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Analysis of U.S. Ability to Counter the Russian Threat in the Arctic

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Anotnio Graffeco

From the end of World War II until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the United States and Russia stood on opposing sides of a potential conflict. Through the U.S. strategies of containment and limited war, mutual destruction was avoided, and the spread of communism was held back. Eventually, economic pressure, partially caused by the arms race and partially deriving from the fallacy of communist economics, destroyed the Soviet Union. Unfortunately, it was replaced with the new Russia, which has similar expansionist goals.

In Europe, the U.S. strategies of containment and limited war are once again being played out, in Ukraine. The U.S. and its allies, the EU and NATO, are supporting the defense of a sovereign nation which has been invaded by Russia. Meanwhile, Russia has other ambitions which could pose a threat to U.S. ambitions.

In the Arctic, the Russian Federation already exerts direct controls control over the Sakha Republic, Arkhangelsk, and Murmansk, as well as indirect control over autonomous areas: Krasnoyarsk Krai, and the Nenets, Yamal-Nenets, and Chukchi districts. The Arctic is rich in minerals and other resources, including 70 percent of the world’s undiscovered natural gas. Additionally, Russia has a shortage of seaports. They hope to restore the Northern Sea Route (NSR) route from Europe to Asia, to transport Chinese goods to Europe. The NSR would also allow Russia to transport energy to Asia. Strategically, securing the Arctic would provide Russia a lifeline, in the event of a war with the United States and its NATO allies. It would give Russia a secure base for its ballistic missile submarine fleet (SSBN) on the Kola Peninsula, and guarantee Russia access to the North Atlantic and the European Arctic. It would also provide Russia a means of circumventing Western sanctions, by continuing to export oil and gas, while importing goods from Asia. The region also presents a potential strategic corridor between the Indo-Pacific, Europe and Russia.

All of this makes the Arctic attractive to Russia, while Russian expansion into the region would threaten the interests of the U.S. and NATO. Russian claims on Arctic resources conflict with claims by Canada and Denmark. Russia’s militarization of the Arctic threatens NATO, while military drills have harassed U.S. Navy and Air Force operations near Alaska. Dual-use radar surveillance and communications, as well as drones, are being installed in the region which could be used offensively against the U.S. or Europe. It is possible that Russia would deny US/NATO forces access to the waters surrounding the Kola Peninsula, and that Russia could deploy its SSBNs through the Greenland-Iceland-UK gap, disrupting NATO’s sea lines of communication for its carrier battle groups.

This paper will present a DIMEFIL assessment of the United States’ ability to conduct a war with Russia. DIMEFIL is a crucial assessment of national power because it takes a holistic approach, recognizing that a country’s success in war is not only dependent on the size of its military, but on all of its instruments of power (IOP). The assessment examines U.S. capabilities across seven dimensions: diplomatic, information, military, economic, finance, intelligence, and legal/law enforcement assessment.

Diplomatic Assessment

Since the formation of the League of Nations in 1920, the U.S. government has sought to increase its engagement with and establish relationships with like-minded nations, which would help support U.S. interests around the world. Diplomacy is the tool used to forge these relationships, and the U.S. acts directly through private companies and institutions, establishing student and academic exchanges, and sports competitions, or through the government, by participating in international organizations, such as the United Nations, or via its network of 256 diplomatic missions throughout the world. Other government-led initiatives include security cooperation, through the Department of Defense.

The United States is a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), an intergovernmental military alliance of 30 nations, with shared intelligence. Originally designed to counter the expansion of the Soviet Union, today it is focused on Russia.

The U.S. is also one of seven nations in the Arctic Council, the others being Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, and Sweden. With the exception of Russia, every member also belongs to NATO (Sweden and Norway applied for NATO membership in October 2022), and they all have a vested interest in restricting Russian expansion in the region. Since the invasion of Ukraine, the other members have recognized the increased threat Russia poses in the Arctic, and they are now sharing intelligence on Russian activities in the region.

