The Arctic region at the top of the world usually comes up in discussions about polar bears, global warming or where Santa Claus might live.

But it’s actually become an area of increasingly keen interest to military experts.

Prodded in part by U.S. Sen. Angus King, an independent from Maine, the U.S. Department of Defense recently issued a report about national security issues in the Arctic, an area that includes eight countries — the U.S., Canada, Russia, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Iceland and Greenland — and a lot of ice.

King hailed the new report as “the culmination of years of bipartisan effort” and called it “an important and necessary step forward in defining our national security interests in the Arctic.”

In a prepared statement, King said the 17-page report addressed “the capabilities that the United States will need to defend” its interests in the increasingly important region.

The report said that generally the nations involved in the region have been cooperative but pointed out that Canada and Russia lay claim to navigable waters that the United States considers to be international straits where any ship should be able to pass.

As the world warms — and melts more ice — the issues may become more critical.

“Diminishing sea ice will give rise to new economic opportunities in the region while simultaneously increasing concerns about human safety and protection of a unique ecosystem that many indigenous communities rely on for subsistence,” the report said.

There may be growing competition for economic advantage and strategic considerations in the years ahead, it said, increasing the risk of disputes about shipping lanes and natural resources.

King has worked closely with Alaska’s senators, particularly Republican Dan Sullivan, to press the issue of Arctic defense.

The new strategic plan, he said, is only the beginning of what’s needed. King said there has to be “a broader policy that addresses all of our Arctic interests.”

“It is up to Congress and the new administration to develop and implement that comprehensive policy in an expedited manner,” King said. “If we do not, we risk ceding our influence in the Arctic to others who may not share our objectives.”

Sullivan said he hopes “the entire Department of Defense, our new president, and the country will take a serious look at this document and begin to formulate how our country will safeguard our interests, and that of our allies, in this strategically important region. We are an Arctic nation and with this important strategy, we are starting to act like one.”

The 17-page report also includes a classified annex with secret information. The public portion mentions, though, that the nation needs to enhance its ability to defend itself in the Arctic, preserve freedom of the seas there and consider what infrastructure needs may exist.

The report said that defense experts “will focus on enhancing the military’s ability to operate in the Arctic consistent with the rate of change in the region. This includes anticipated changes in the physical and geopolitical environment as well as the threat to the environment in the mid- to far-term.”

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