USA, Canada and Finland to come together to produce icebreakers to counter Russia in the Arctic


The United States of America, Finland and Canada will come together to produce a fleet of polar icebreakers, the White House announced on Thursday, in what is being seen as a move to counter Russia in the Arctic region.

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Under the Icebreaker Collaboration Effort or ‘ICE’ Pact, the three countries intend to “strengthen the shipbuilding industry and industrial capacity of each nation – and build closer security and economic ties among our countries through information exchange and mutual workforce-development focused on building polar icebreakers, as well as other Arctic and polar capabilities,” the White House said. 

Daleep Singh, the White House deputy national security adviser for international economics, said it would reinforce to adversaries Russia and China that the U.S. and allies will “doggedly pursue collaboration on industrial policy to increase our competitive edge,” AP reported. 

“Without this arrangement, we’d risk our adversaries developing an advantage in a specialized technology with vast geostrategic importance, which could also allow them to become the preferred supplier for countries that also have an interest in purchasing polar icebreakers,” Singh said. 

“We’re committed to projecting power into the high latitudes alongside our allies and partners. And, that requires a continuous surface presence in the polar regions, both to combat Russian aggression and to limit China’s ability to gain influence,” Singh said. 

Importance of the Arctic region and need for icebreakers

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While for most of history, the Arctic region remained frozen and non-conducive to human activity, climate change and melting of ice has opened up the Northern Sea Route (NSR) along Russia’s Arctic coast, which offers a shorter shipping route between Europe and Asia compared to the traditional routes through the Suez Canal. 

Russia has maintained an assertive stance in the Arctic. Its new Arctic policy outlines the significance of the Northern Sea Route (NSR) to Moscow’s Arctic national interests. It is also a bone of contention between Moscow and the US which disputes whether the NSR traverses international waters or Russia’s internal waters. 

To increase presence in the region and for the US Coast Guard to carry out its missions, including defence readiness, safely and effectively, it needs icebreakers.

Icebreakers are specialised ships built with powerful engines, structural reinforcement and nearly two-inch thick steel hulls which can withstand and break through the thickest of sea ice. They are also large enough to accommodate aircraft, large crews of sailors, scientists and other personnel, as well as the storage of adequate fuel, supplies, and equipment required for self-supported polar missions and unaided journeys to and from the polar regions.

Singh added that the US has only two icebreakers, and both are nearing the end of their usable life. Finland has 12 icebreakers and Canada has nine, while Russia has 36, according to US Coast Guard data.

Implementation of ‘ICE’

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The three countries will, by the end of the year, develop a joint memorandum of understanding that will outline a framework for how this arrangement will be implemented within each country, the White House said. 

The Coast Guard is working with Bollinger Shipyards to build the first Polar Security Cutters which will be the first American-built heavy icebreakers in over 50 years and the ICE Pact will support its efforts apart from fostering building of more ships. 

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