— a USAF Arctic Memory
— Cold War Conflict or High Latitude Prosperity?
I served as both an Air Force intelligence officer and a navigator for eight years spanning from 1961 to 1969. I saw combat flying an A-26/B-26 attack-bomber during 1966 and 1967 as an Air Commando (now called Air Force Special Operations Command). After recovering from combat injuries, I spent my last two years flying the HC-130, a four-engine turbo-prop, in the 41st Air Rescue Squadron, stationed on the San Francisco Bay. Besides rescue operations, our HC-130 aircraft were also equipped and manned for special operations.
In December 1968, I was part of an HC-130 crew deployed TDY (temporary duty) to Elmendorf Air Force Base near Anchorage, Alaska, to support a high-altitude Air Force U-2 reconnaissance aircraft staging out of Fairbanks in the middle of Alaska. The Lockheed U-2 can operate at over 70,000-feet altitude for many hours, carrying a payload as high as 3,000 pounds. The U-2 has a wingspan of 104-feet, far exceeding its fuselage length of 63-feet. Nicknamed, “The Dragon Lady,” the U-2 had only a single seat and one pilot. It is reputed to be one of the hardest aircraft in the USAF inventory to learn to fly.
At Elmendorf, the snow was piled up over our heads between our quarters and a comfortable officers’ club, but the weather at Fairbanks frequently reached 60-degrees below zero Fahrenheit, which delayed the U-2 mission several days.
The U-2 mission was recovery of atmospheric samples between the North Pole and Soviet territory. Our mission was to fly in a circular pattern near the U-2 flight reconnaissance area for potential rescue in case of trouble, such as losing his single engine. If he had to bail-out, we were prepared to drop survival and communications gear and two pararescue-medics, until help could reach them. The area below was not such that an HC-130 could land. Ice pressures had created huge ridges and irregular surfaces. In December, the ice fields below were quite dark.
It was a mildly intense mission, until the U-2 pilot, surprisingly calm, radioed us that he was having trouble with his engine. Our tension rose as we made ready for a difficult rescue. It rose even more, when he informed us that he had lost his engine but was going through a restart-procedure. However, he calmly informed us that he could glide all the way back to his home-base near Seattle, Washington. Nevertheless, I think there were some serious silent prayers lifted up to heaven from the HC-130 crew. In a few minutes, the U-2 pilot had his engine running smoothly. All went well from there, and I was able to make it back to my bride of only six-weeks on Christmas Eve.
The Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. It is a serious foreign policy mistake to confuse the Russian Federation with the former Soviet Union. The Russian Federation is not Communist, and Communists and even Socialists no longer have substantial political followings. Seventy-years of despotic government and failing economic policy are not fond memories for most Russians.
The Russians honor with patriotic passion their more than 26 million soldiers and civilians who died in the “Great Patriotic War” against Nazi Germany, which we call World War II. They have endured unbelievable suffering, but they are resolute in continuing to defend what they consider existential threats to their national security. However, extended Western Cold War propaganda has demonized Russians and Russian leaders. This has led to blind acceptance of a false narrative about the Ukraine War. The cause of the present war goes much deeper and further back than the events of February 2022. It goes back at least to the U.S. and UK backed “Maidan” coup of 2014 and the civil war between the new anti-Russian Ukrainian government and the predominantly Russian ethnic Donbas states of Donetsk and Lugansk and the sizable Russian-speaking minority generally in eastern and southern Ukraine. Over 14,000 people were killed, including about 4,000 ethnic Russian civilians. U.S. blindness goes all the way back to our Cold War attitude towards the Russian Federation in 1991 and the 2008 plans to make Georgia and Ukraine NATO nations. The CIA also launched a plan to demonize Vladimir Putin and influence Russian elections in 2008. Now we are flirting dangerously with World War III.
So far, 2024 presidential candidates Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. indicate they are aware of the above truths underlying the Ukraine War and are formulating solutions which are hopefully just, peaceful, and practical.
