It will hopefully never be necessary, but the U.S. must be ready to prevent Chinese destined or originating ships from traveling into the Arctic circle.
The need for that capability is newly relevant following President Xi's statement, Wednesday, that "China and Russia should cooperate in the development and utilization of the Arctic navigation channels to create a "Silk Road on the Ice." The ice road idea has been off the radar in recent months, so Xi's reaffirmation gives new energy to the proposal.
This ice road is all about Chinese and Russian security of trading and energy supplies.
Thanks to retreating ice, the Arctic circle will become increasingly passable for non-ice breaker vessels in the years ahead. The "Silk Road on Ice" idea is to develop the infrastructure to ensure that an Arctic circle route is viable and cost-effective.
And for a rising China that is determined to grow in international power and influence, the road's prospective benefits are clear.
Relying on Indian Ocean transit routes to transport goods and energy to or from Africa, Europe and Middle East, China fears any conflict that might suspend those access routes. The "Silk Road on the Ice" is China's backup option. And be under no illusions, China knows it needs a backup option.
After all, at this very moment China is militarizing the South and East China Seas by constructing islands from which it could attack and destroy passing ships. China's intention here is to give itself a veto over vast global trade flows and thus coerce regional states to bend to its power. But the communist giant also knows that if the U.S. fought to oppose that hegemony, it could endanger China's trade and energy flows.
In turn, by stationing anti-ship missile forces on the Alaskan coast proximate to Russia, the U.S. would play China at its own game: reminding China's leaders that if they took action in one place, they would find U.S. challenge in another.
Put simply, in order to maintain the balance of power, the U.S. must first ensure that China does not hold all the cards.