Alaska, an outpost of the United States against Russia

In the 1960s, John Handeland was playing as a child on the beach at Nome, where his Norwegian gold prospecting ancestors had rushed at the turn of the century, just south of the Bering Strait. At the time, there were still barbed wire, vestiges of the Second World War, when Alaska feared a Japanese invasion. In the meantime, the enemy had become Soviet and, on the hills, radars, now disused, were supposed to prevent an atomic attack. Then suddenly came the détente under Gorbachev and Reagan: in 1988, John Handeland took the“friendship plane”, with 80 inhabitants of Nome, to go to Providenia, a Siberian village located on the other side of the strait. “We spent the day there, crossing the line of change of date », remembers John Handeland, now mayor of Nome. With the end of the Cold War, the city fell asleep and let its guard down.

On board the

Since then, global warming has caused the melting of the ice blocking the Bering Strait and relations with Russia have become icy with the invasion of Ukraine. “Before, the ice protected our territory, but today, the pack ice has withdrawn, and a new ocean is opening up before our eyes. Our coast is more vulnerable to aggression”, summarizes Michael Sfraga, President of the Polar Institute at the Wilson Center, Washington, and the United States Arctic Research Commission. “The whole world, at least the West, was taken by surprise by the invasion of Ukraine. Arctic countries will not make the same mistake”adds Amy Lauren Lovecraft, director of the Center for Arctic Policy Studies at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks.

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This double geopolitical shift, where geography and politics change at the same time, has provided the ingredients for a new cold war around the poles. The Americans are waking up and have therefore decided to enlarge and then deepen the port of Nome, now ice-free from April to October, to guard the Bering Strait and show the Russians that they will not be intimidated. The American army also defined, at the beginning of 2021, a new strategic concept entitled “Regaining Arctic Dominance” (“regaining domination over the Arctic”) and carried out, this winter, major maneuvers in the ice of Alaska with 8 000 soldiers to test its capacities and its material, largely unsuitable.

Advanced point of the United States

“We have spent the last two decades fighting in the desert, in Iraq and in the Middle East. All of our training and equipment has gone to the desert, and we have reduced our ability to fight in the cold. The reactivation of the 11e airborne division is a signal that we send”, comments Michael Sfraga. Since June, this unit, which distinguished itself in the Philippines during the Second World War, has been operational again and is learning in Alaska to fight in the cold.

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