To help secure the United States’ position in the Arctic, the Department of Defense founded a new regional center in June – the Ted Stevens Center for Arctic Security Studies. It’s the first regional center to be founded since 2000. Other regional centers focus on continent-sized areas, such as the Daniel Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies or the Africa Center for Strategic Studies.
The regional centers are meant to educate and network local civilian and military leaders and teach topics on defense issues relevant to their locale.
The Ted Stevens Center doesn’t have a formal headquarters yet, but it does have its first employee. Retired Air Force Major General Randy “Church” Kee was selected in late September as the first Senior Advisor for the center. He’s charged with laying the foundation for the center, and he’s off to a running start.
Kee recently accepted an invitation to discuss security in the Arctic with the Kodiak City Council over Zoom last Tuesday during their work session.
“The question that strategically should be posed is ‘what can be done locally to advance the national interest and create a situation where Kodiak as an area was in the gateway to the Arctic region can help offer ideas and solutions and better shape the region?,’” Kee said.
It’s no secret that the Arctic is an area of increasing strategic interest for the United States and its competitors- the recent presence of Chinese warships in the Alaska Exclusive Economic Zone last August is a testament to this fact.
Kee didn’t reference any plans to expand the military presence on Kodiak, but he did discuss an issue of great import to the Coast Guard – building infrastructure to support a new generation of heavy icebreakers. The Coast Guard plans to build new icebreakers to replace the aging Polar Star, and it’s anyone’s guess where they’ll be homeported. Coast Guard Base Kodiak is likely on the list of possibilities.
Kodiak City Council Members had the opportunity to ask questions of Kee. Rich Walker asked him about Russian military vessels that disrupted Alaskan fishing operations in August of 2020, ordering lawfully abiding US fishing boats out of the Alaskan Exclusive Economic Zone, or EEZ. Kee made it clear that he felt that that should never have happened.
“What can be learned from that, and then what investment decisions you can make to help prevent it from happening again… To me, those are important decisions to make, what the role the Steven Center can do is really trying to help provide, as Senator Sullivan has asked for, as an example, is studies, analysis that helps validate or refute what sort of policy choices need to be made in Washington for infrastructure, investments, and more,” Kee said.
The Ted Stevens Center is in its infancy, but as climate change opens up natural resources and shipping routes in the Arctic, its relevance is likely to increase.