Referencing the Aleutian War campaign of the 1940s, Alaska Gov. Bill Walker is trying to leverage a new U.S. Navy base in the 49th state out of the crisis in North Korea.
“As made clear during World War Two, ” he said in an email sent to various Alaska mainstream media yesterday, “Alaskans understand what it means to be on the frontline of defending this nation. Alaskans also understand what it means to be attacked on U.S. soil by a foreign nation. The time is now to make our lands safer for today and for future generations.”
How exactly a Navy base would protect Alaska from North Korea’s now serious nuclear threat, or where Walker wants this Navy base to be located, is unclear. Walker press secretary Jonathon Taylor did not return phone calls.
Russian President Vladimir Putin today warned that the growing crisis on the Korean peninsula could lead to a “planetary catastrophe,” the Guardian reported. Putin preached “peaceful dialogue,” though North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un has shown little interest in dialogue with anyone, including his allies.
“Renmin University’s professor of international relations, Shi Yinhong, had warned earlier in the week that China was in a difficult diplomatic situation – North Korea was acting increasingly hatefully towards China as it toughened economic sanctions,” reported the Brisbane Times in Australia. “The timing of Sunday’s nuclear test indeed appears an act of spite against Beijing.”
The North Koreans this week tested a nuclear bomb more powerful than those the U.S. dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki Japan to end World War II. The Korean bomb set of a seismic ripple sensed well beyond China, and CNBC reported that Chinese scientists are now concerned the blast was so powerful that the mountain inside which the test was conducted might collapse.
What sort of protection a Navy base in Alaska would pose against this sort of airborne threat is unclear. Instead of a Navy base, Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, has been pushing for expansion of a missile defense system already based at Fort Greely in Central Alaska.
Sullivan wants a Greely build up that could cost more than $2 billion, but thinks that a sound investment.
“Buying that kind of insurance for everybody, not just Alaska but for every city in America, to me is a price that almost any American would want to pay,” he told Alaska Public Media last month.
Some have questioned the idea, noting the difficulty in hitting a missile with a missile. In 18 controlled tests of Greely missiles to date, CNN reported, only 10 have successfully intercepted their targets.
Still, the missiles would appear more useful than a naval base, which the Navy in 1997 concluded it didn’t need in Alaska. It had from the end of World War II until then maintained a base on Adak Island in the Aleutian Chain.
“With a population of 6,000 sailors, officers and military dependents in the early 1990s, Adak was once Alaska’s eighth-largest city,” the Los Angeles Times reported in a 1997 story about the closing of the Adak Naval Air Station.
“The Navy’s departure raises some perplexing questions about what to do with the roughly $3 billion in abandoned military assets” left on a 280-square-mile island in the North Pacific Ocean about halfway between Seattle and Tokyo, Associated Press reporter Maureen Clark observed.
That problem has lingered ever since. Today the old naval facilities are owned by the Aleut Corporation, one of 13 regional companies established by the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. The government transferred 47,150 acres of land on the island to Aleut in 2004. The company has been trying to figure out what to do with Adak ever since.
The company is trying to turn it into the North Pacific’s major ship refueling center and a base for commercial fishing.
“A practical issue is how to modify, or to mothball, electrical generating facilities that are now running at 30 percent capacity, a rate which can cause damage to equipment,” the Alaska Journal of Commerce reported last year.
“Another issue is what to do with a thousand military housing units, some almost new, but which will deteriorate in the damp, windy Aleutian climate unless maintained and used.”
New Arctic Navy?
No one has suggested bringing it back to life as a naval base. Instead Walker has been focused on an Arctic port and naval base. He in June sent President Donald Trump an Alaska-development wishlist that included such a project.
Such a port would be geared much more to strategic positioning with Russian than with China.
The Alaska Dispatch News described the Walker proposal as “construction of a naval base and expansion of Coast Guard operations in Alaska — an effort that Walker’s administration predicts could ultimately cost as much as $30 billion just for the first phase. Walker’s current request is for a defense department report assessing ‘future security requirements’ for Arctic ports, as well as ‘timely designation of one or more strategic Arctic ports in Alaska.’
Alaska Dispatch owner Alice Rogoff, a good friend of the governor and Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott, has long been a vocal advocate of Arctic development at Port Clarence, a big bay just north of Nome on the Bering Sea.
“Imagine it is the year 2030,” she opined in 2103 when she was the majority owner of the internet startup AlaskaDispatch.com. “The Arctic Ocean is virtually ice-free, requiring only intermittent icebreaking in the winter. The ‘center route’ for shipping over the North Pole is nearly as well travelled as the Panama Canal. The volume of cargo shipped around and across the Arctic Ocean is equal to the volume in the Port of Singapore, which saw 471 million tons of cargo in 2009.
“The Nome-Port Clarence port complex has a small boat harbor in Nome with longer piers, fuel docks, repair facilities, tugs and support watercraft of all types. The large fishing and crabbing fleet have expanded as facilities for them grew. Pleasure boats are there, too. A waterfront resort fronts onto the Bering Sea. The city of Nome now has a population of 10,000.
“Adjacent to the port, a highway interchange leads to the deepwater Port Clarence harbor, 60 miles to the west. The highway also heads due east, the first major new highway in Alaska, linking Fairbanks and Anchorage with Nome. There is a high-speed adjacent railroad line.
“The old Port Clarence LORAN site — the only natural deepwater in the northern Bering Sea — has been rebuilt into a joint U.S. Navy/Coast Guard facility of immense national security importance. Offshore oil and gas exploration companies house boats of all sizes and drill rigs. Dry docks have been built, making ship repair its own local economy. Ten miles east, along Grantley Harbor, a graphite mine is expanding, and there is a bustling town near the former tiny village of Teller.”
Rogoff had big dreams in 2013. They led to her purchase of the Anchorage Daily News for $34 million in 2014. Most of fher dreams are now in tatters. The old Daily News (ADN.com) – rebranded the Alaska Dispatch News (ADN.com) – is now bankrupt.
Rogoff has told friends she’s done with the journalism business, and she has filed with the Bankruptcy Court as a creditor owed about $8 million for what she lost propping the business up since her purchase.
There are rumors she might be done with Alaska, too. But Walker’s statement would make it appear the seeds of the dream Rogoff planted might live on.