If climate scientists’ prophesies of an ice-free Arctic Ocean pan out, the world will witness the most sweeping transformation of geopolitics since the Panama Canal opened. Seafaring nations and industries will react assertively — as they did when merchantmen and ships of war sailing from Atlantic seaports no longer had to circumnavigate South America to reach the Pacific Ocean. There are commercial, constabulary, and military components to this enterprise. The United States must position itself at the forefront of polar sea power along all three axes.
Understandably enough, most commentary on a navigable Arctic accentuates economic opportunities, such as extracting natural resources and shortening sea voyages. Countries fronting on polar waters — the United States, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, and Sweden comprise the intergovernmental Arctic Council — will enjoy exclusive rights to fish and tap undersea resources in hundreds of thousands of square miles of water off their shores. Nations holding waterfront property in the Arctic will bolster their coast guards to police their territorial seas and exclusive economic zones during ice-free intervals