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March 30, 2023

Op-Ed: America’s Enduring Commitment to the Arctic

By Derek H. Chollet, Counselor to the U.S. Secretary of State

This op-ed was published in Norwegian by Nordlys on March 30, 2023.

The United States is a proud Arctic state and takes seriously our role as one of the region’s stewards.  With a new National Strategy for the Arctic Region and the creation of senior positions to advocate for our interests, including the first-ever U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Arctic Affairs, we are committed to this vital and changing region – one whose importance will only grow in the coming decades.

Unfortunately, Russia’s brutal war against Ukraine has generated a new geopolitical reality, including in the Arctic, where Moscow’s actions have upended decades of close circumpolar cooperation.  While Putin chooses aggression and isolation, the United States is committed to ensuring the Arctic region remains peaceful, stable, prosperous, and cooperative.

The Arctic Council is central to our efforts, and we will continue to work hard to ensure its effectiveness.  For over a quarter century, the Council has brought together the eight Arctic states (Canada, the Kingdom of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and the United States) as well as Permanent Participants (organizations representing Arctic Indigenous People).  A growing number of observers have enriched the Council’s work.

The Arctic Council’s mission excludes military security, freeing it to focus on combatting climate change, protecting the environment and ecosystems, and fostering sustainable development, in alignment with commitments of the United States and our like-minded allies in the region.  The Arctic Council’s work has had a tangible and significant positive impact on communities, science, and the environment.

Thanks to its work, for example, we know the Arctic is warming at least three times faster than the rest of the planet.  Council members have concluded legally binding international agreements on search and rescue, marine oil spill response, and scientific cooperation.  The Arctic Council was the first, and so far only, intergovernmental forum to accredit Indigenous Peoples’ organizations with full participatory and deliberative status.

Unfortunately, Russia’s aggression has had a significant impact on the Council.  Because of Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine – during its chairmanship of the Arctic Council – the United States and our Arctic partners paused our participation in the Arctic Council.  In June 2022, we resumed work on already-approved Arctic Council projects that had never included Russian participation.  These accounted for around 60 percent of the Arctic Council’s projects and allowed much of its important work to continue.

Now we are at a turning point.

The United States seeks to revitalize the Arctic Council and strongly supports Norway as the incoming chair.  We also must acknowledge that Moscow’s flagrant violation of the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity – principles based on international law that also underpin the Arctic Council – have rendered cooperation with Russia virtually impossible for now.

But we are committed to forge a way forward.  We continue to invest in Arctic initiatives and communities.  Our commitment to cooperation in Arctic science – including data sharing – remains unchanged.  Our work to address the impacts of climate change in the Arctic continues domestically, bilaterally, and multilaterally.  Our cooperation with Arctic Allies and partners to foster sustainable and transparent investment in the region is delivering.  And our consultations on security within the region still operate on a common understanding that we strive for an Arctic region that is peaceful, stable, prosperous, and cooperative.

We are investing at home to ensure we can represent U.S. Arctic interests abroad.  Our new Ambassador-at-Large for Arctic Affairs, if confirmed by the U.S. Senate, will advance the policies we laid out in our national strategy, cooperate with Arctic and non-Arctic States and Indigenous communities, and work closely with U.S. domestic partners, including state, local, and Tribal governments, businesses, academic institutions, non-profit organizations, other federal government agencies, and Congress.  We have augmented staffing across the State Department and our Embassies to focus on Arctic affairs, launched new initiatives from critical minerals to education, and expanded our security cooperation.  Importantly, the U.S. commitment extends beyond the State Department.  The newly created Ted Stevens Center for Arctic Security in Alaska is leveraging the expertise of U.S. experts, Allies, and our partners, to enhance understanding of the region.

The United States continues to fund our Arctic priorities.  We have committed $250 million to develop the Port of Nome, nearly $1 billion for new polar security cutters, almost $19 million to support clean energy development and mineral resource sector governance and sustainability goals in Greenland, and $1 million to support the climate and environment work of the Arctic Council.  These commitments are in addition to the hundreds of millions in U.S. government funding and support to Arctic research and science, especially related to climate change.

Russia’s actions have forced upon us an unfortunate new reality, but they have not changed our commitment to the Arctic, Arctic communities, or Arctic cooperation.  In fact, they have only strengthened our resolve to work with our partners in the Arctic Council and beyond to make the Arctic more prosperous, stable, and secure.

Op-ed by Counselor Derek H. Chollet as published in the print edition of Nordlys newspaper on March 31, 2023.