If you look at a global map centered on the North Pole, you will notice that Russia has the largest exposure to the Artic Ocean, nearly 50 percent. Advancing technology or warmer climate could result in more viable Arctic seaports and trade passages to both the North Atlantic and Northwest Pacific, cutting down the time and possibly the cost of shipping goods. Alaska and Canada as well as Scandinavia could benefit from such expanded, shorter, and cheaper trade routes.
Moreover, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, resource basins within the Arctic Circle (North of 66.5 Latitude) contain 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil and 30 percent of the world’s undiscovered natural gas. Currently, developing these resources would cost 50 to 100 percent more than in Texas, but technologies to reduce costs are developing rapidly. The Russians and others are pouring investments into Artic infrastructure and extraction technology. The Artic resource basins are also rich in phosphate, bauxite (for aluminum), iron ore, copper, nickel, diamonds, gold, zinc, and palladium.
Fisheries in the Arctic are especially productive. The Artic holds over 20 percent of the world’s fresh water. More than 10 percent of the world’s fresh water is in the Greenland icecap alone.
The Russian Federation is moving full speed toward Arctic trade dominance. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, Russia has 57 icebreakers and another four planned. Nine of these are the largest class of nuclear icebreakers. They are also developing a fleet of transports with icebreaking capability. Also according to the Coast Guard, the U.S. has five icebreakers and another three planned. However, according to former Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, only one large Coast Guard icebreaker is currently operational with Congress challenging a second under construction.
Canada has 9 operational and 5 planned small to medium icebreakers. Finland is third with 10 small to medium icebreakers, and Sweden has 8 small to medium icebreakers with another two planned. Denmark, whose territory includes Greenland, has four small icebreakers. Even China, which has no Arctic borders has four icebreakers, anticipating use of the Arctic trade routes. Norway has two medium-sized, high quality icebreakers, which have already set some Polar expeditionary records. The bottom line is that Russia is far and away dominant in numbers and icebreaker technology, while even China is expanding its capability. The Canadians are a distant second to Russia but increasing their fleet. The Scandinavians have better numbers and technology than the U.S., and the U.S. is printing trillions of dollars heedless of anything but misguided short-term political goals.
The Arctic Council of eight Arctic-border nations was established in 1996. It is the leading intergovernmental forum promoting cooperation, coordination and interaction among the Arctic States, Arctic indigenous peoples, and other Arctic inhabitants on common Arctic issues, including sustaining a healthy and economically viable environment. The Arctic Council governing members are Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, the Russian Federation, Sweden and the United States. Chairmanship is rotated every two years. The Russian Federation currently holds the chairmanship but should be replaced by Norway in May 2023. This could be a cause of stress because of Norwegian and American involvement in major sabotage closing the Nordstream Pipelines in September 2022. The Council requires unanimous decision for recommended actions but has no authority for enforcement. It is also up to each nation to fund whatever improvements are envisioned.
Of the four million inhabitants of the Arctic, about 500,000 are indigenous peoples. The six largest have permanent advisory membership: the Aleuts, Athabaskans, Gwichyins, Inuits, the RAIPON (Russian Association of indigenous Arctic peoples), and the Saami in northern Norway, Sweden, Finland, and the Murmansk/Kola Peninsula of the Russian Federation.
There are also 14 non-Arctic Observer Members, including China, and 25 supporting scientific, economic, geographical, climate, geological,, and social organizations. The Arctic Council sponsors many news and information programs, including a monthly magazine, Pathways, which can also be downloaded as pdf.
For peace and justice in Ukraine and elsewhere, we need to remove our outdated Cold War demonizing blindfold and recognize that national security is not an exclusive American right that can be based on purely American insight. Misinformed or self-deluded acts have a high probability of evil consequences raging out of control. Before we resort to the unthinkable suffering of a high level conventional or nuclear war on the basis of longstanding but outrageous propaganda and counterfactual historical narratives, we need to sober up. Pilate was contemptuous of truth, but we must be humble enough to seek it and be responsible to it. It is our responsibility to remain a strong nation, but no nation can remain strong or long viable whose foundation is not based on humble truth supported by courage and the wisdom of God. Godless, man-centered secularism is the path to weakness and destruction. Let us seek the path of peace and cooperation in both Ukraine and the Arctic.