It’s no secret that the United States employs the most powerful military in the world, but often, that understanding is mistaken to mean America enjoys tactical and strategic superiority in every environment it finds itself contested. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case, and nowhere is that more prevalent than amongst the thinning ice sheets of the Arctic.

“The highways of the Arctic are icebreakers. Right now the Russians have superhighways and we have dirt roads with potholes,” said Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan of Alaska last year. The capability gap presented by Russia’s unchallenged supremacy in the North isn’t limited to shipping lanes, however, and there’s a whole lot more at stake than ice.

According to some expert analysis, as much as a full twenty-five percent of the world’s undiscovered natural gas and oil reserves lay in wait beneath the Arctic region – making Russia’s growing claims of sovereignty in the Arctic, extending hundreds of thousands of square miles and encompassing the North Pole now, an important strategic issue for the future of not only warfare, but commerce. As shipping lanes in the region grow, that claimed sovereignty will prove even more profitable both economically and diplomatically, if left unchallenged.

Climate change brings in more favorable conditions and improves the economic potential of this region,” Putin has said. “Today, Russia’s GDP is the result of the economic activity of this region.”