Russia has one. So, too, does Sweden. In fact, seven of the eight countries with territory in the Arctic, and indeed a lot of countries that don’t, have an Arctic ambassador. Only the US does not. In 2014, America appointed a “special representative” (now known as a “co-ordinator”) to oversee its efforts in the region. Now the White House would like to elevate the office to a full-fledged ambassadorship.
Announcing its decision last week, the State Department said the ambassador, once approved by the Senate, will “engage with counterparts in Arctic and non-Arctic nations as well as indigenous groups, and work closely with domestic stakeholders, including state, local and tribal governments, businesses, academic institutions, non-profit organisations, other federal government agencies and Congress”.
This was, by and large, the job of the special representative (initially held by Robert Papp, a retired Coast Guard admiral). The position was created as Washington was preparing to assume the chairmanship of the Arctic Council. The office has persisted, but turning into an ambassadorship reinvests it with considerably more clout than it has had since Mr Papp’s resignation (after being re-styled as a policy co-ordinator, the office was held first by Jim Dehart, a senior diplomat, and is now held by Derek Chollet, a White House-appointed policy advisor) and is in keeping with the increasing amount of attention Washington is placing on the region as it pursues what the State Department called a “strategic” goal of keeping the Arctic “peaceful, stable, prosperous and co-operative”.
The decision was made following consultations with national and local lawmakers, as well as federal officials and comes amid a push that began during the Obama administration to catch up with other Arctic countries. Most notably that has included a plan to revamp America’s icebreaker fleet (now down to one fully-functional federally operated ship), as well as plans to establish an “Arctic” deep-water port in Alaska, establishment of a consulate in Nuuk, and, as Lisa Murkowski, who represents Alaska in the Senate, noted, the opening of a Pentagon-run Arctic-focused security centre in June (pictured above).
One of six outfits set up to advise federal decision makers on devolopments in potential theatres of military operation, the centre, and now the creation of an ambassadorship, Ms Murkowski said, “sends a strong signal to our allies and adversaries that America is all-hands-on-deck in the Arctic.”
“By establishing this role, America will solidify its dedication, commitment and leadership to this strategically important region and have greater opportunities to spur the diplomacy necessary to preserve a peaceful, prosperous Arctic.”
And, if necessary, to pursue its policies with other means.
Kevin McGwin, Polar Journal
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