A White House report on Arctic strategy stated that Russia has been building up its military in the region, positioning coastal and air defense missile systems, as well as submarines. Additionally, it has increased its military exercises and training operations in the Arctic. Beyond a military expansion, Russia is developing economic infrastructure to capitalize on fuel and mineral extraction, as well as fishing. All of this threatens freedom of navigation, especially for other members of the Arctic Council who also have usage rights and maritime claims along the NSR. The invasion of Ukraine was a last straw for the White House. According to the strategy brief, the U.S would strengthen its ties and cooperation with the other members, but does not anticipate continued cooperation with Russia.

Information Assessment

Information is the basis for all decision making, and maintaining information security is a central concern in strategic planning for national security and power. Information security plays a key role in the national security system.

During the Cold War, strategic communications and propaganda were the primary focuses of the information dimension. Today, however, with advanced technology, state and non-state actors can navigate the information dimension to advance national security objectives. In the past, the four components of information were the sender, receiver, transmission medium, and message. Today, information still contains these four parts, but transmission is aided by the internet and satellite communications.

In 2000, the Russian Federation’s National Security Blueprint (the “kontseptsiya”) iterated the significance of the information domain, stating that Russia’s national security was threatened by foreign countries attempting to dominate the global information sphere and to exclude Russia from the external information market. They referred to these objectives as “information warfare,” and warned that these forces could disrupt the internal information system or telecommunications systems, or spread disinformation contrary to national objectives.

The U.S. does not have an actual information warfare department. The Joint Chiefs of Staff’s point man on cybersecurity and information operations, who is responsible for information warfare, very recently said that little progress has been made. Saying that Washington’s adversaries show “tremendous competence,” he noted that his job has become more difficult in recent decades, because of the proliferation of social media. He also said that Russia had utilized information warfare to interfere in U.S. elections.

Military Assessment

The United States has the biggest defense budget in the world, spending US$770 billion, while Russia ranked fifth with US$154 billion. The defense budget correlates directly to a country’s ability to develop, purchase, and implement the latest technology and most advanced equipment, across its entire military.

The U.S. is ranked first of 142 countries in overall fire power, while Russia is second.

The U.S. has over 122 million citizens fit for military service, whereas Russia has fewer than 47 million. Russia has 850,000 active-duty military personnel, plus 250,000 reserves, and 250,000 paramilitary. The U.S. has 1.39 million active-duty personnel, plus 442,000 reserves.

In the Air

The U.S. has 13,247 aircraft, while Russia has 4,173. Fighter aircraft: U.S. 1,957, Russia 772; helicopters: U.S. 5,463, Russia 1,543; attack helicopters: U.S. 910, Russia 544; combat drones: U.S. 334 U.S., Russia 100.

On the Land

Russia has nearly twice as many tanks (12,420 to 6,612) compared to the U.S.. For armored vehicles, the U.S. has more, 45,193 to Russia’s 30,122. Russia has superiority in many land-based assets, such as artillery. For self-propelled artillery, Russia has 6,574, while the U.S. has 1,498. Towed artillery: Russia 7,571, U.S. 1,339; mobile rocket projectors: Russia 3,391, U.S. 1,306.

Russia focuses more on a domestic and contiguous land-war scenario, as it has more land borders than the U.S. Russia borders 14 countries, including NATO members. United States forces in South Korea and Japan are positioned close to Russia’s Far East. NATO and the U.S. in the North Atlantic and Alaska are directly focused on the Russian Arctic. The U.S., by contrast, with only two land borders. Because they can be left largely undefended, Washington is able to focus most of its spending, planning, and training on scenarios involving an overseas war.

