Arctic Policy

Both military and commercial activity in the Arctic region are growing, while climate change creates new challenges for Arctic populations, affecting their governments' ability to support them. RAND's holistic knowledge of the region, as well as of broader homeland security and defense issues, enables it to effectively analyze dynamic Arctic challenges.

The Challenge

Arctic nations, including the United States, need to protect their Arctic populations and interests while securing their sovereignty. Operating in this environment requires unique capabilities that can overcome the Arctic's extreme conditions, limited infrastructure, and vast distances. Climate change is making parts of the maritime environment more accessible, but also increasing commercial traffic in still-hazardous waters while accelerating the degradation of infrastructure and buildings ashore. Every Arctic nation except Russia is now a NATO member or applicant, at a time of intense hostility between Russia and NATO states. At the same time, China and other non-Arctic nations are increasingly involved in Arctic affairs. Western nations must manage Arctic competition and cooperation with Russia, a nation with a far greater capacity for Arctic operations, and with China, which is becoming more engaged in the region.

The Coast Guard Cutter Polar Sea, photo by Pamela J. Manns/U.S. Coast Guard

The Coast Guard Cutter Polar Sea breaks ice in the Northern Arctic ocean

Photo by Pamela J. Manns/U.S. Coast Guard

RAND's History

RAND has a long history studying the geopolitical importance and impact of the Arctic. During the Cold War, RAND offered research and analysis to the U.S. government on the operating capabilities of the Soviet Union in the region, identifying potential flashpoints between the two superpowers. Following the end of the Cold War, RAND's focus adapted, focusing on the Arctic's increasing economic activity, climate vulnerabilities, governance challenges, and broader security concerns.

Mission Support

RAND brings an array of analytic and methodological capabilities to bear to help the homeland security enterprise address the ever-evolving challenges and opportunities present in the Arctic.

  • Analysis of how changing aspects of the Arctic's physical and human environments are influencing demand for government presence and support in the region;
  • Assessment of what unique capabilities are required for Arctic operations;
  • Characterization of homeland security shortfalls and recommendations for how to address them;
  • Analysis of Arctic geopolitics involving allies, partners, and competitors, exploring ways in which different actors can collaborate and manage competition;
  • Analysis of how U.S. services and agencies, as well as their counterparts in allied and partner nations, can collaborate on Arctic issues. On this page, you'll find a sampling of recent work on this topic, curated specifically for the homeland security community. RAND also conducts research and analysis on a variety of similar topics, including other issues for the U.S. Coast Guard and other military services, European nations' security challenges, climate change, and geopolitical competition.
  • Characterizing how various socio-demographic, economic, political, technological, and climatic change converge to influence regional outcomes
  • Arctic Capabilities of the U.S. Armed Forces

    The United States has considerable interests in the Arctic and is one of just eight countries with territory in the region. How do U.S. armed forces' capabilities differ from those of other countries operating there, including Russia, China, and allies?

  • What Does China's Arctic Presence Mean to the United States?

    China has declared itself a “near-Arctic state,” a designation it invented to push for a greater role in Arctic governance. Although the U.S. sees China as a potentially destabilizing force, engaging with China in the Arctic does not have to be a win-or-lose proposition. There are opportunities to cooperate—on climate change, for example, or pollution control.

  • The U.S. Military Needs to Build Arctic Capabilities and Capacity

    By making substantial investments in Arctic platforms, equipment, infrastructure, and training, U.S. military forces will be better able to shape the Arctic security environment, helping to deter potential threats and protect U.S. interests in a region that is tightly linked to overall U.S. interests.

  • Exploring Gaps in Arctic Governance

    Conditions in the Arctic region are evolving, driven by such factors as climate change, economics, and geopolitics. What are the risks that come with these changes—and how could governance in the Arctic adapt to mitigate them?

  • The United States Needs More Polar Icebreakers

    Icebreaking is important for maintaining polar presence amid increasing global interest in the Arctic and Antarctic. Only two U.S. cutters are capable of operating in heavy polar ice, and both have limited life spans. What should the Coast Guard consider as it builds new icebreakers?

  • Anticipating Policy Options for Addressing U.S. Arctic Hurdles

    An overview of testimony by Abbie Tingstad presented before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation on May 8, 2019.

  • Policy Challenges in the Arctic: Q&A with Abbie Tingstad

    Abbie Tingstad discusses how the opening of the Arctic by climate change could strain relationships among Arctic nations, how these changes will affect indigenous communities, and what to make of Russia's military buildup in the region.

  • It's Getting Harder and Harder to Live on Top of the World

    In September, a relatively new kind of storm, made possible due to larger swaths of ice-free Arctic Ocean, battered Barrow, Alaska, washing away chunks of coastline, threatening businesses, houses, and the freshwater supply. While mitigation efforts are necessary on a macro level, adaptation measures are needed now for such Arctic communities.

  • The Arctic Is Our Last Global Commons—Let's Manage Its Fisheries Properly

    It is time to create a multilateral Arctic fisheries management plan before a moratorium on fishing in Arctic high seas sunsets in 2037. Agreements can lead to economic and food security for partners; a lack of coordination will lead to conflict, environmental degradation, and overfishing. The clock is ticking.

  • U.S. Military May Need to Invest More in Arctic Capabilities

    Operating in the Arctic is inherently expensive. Despite this, it could be critical that the United States make the necessary investments to ensure a robust ability to operate in the Arctic to withstand Russian challenges there.

  • As U.S. Shifts Arctic Strategy to Counter Russia, Allies Offer Valuable Info

    U.S. strategy is shifting toward a renewed focus on the Arctic region, reflecting increasing Russian military activity there. U.S. forces could benefit from the knowledge and capabilities of partners and allies with extensive Arctic experience.

  • Climate Change and Implications for Disasters in the United States

    Climate change is contributing to more frequent and more severe disasters. In this video, three RAND researchers discuss climate change and risks for disasters in the United States, drawing on examples from the Arctic, the Caribbean, the Northeast, and the Gulf states.

For more projects, see our full list of work on the Arctic Region.