February 13, 2020
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine) pressed top military officials on their intentions in the Arctic and the danger of potential collaboration between China and Russia, and inquired about their plans to ensure that the U.S. keeps up with Russia and China’s hypersonic weapon capabilities. Senator King is a co-chair of the Senate Arctic Caucus and has repeatedly stressed the need for global cooperation and peaceful operation as new trade routes open in the Arctic. His questioning came during a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee featuring testimony from U.S. Air Force General Terrence O’Shaughnessy, the Commander of United States Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command, and U.S. Navy Admiral Charles Richard, the Commander of United States Strategic Command.
“I want to ask you pointedly: what does China want in the Arctic?...they are clearly highly interested,” remarked Senator King in the hearing. “I was at an Arctic conference in Iceland a couple years ago – there was a 40 person delegation from China and they have designated themselves as a near-Arctic nation, which is like Australia saying that, you know.”
General O’Shaughnessy responded by noting the rise of marine traffic and investment by China, saying the military was tracking “their supposed scientific research vessels that could potently be the precursor to increased submarine activity … from a more nefarious aspect.”
At this, Senator King also added the looming role of Russia as China’s engagement with the region increases. “There was a sentence in your presentation that got my attention. Finally, in the past year we have observed signs of nascent but growing strategic cooperation between China and Russia – including a combined bomber patrol last July, and Chinese participation in multiple Russian exercises. I find that very important and concerning…”
Senator King is an advocate for Maine’s interests in the North Atlantic and Arctic region, and has worked in Washington to advance Maine’s leadership in the High North. Senator King recently introduced the Arctic Naval Focus Act of 2019 with Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), a bill that would direct the federal government to recognize the importance of the Arctic region to the United States’ national and economic security interests. In September he invited Senator Sullivan on his monthly Inside Maine podcast to discuss U.S. military challenges and opportunities in the Arctic.
In July, he spoke at the Woodrow Wilson International Center on the economic implications of increased activity in the Arctic. In May 2018, he joined University of New England students, faculty, researchers, and staff as well as leaders on North Atlantic and Arctic policy at the launch of the Institute for North Atlantic Studies of the University of New England (UNE NORTH). UNE NORTH is an initiative of the University of New England that aims to help the next generation of leaders further responsible stewardship and sustainable economic growth in the region. In 2015, Senator King traveled to Iceland, where he participated in the Arctic Circle Assembly Plenary Session, speaking to the national security, climate change, economic issues that make the region a significant policy priority for the U.S. In October 2016, Senator King joined Maine people and leaders from around the globe to attend the Arctic Council conference at the University of Southern Maine’s Portland Campus. He also visited Greenland on a 2015 fact-finding mission that focused on examining the environmental and security implications of the warming Arctic climate and traveled to Iqaluit, Canada to help usher in the United States’ chairmanship of the Arctic Council.
Later in the hearing, Senator King noted that the United States Defense Department should focus its resources on combatting emerging threats, such as Russia’s development of “nightmare weapon” hypersonic missiles.
“This hearing seems to be the hypersonic hearing and I think that’s important and the budget is important – the additional resources. But we’re behind. I mean, Russia and China are fielding hypersonic missiles now and aren’t we four or five years from there? And my concern is that some of that research should be going into defense because right now hypersonics are really a nightmare weapon, for an aircraft carrier, for all kinds of targets, so are we going to put some money into how to defend ourselves against hypersonics?…I just hope that that 23% budget increase, part of that goes to defense.”
As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Senator King is recognized as a thoughtful voice on national security and foreign policy issues in the Senate. In addition to his committee work, he serves on the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, the Senate North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Observer Group, and is Co-Chair of the Cyberspace Solarium Commission.