On Monday, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates spoke to a group of retired U.S. navy members. He noted, “I think the concerns about the Arctic are real.” A member of the audience asked him about his concerns regarding Russia’s sizeable ice breaker fleet. The country has 18 icebreakers, compared to the U.S.’ 2-4 icebreakers, depending on what you count as an icebreaker. Gates responded, “We haven’t done too much advanced planning in terms of additional ice breaker capability at least in the navy.” However, he added that with “receding Arctic ice and the possibility of that shipping area being open during the good part of the year, this is something that we would clearly have to address and invest some resources in, along with our Canadian friends.”
Gates has twice met with Canadian officials over the past few weeks to discuss cooperation in the Arctic, particularly in areas involving security and search and rescue efforts.
For an interesting discussion of whether the U.S. really needs more icebreakers, check out Arctic economist and blogger Ben Muse’s post here, written back in April 2008.