U.S. Army Soldiers with 1st Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 11th Airborne Division, conduct a movement over Lake Takvatnet following a static line jump during Arctic Shock 24 near Bardufoss, Norway, March 18, 2024. The jump follows an over-the-pole flight from Alaska, showcasing the 11th Airborne Division’s capability to insert anywhere into the Arctic. (U.S. Army Photo by Sgt. Avery Cunningham)

In conjunction with this week’s NATO Summit in Washington, Breaking Defense has collected exclusive opinion pieces from key defense officials along the alliance’s northern border — the Arctic, where Russia and China are increasingly active. Below, Iris A. Ferguson, the Pentagon’s Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Arctic and Global Resilience, discusses the department’s plans for the region.

In March 2024, troops from 13 NATO Allies gathered in Europe for one of this year’s largest exercises, to test the Alliance’s new regional plans and demonstrate NATO’s deterrent power. But this exercise was not centered on the Alliance’s border with Ukraine or in the Suwalki Gap chokepoint between Poland and the Baltic states—this was Exercise NORDIC RESPONSE, hosted by Norway, Sweden, and Finland with activities taking place across the European Arctic.

The combined joint training, one part of the larger NATO exercise Steadfast Defender, focused on defense of the Nordic region and showcased the interoperability and expertise of over 20,000 personnel and hundreds of platforms in the austere Arctic environment. The magnitude of the exercise is a demonstration of how the Alliance’s enlargement to include Finland and Sweden, and changing security dynamics in the Arctic, are placing enhanced emphasis on the region’s importance for the Alliance.

The Arctic is warming some three-times faster than the rest of the world, driving increased access and attention, including from the United States’ competitors. These shifts risk destabilizing what has historically been a region of relatively low tension. In response, the US Department of Defense (DoD) will soon release a new Arctic Strategy to guide the Department’s approach to the region. With global commitments and finite resources, a central pillar of the strategy is working with and through partners, especially our NATO Allies, to ensure the Arctic remains stable and secure.

With every Arctic nation but Russia now in NATO, the region is uniquely suited for advanced levels of cooperation. Finland and Sweden’s accession to NATO has only strengthened this advantage and expanded the range of cooperation possible. The DoD Arctic Strategy seeks to capitalize on this strength and prioritizes three key areas of cooperation with our Allies in the region: presence, know-how, and capabilities.


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First and foremost, our Allies are present in the region day in and day out. That presence is critical to maintaining defense and deterrence – from Alaska to Finland– and maintaining it entails significant, often costly, infrastructure. This infrastructure can aid US power projection in and to the region. Over the past year, the United States concluded Defense Cooperation Agreements (DCA) with Denmark, Finland, and Sweden, and an amendment to our Supplementary DCA with Norway. These agreements strengthen our ability to operate alongside these Allies at a range of installations in their territories, adding options and flexibility when working with our Allies to uphold security in the Arctic.

Second, in the Arctic, the strategic environment becomes tactical quickly as it’s a matter of survival, and our Allies recognize the extreme levels of know-how required to operate there. Local knowledge is not just nice to have, it’s a prerequisite for mission success. Our Arctic Allies provide regular and robust information sharing about the operating environment, which not only helps us coordinate our efforts and detect threats, but also avoid miscalculation.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the United States’ unique relationship with Canada through NORAD, which monitors threats from and through the Arctic by providing aerospace warning, aerospace control, and maritime warning for North America. With wildly different temperatures, levels of humidity, and infrastructure across North American and European Arctic, training and exercising alongside our Arctic Allies becomes all the more important for learning the intricacies of operating in each other’s environments—from how to navigate the terrain to what kind of socks to wear.

Finally, we will continue to partner with our Allies to develop and field the capabilities we need to operate in the region. Thankfully, our Allies are already highly capable and interoperable. The United States, Norway, Denmark, Finland and Canada all currently or are in the process of fielding the F-35. Later this month, Norway will launch a rocket into orbit, hosting a US payload to bring Arctic communications to many of our forces in the region.

These are just a few examples of the tremendous capability and interoperability that already exists between the Arctic Allies. There are far more opportunities on the horizon, across the land, sea, air, and space domains as NATO looks to refine its abilities to operate in the region.

The new DoD Arctic Strategy leans into this strength and ensures we leverage our cooperation to its full potential so that the Arctic region remains stable and secure.

Iris A. Ferguson currently serves as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Arctic and Global Resilience. In this role, she serves as the principal advisor to the Secretary of Defense and senior leadership for on protecting U.S. and Allied interests in the Arctic region; managing oceans policy and the freedom of navigation program; addressing the strategic risks of climate change; and ensuring the Department maintains competitive advantage through the energy transition.