On the Sea

In total, Russia has more vessels than the U.S., with 605 to 484. Aircraft carriers: U.S. 11, Russia 1; helicopter carriers: U.S. 9, Russia 0; submarines: Russia 70, U.S. 68; destroyers: U.S. 92, Russia 15; frigates: the U.S. has none, but Russia has 11; corvettes: Russia 86, U.S. 22; patrol vessels: Russia 59, U.S. 10; mine warfare vessels: Russia has 49, U.S. 8. One weakness in the U.S. ability to make war in the Arctic is that Russia maintains 40 military icebreakers, whereas the U.S. only has two, both operated by the U.S. Coast Guard, not the Navy.

Nuclear Weapons

The U.S is the world’s no. 1 power in terms of nuclear weapons, while Russia is no. 2. The U.S. was the first and, so far, is the only country to utilize a nuclear weapon in combat. Since 1945, the U.S. has conducted 1,054 nuclear weapons tests. Currently, the U.S. has 3,780 nuclear warheads, about 1,744 of which are deployed. Since 1949, Russia has conducted 700 tests. They now have 6,490 warheads, with 1,600 deployed.

Economic Assessment

The U.S. is, by far, the world leader in both the economic and financial realms. The U.S. dollar accounts for 60 percent of all foreign currency reserves around the world, while the Russian ruble accounts for close to zero. The dollar accounts for 88 percent of all global foreign exchange transactions. In 2015, roughly 50 percent of global GDP was produced in countries which anchored to the dollar. Through 2019, as much as 79 percent of all global trade transactions were settled in dollars. Consequently, since 2020, U.S. banks have increased international currency swap lines to $450 billion, so that foreign countries will not experience a shortage of dollars. Over the past 20 years, the dollar’s Index of International Usage has remained stable at 75. To put this number in context, the Euro is 25 and the ruble would be close to zero.

Foreign debt: $7 trillion worth of U.S. treasuries, about 30% of the total, are held by foreign investors. Foreign investors, including governments, institutions, corporations, and individuals, purchase U.S. government debt because it is considered to have zero risk. The U.S. government has never defaulted on a debt and can always raise tax money to repay a loan. With the average American earning roughly $69,000 per year and the U.S. having the world’s third largest population and an effective tax enforcement regimen, the U.S. government has the largest tax-revenue base in the world. Having large amounts of foreign debt is a weakness for many countries, because foreign debt has to be serviced in U.S. dollars. This means that when the local currency drops in value, payments of foreign debt become more expensive. For the U.S., however, foreign debt is paid in its own currency. Thus currency value fluctuations are not a problem.

Finance Assessment

Historically, national security analysts considered the first elements of DIME to be important, but analysis was heavily skewed toward the military component. Now, three additional components are included: financial, information, and law enforcement (FIL), as they are recognized as being crucial instruments of power (IOP). In 2003, FIL were first applied to combating terrorism. By 2006, they were applied to state actors and military strategy, The financial component focuses on how an actor obtains and distributes capital. When assessing an enemy actor, the goal would be to disrupt the flow of capital. When assessing a friendly actor, such as the United States, the assessment focuses on how strong the financial system is, how resilient it is, and how open to attack it may be. The financial dimension differs from the economic in that the economic also includes a country’s ability to project or exert power and influence over other countries through the use of money. By contrast, the financial dimension is more focused on maintaining internal flows of money.

This is not to say that the financial component is not concerned with foreign countries at all. On the contrary, because the financial dimension deals with money flows within a country, from a national security standpoint, it is important to know to what degree the U.S. can disrupt the flow of capital in another country. Actions, such as economic sanctions, are part of this financial component.

The strength of the U.S. financial dimension includes the Department of the Treasury, the extensive network of private banks, private corporations, organizations, and international partners, which work together to support and protect U.S. financial systems, as well as to combat adversary actors. The partnership of all of these organizations, both domestic and international, empowers the U.S. to administer sanctions, and freeze assets of enemy actors or prevent enemy actors from utilizing U.S. financial networks.

