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Those who have been keeping an eye on the Northern Passage from the Bering Strait to Scandinavia and Northern Europe know that it has been become an economic interest as to who controls the route.  Shipping alone is important, but also access to oil (and rare earth medals) will be a motivator for expanding out from the Northern coastline as the ice melts.  Likewise, the long sought after Northwest Passage that goes from the Bering Strait to Nova Scotia has been tested and should be open for commercial travel in just a bit more than a dozen years.

One of the key instruments for any nation hoping to have a lead role in using the waters of either passage is ice breakers.  The U.S. has less than can be counted on one hand with a couple in the planning/building stages.  (In contrast, the Russians have over 3 dozen).  And while it is the Coast Guard rather than the Navy that has handled these ships, the unprecedented addition to next model will be missiles.  This comes as Russia has increased its fleet of icebreakers and it may be that though there has been general cooperation around important issues such as search and rescue, oil spill recovery and contaminants, ice clearing, etc… this could be a symbol of the frosting of relations between the U.S. and Russia.

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