As climate change threatens to open up the legendary “Northwest Passage” and other routes through the Arctic Circle, Florida’s Republican U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott are turning their attention far, far northward, urging the U.S. Coast Guard to ensure delivery of new icebreaker cutters to counter Russian and Chinese ambitions.
Without explicitly citing “climate change” or “global warming” [praises that Scott reportedly avoided as Florida governor], the two senators announced Tuesday they have signed a letter to U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz warning they believe that the world is changing and new routes through the arctic are opening.
They also warned that “foreign adversaries continue to invest heavily in dominating commercial and defense activities in Arctic waterways.”
The United States has not purchased new icebreaker cruisers in 40 years, the two senators state.
The Coast Guard received $655 million in the latest federal budget extension to purchase one and begin preparing for a second. Overall, the agency hopes to acquire three new heavy icebreakers and three new medium icebreakers, with the first being delivered by 2023.
“As the world changes, new routes provide unprecedented access to once impassable waters allowing fishermen, cruise lines, merchant ship, and navy vessels to push further into the Arctic Circle. Nine of the Coast Guard’s eleven statutory missions relate to the Arctic and require ice breaking abilities,” Rubio’s and Scott’s letter states.
“Within the last decade, Coast Guard studies have uncovered identified gaps in its ability to support and conduct Arctic missions. More recently, the Coast Guard established the need for up to three heavy polar icebreakers and three medium polar icebreakers to sufficiently meet current, as well as future, mission demands,” the letter continues. “Without these strategic assets, the Coast Guard will be unable to fulfill all of its mission requirements, including agency support for the Department of Defense, the Department of State, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.”
“The United States can no longer afford to ignore the Arctic and must recognize the vital role icebreakers play in meeting the strategic challenges posed by near-peer competitors. We must work together to implement a comprehensive strategy to procure the necessary fleet of icebreakers to ensure the U.S. is able to defend itself and its allies, and maintain assured access to the Arctic Sea theater,” the two Senators from Florida conclude.