The U.S. controls the SWIFT system which enables international trade settlement. SWIFT links 11,000 banks and financial institutions worldwide, and processes an average of 42 million international payments per day. In addition to processing cash payments, SWIFT enables credit card payments. Any country which the U.S. bars from SWIFT would be unable to pay for imports or receive payments for exports. They would also be forced to stop using VISA cards, which are the most widely used credit and debit cards in the world.

The U.S. has the financial power to target any state actor and disrupt their financial flows. This was the threat the U.S. made against Russia, after the Ukraine invasion. In the end, the U.S. removed some Russian banks, but not all, from SWIFT. This was because Europe still needed Russian energy exports. The U.S. holds the SWIFT threat in reserve and could complete wreck the Russian economy by removing them from SWIFT and preventing them from earning money by selling energy.

Intelligence Assessment

Intelligence is the gathering, evaluation, and dissemination of information by the government and military regarding the strength and activities of other countries, non-state actors, or internal groups and organizations which may pose a threat to national interests. Today, it is important to include an economic dimension to intelligence gathering as much of modern warfare is dependent on being able to disrupt the economy of a foreign country. The three levels of intelligence gathering are strategic, tactical, and counterintelligence.

Under the U.S. Patriot Act, banks are obliged to conduct customer due diligence and cooperate with the U.S. government, providing intelligence on terrorism and terrorism funding, as well as assets held by belligerent actors in U.S. banks.

There are three components to intelligence: activities, products, and organizations. Organizations are the actors which engage in intelligence activities, resulting in products. Activities can be associated with specific processes, such as the Joint Intelligence Preparation of the Operational Environment process. Other processes include the targeting process and the intelligence process, among others. There are also different types of intelligence disciplines, which would be part of the activities component. The products are the reports and other information, including estimates and assessments, which may be written down, in hard or electronic format, or presented in briefings. Organizations can include Department of Defense agencies, as well as other national agencies. They may also include foreign agencies, host-nation or local sources, and private sector companies. The intelligence component of DIMEFIL utilizes a combination of policy, personnel, and technology, to integrate foreign, military, non-military, and domestic capabilities. Thus, the products of intelligence can be said to be interdisciplinary.

The U.S. Government has 17 national agencies for intelligence-sharing and cooperation, each with a specific mission. Every four years, the Director of National Intelligence releases the National Intelligence Strategy, which outlines the strategy and supports national security priorities. The intelligence community has seven objectives:

Strategic Intelligence – addressing ongoing issues of national security

Anticipatory Intelligence – addressing new and emerging trends, as well as changing conditions

Current Operations – supporting planned and ongoing operations.

Cyber Threat Intelligence – addressing malicious cyber activities by both state and non-state actors

Counterterrorism – addressing state and non-state actors that engage in terrorism

Counterproliferation – addressing state and non-state actors engaged in the proliferation  of weapons of mass destruction

Counterintelligence and Security – addressing threats from foreign intelligence entities

With the advanced technology available today, it is easier for intelligence agencies to gather large amounts of data and information. However, the intelligence community recognizes that it is a major challenge to analyze the data quickly and accurately, in order to provide relevant and useful information. Additionally, while new technology has increased the U.S. ability to gather intelligence on the enemy, it is now easier for the enemy to gather information on the U.S. Consequently, information and data security are extremely important.

The 2019 National Intelligence Strategy recognizes Russia’s efforts to increase its influence and authority across a multitude of geographical areas. This clearly applies to Ukraine, as well as the Arctic.

Through intelligence monitoring of the Arctic, the Department of Defense is aware of Russian military buildup and infrastructure development in the region, including refurbishing a Soviet-era airbase.

Legal/Law Enforcement Assessment

The law enforcement dimension evaluates a country’s ability to maintain order within its own borders and ensure the safety and general well-being of its people. Counterterrorism is a crucial component, and the work is carried out at both the national and international level.

