions in the Arctic Region, several are just beginning to foresee possibilities for their traditional mission sets as opening Arctic waters create opportunity for increased human activity. As such, DHS Components will assess and report to the Secretary their roles and responsibilities in safeguarding the Arctic,” the report states. “DHS Components will analyze how internal agencies or offices will be affected by a need for their services, what their roles will be, what capabilities will be necessary, and how they will meet national expectations for their services. This effort will include scoping resourcing and decision-making on the changing threat environment. The Department will use these studies to inform future resource decision-making.”

The strategy also calls for building stronger partnerships in the public and private sectors, and enhancing the ability of those partners to detect and deter foreign investment or influence. CISA and USCG “will continue to identify and allocate resources and personnel, where necessary, to mitigate vulnerabilities to U.S. digital and physical infrastructure.”

“Through this Strategic Approach for Arctic Homeland Security and forthcoming implementation plan, DHS will play a prominent role in shaping the strategic environment in the Arctic by building and deploying capability and capacity necessary to counter near-peer competitors, in close cooperation and coordination with our friends and allies, while creating the conditions needed to advance U.S. economic prosperity, safety and security for all across the region.”

Sea Services ‘Must Operate More Assertively to Prevail’ in Face of China, Russia Threats, Says Joint Strategy

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Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a senior fellow specializing in terrorism analysis at the Haym Salomon Center. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15, a private investigator and a security consultant. She is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera, BBC and SiriusXM.

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