President Obama will ask Congress Tuesday to speed up the construction of new icebreaker ships in order to protect U.S. interests and resources in the Arctic, amid growing concern that the U.S. has ceded influence to Russia in the strategic waters.
The proposals will be made on the second day of Obama's three-day trip to Alaska, during which the president has focused largely on climate change. The president's agenda called for him to travel to Seward, Alaska, where he planned to hike to Exit Glacier and tour Kenai Fjords National Park by boat.
Concerns about Russia's activities in the Arctic have grown after Moscow submitted a claim to the United Nations Aug. 5 for 463,000 square miles of the Arctic sea shelf, extending more than 350 nautical miles from the country's shore. The Arctic is believed to hold up to 25 percent of the world's untapped oil and gas supplies, and the U.S., Russia, and Canada are among the nations trying to assert their jurisdiction over the region.
Despite the immense stakes, the Obama administration acknowledged in a fact sheet about the president's proposal that the U.S. Coast Guard's icebreaker fleet is inadequate to handle a possible challenge from Moscow. Currently, the U.S. has just two working icebreakers, compared to Russia's 40. The New York Times, citing a White House fact sheet, said that Obama would also push up the expected acquisition date for a new icebreaker to 2020 from 2022.
Alaskan lawmakers had previously described the Obama administration's response to Russia's Arctic claim as a "strategic blunder."
"Meanwhile, in the face of this Russian military buildup, we are significantly reducing Army forces in our nation’s only Arctic state," Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska told FoxNews.com earlier this month. "Right now, the Russians are playing chess in the Arctic and our Administration still seems to think it’s tic-tac-toe."
Alaska Gov. Bill Walker also noted Russia's ongoing military buildup, telling the Times Monday, "They’re reopening 10 bases and building four more, and they’re all in the Arctic, so here we are in the middle of the pond, feeling a little bit uncomfortable."
In addition to building and restoring military bases, the Russian military has also conducted large-scale military exercises involving tens of thousands of troops, dozens of ships and submarines, and over 100 aircraft.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.