The law enforcement dimension has two parts, legal and enforcement. It covers every aspect from the political and strategic to the operational. The former is heavily dependent on national and international actors, as well as foreign state partners and organizations. It requires an understanding of and adherence to national, international, and local law. It must also include activities necessary to support and carry out enforcement, meaning the actions of everyone from national police to local police, to the courts and even the intelligence community, must be synchronized.

Within the U.S., the law enforcement environment is stable and there is no concern that the nation will descend into lawlessness or civil war, as is currently the case in Myanmar or Pakistan. A stable homeland provides the U.S. the opportunity to concentrate on Russian threats within the country.

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and the FBI are monitoring Russian cyber threats and crimes within the U.S. Both agencies are also preparing against Russian attacks on U.S. satellites. The FBI is also following up on Russian financial crimes and Russian gangs operating in the U.S.


This paper contained a DIMEFIL assessment to evaluate the United States’ instruments of power (IOP) and its ability to conduct a war with Russia, possibly sparked by the need to counter Russian expansion in the Arctic. One weakness of the U.S. ability to make war with Russia not covered in DIMEFIL is oil production. Russia produces at about three times as much oil as it consumes, whereas the U.S. only produces about 60 percent as much as it consumes. Beyond this issue and a lack of military icebreakers, the U.S. was much stronger than Russia across most, if not all, of the DIMEFIL dimensions.

Diplomatic: The U.S. has strong diplomatic ties and alliances which will make it a more formidable opponent for Russia. The U.S. is backed by NATO, the EU, and allies such as Japan and South Korea, whereas Russia is largely alone, backed by a few former Soviet states which are far from the Arctic and which lack the military and transport capabilities to aid Russia in an Arctic war against the United States. China, of course, is the wild card. If China decides to assist Russia in the war, it could be more difficult for the U.S. But, the combined military might of NATO, the U.S., Japan, and South Korea is much greater than China’s.

Military: The U.S. is ahead on most military score cards. There are a few areas where Russia has superiority, such as land-based assets, but Russia’s tanks, artillery, and self-propelled guns and rocket launchers are largely designed to defend its borders with Europe or to invade Europe. Transporting those assets to the Arctic would be problematic. Besides which, most of the U.S. engagement would be from the ocean and the sky, where the U.S. has a decided advantage.

Information: The U.S. has a weakness in the area of information warfare, while Russia has an advantage. The U.S. should form a dedicated information warfare command to counter Russia.

Economic: There is absolutely no comparison between Russia’s economic power and that of the United States. First off, the U.S. economy is dramatically stronger and can withstand a war better than Russia’s. Next, the war will be fought far from U.S. shores, and so the U.S. economy will not be disrupted by the war, but Russia’s will be. Next, when it comes to economic power, influencing other countries, the U.S. has economic power over most of the nations of the world, whereas Russia only has economic power over some of the former Soviet republics. They are mostly small countries, far from the Arctic and unable to lend significant assistance.

Finance: If the U.S. kicks Russia off of the SWIFT system, that would be the end of Russia’s lifeline. If the U.S., EU, and NATO all agreed not to purchase oil from Russia, Russia would be relegated to trading only with China, at prices set by China. If the U.S., NATO, and the EU imposed secondary sanctions on China, they would be forced to either join the war or back down. In the case of Ukraine, China backed down and stopped overtly supporting Russia for fear of incurring secondary sanctions. This means that if the U.S were in a direct war with Russia and did use the SWIFT trump card, Russia would instantly plunge into economic crisis.

Intelligence: The United States is monitoring the Arctic and is aware of Russia’s actions there. The other countries which have interest in the Arctic are all U.S. allies, such as Canada, the Scandinavia nations, and Japan. They all monitor Russian activities and share intelligence.

Legal/law enforcement: The law enforcement situation in the U.S. is stable. U.S. law enforcement is monitoring Russian activities in the U.S., including cyber threats and financial crimes.